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Vail Valley: Chilean skiers staying in Red Cliff

Adam Williams
Special to the Vail Daily
Vail, CO Colorado
Special to the Vail DailyThe young skiers from the Valle Nevado Ski and Snowboard Club in Chile are training at Vail's Golden Peak. They begin practice every day at 8:30 a.m.
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RED CLIFF – A fleet of minivans pulls into the parking lot of the Green Bridge Inn in Red Cliff in synchronized fashion, as if they’ve practiced such maneuvers before.

When the doors open, out pile 14 kids between the ages of 10 and 17, two coaches and two parent volunteers, all speaking Spanish. The Valle Nevado Ski and Snowboard Club from Chile has arrived and just increased the town population by 6 percent.

Later that evening, Jose Santiagos sits comfortably on the sofa in the lobby of the 14-room hotel they have taken over for the month and talks about his experience. Though he is currently 5,539 miles from his permanent residence in Santiago, Chile, Santiagos seems to feel at home in the Vail Valley. This is the fourth time in the past nine years that Santiagos, the technical director of the club, has brought a team up from Chile to train.

When asked, “Why Vail?” he explains that the reason is two-fold.

“The first is because training conditions are the best available,” he says. “The (Ski and Snowboard) Club (Vail) has a very nice facility. The arena is closed to the public and is very safe. The snow conditions are very good for training. We are very grateful for the club.”

“The second reason is you don’t lose too many hours to come here,” he says. “We can leave at night and ski the next day.”

A flight from Santiago to Denver with a layover in Dallas only takes about 12 hours, whereas trips to Europe or other world-class ski resorts would take significantly longer. Santiagos says skiing in Vail has many similarities to skiing in Chile.

“It is a similar climate, except it is a little colder here, but the snow here is not as wet and is a little harder, which is very good for training,” Santiagos says.

When asking the kids what they think about their trip to Vail they all seem to have the same response: “Vail is huge!”

“The lifts are very fast!” another chimes in.

But while most people are in awe of the large open expanses of the Back Bowls, the team from Chile has a little different perspective.

“We like the trees,” they say, adding that their home resorts are all located above tree line.

Regardless of any similarities, a trip to the Vail Valley is a still an enormous change from what the kids are used to, especially those making their first trip here. The city of Santiago has 5.3 million inhabitants (7.2 million if you include the full metropolitan area).

By comparison, the entire state of Colorado has around 5 million people and in the town of Red Cliff, a whopping 330. When asked how the team felt when they first arrived in town, Santiagos pauses to think of how to describe the experience. You can see him mask the beginnings of a smirk as he carefully chooses to respond, “It was … different.”

“At first we thought it was a little too little, but after a few days, we feel as if we are ‘part of the house,'” he says. “We like to stay here because it lets the kids focus on training. We have what we need, and it is easy to keep control of the kids … and coaches,” he said. “The kids are very comfortable here.”

Since their arrival, the typical routine for the team has consisted of getting up around 6:30 a.m., eating breakfast at Mango’s Mountain Grill at 7 a.m., then heading to the mountain to be on their skis at Golden Peak by 8:30 a.m.

They usually spend three hours practicing the gates in the arena before taking an hour break for lunch and jumping into another hour and a half of “ski libre” (freeskiing). In the afternoons, they find other sources of entertainment for the kids while they are in town. They’ve been skating in Beaver Creek and climbing in the fieldhouse in Edwards and plan to go swimming at the Avon Rec Center.

Typically they ski for five consecutive days then take a day off.

When asked what they like to do in their free time here, the girls don’t hesitate.

“Shopping!” they exclaim and start to list off their favorite stores: “Sports Authority (in Vail), Beaver Creek, Adidas and Nike (at the Silverthorne Outlets).”

Besides the population and skiing conditions, the kids can’t think of many other things that are very different from home, including the food selection. This comes in part to some careful planning and preparation by the Mango’s staff, which has been making family-style breakfasts and dinners and packing sack lunches for the team throughout the duration of their stay.

“We did a little research into what they might like,” says Eric Cregon, owner of Mango’s. “We’ve got a lot of fruit for breakfast and aren’t planning on serving as much meat.”

When their stay here wraps up at the end of the month, the team will head back to Chile and enjoy the rest of their summer vacations.

“We miss family and friends,” says Franco Fava, the eldest skier of the group.

When asked if they keep in touch while they are here, he seems a little puzzled by the question.

“Of course,” he says. “We Skype.”

Though their school year starts up again in March, a few of the competitors may come back through on their way to British Columbia in April for the Whistler Cup.

Adam Williams, godfather of Man of the Cliff and part of the Green Bridge Inn Management team, enjoys amateur woodsman activities, candlelight dinners and contributing to local publications in his spare time.

Want to share a story with Vail Daily readers and see your byline published? Contact Community Editor Lauren Glendenning at 970-748-2983, or lglendenning@vaildaily.com.


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