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About Utah: Deer Valley worker-puppeteer lifts spirits on 2 continents

DEER VALLEY — As a ticket checker and lift loader at the Jordanelle Gondola at Deer Valley Ski Resort, Travis Frost is constantly bringing smiles to people showing up for a day on the slopes as he takes their skis from them, loads them onto the gondola, and wishes them a wonderful day.

But that’s nothing to the smiles he brings with his other job.

When the winter is over, Travis travels to Germany, where he performs as a puppeteer on "Sesamstraße," the German television co-production of "Sesame Street."

If the two occupations seem a bit disconnected, Travis doesn’t disagree. All he knows is, “I’ve been able to create jobs from fun things I enjoy.”

He developed his love for skiing and the outdoors as a boy when his family took him to the Utah mountains. He developed his love for "Sesame Street" when they left him home and turned on the television.

“I watched 'Sesame Street' religiously,” Travis says.

He didn’t just watch, he studied what was going on. “I knew they were puppet characters, even though they were completely believable," he remembers. “I wasn’t very old when I started thinking, ‘I can do that.’”

By his teens, he was making his own puppets and characters. Through thousands of hours of practice, he became a skilled puppeteer, impressing friends and family with his self-taught skills, including spot-on replications of the voices of Cookie Monster, Kermit the Frog, Elmo, Ernie, Bert and the rest of the gang.

The hobby might have remained a hobby if Travis’ German heritage hadn’t kicked in.

His mother, Karin, was born in Germany and came to America with her parents and grandparents when she was 8. Growing up close to his grandparents, Travis was familiar with the German traditions and language. At Granger High School and Salt Lake Community College he took German classes.

So his Deutsch was more than passable when he traveled to Germany in 2011 for a wedding in Hamburg. While he was there, the producers of German "Sesame Street" were looking for extra puppeteers. Some of the main puppeteers of "Sesamstraße" had previously seen one of the puppets Travis had built. The next thing he knew, he was on the show.

That first year he performed as a pig in a relatively minor role. He did so well with that, the next year they asked him to be Cookie Monster — Krümelmonster — for the production’s 40th anniversary. In the years since, he has performed an assortment of Muppets characters, including rabbits, chickens and Elmo.

Taping for the show is done in the spring and summer — at the end of ski season, as it turns out.

Every winter, Travis works (and skis) at Deer Valley. Every spring and summer, he travels to Germany and turns into anything Muppets. His ultimate goal is a spot on the American "Sesame Street."

“I’m very grateful I can lend my talents to something good and positive,” says Travis, noting that Joan Ganz Cooney created 'Sesame Street' with the goal of bringing peace, cooperation and understanding, and treating others with great kindness.

“When you see kids smiling and excited, it’s very satisfying.”

The experience has also taught him the importance of following your dreams and not putting them aside when you get older.

He tells about when his nephew, now 8, was asked in preschool what he wanted to be when he grew up.

“Superman,” was his reply.

“The teacher told the boy to pick something else, because Superman isn’t real,” says Travis.

Afterward, Travis pulled his nephew aside.

“Hey,” he said, “If I can grow up to be Cookie Monster …”

At the Jordanelle Gondola, few people know of Travis’ double life. But for those who do, he’ll willingly oblige with an appropriately gruff, “Me Want Cookie,” – either that, or “Ich will Kekse” — as they’re loading onto the car. He also does a terrific Elmo on demand.

That makes them smile even more.