Skiing the Andes…again

May 2014 I returned back home from my long trip. Having been away for quite a while, I was looking forward to some continuity. I soon started life as a freelancer and my first contract was a fact. Working on an important project for a year meant I had faced quite a few deadlines and that I had been looking at a computer screen for a while. Therefore, time had come to participate in some outdoor activity. Another trip to the Southern Hemisphere where winter was in full swing, was on the agenda…

The plan was to tick some specific runs off my bucketlist starting in the Northern area of the Andes in Argentina and Chile before working my way South. Before I could start thinking about skiing I first had to get there. My flight with Al Italia looked promising at first with a seat with extra legroom and a nice entertainment system. However, they had changed their layout meaning I had a seat one row behind the ones with extra legroom and as a bonus the entertainment system was down and a huge metal box was situated beneath the chair in front of me, great!

After a long, long night the plane was ready to land in the middle of a huge thunderstorm. At first I was laughing at my neighbors holding hands, but soon I was getting warmer and warmer too… Somehow, I finally made it to Buenos Aires where I was welcomed with three days of pouring rain. In order to change momentum, I took a bus to Mendoza from where I had multiple options to go skiing.

Las Leñas is a popular freeride destination I have written about before (click here to check it out) and was on my list again, simply because the area has so many options I still had to check out. Since accommodation was not available yet, I changed plans and went to Penitentes first. This tiny resort is located close to the border with Chile and offers some good terrain. The fresh snow meant it would be a great place to test my new skis: Kastle BMX 108…

"hay un poquito de viento en Penitentes..."

“hay un poquito de viento en Penitentes…”

The main ski area consists of two chairlifts and a connecting t-bar. Once the upper lift opened (skiing in Penitentes means “mañana, mañana…”) things were starting to look promising. From the top a traverse gave access to many lines with fresh powder. Only two other skiers were making laps on the upper lift too in order to chase the powder, so plenty of snow for the three of us. The longer I traversed, the better the lines got. It was the perfect way to get a taste of the potential of my new skis. After a cold night, the snow was even better the next day. Unfortunately they closed the upper lift due to strong winds. I still got two great lines in filled with fresh snow. It was time to leave Penitentes and cross the border to Portillo…

I have been coming to South America in search of snow since 2005 and Portillo have been one of my favourite places to ski. However, it had been a while since my last visit so I was quite excited to go back. Even though there is only 30 km between Penitentes and Portillo, it took hours to cover it. The border crossing is simply a disaster. We (I traveled by minibus with about 15 passengers) passed the Argentinian border without problems but the Chilean crossing had an unexpected surprise…

Once I thought we were all good to go after all bags and passports were checked, we were forced to stay for at least an hour because… some idiot carried drugs on the bus! Welcome to South America. Portillo is literally about one kilometer from the border and I could see people skiing. It was around noon by now and I was dying to go skiing and spend the afternoon on the mountain, especially since it’s all included in the stay. Luckily, and strangely enough, they let me go (clearly Dutch people never carry drugs…) and I traveled the remaining meters on a different bus. Half an hour later I was back on the slopes…

not a bad view during breakfast

not a bad view during breakfast

Once in Portillo, I soon got back into the typical routine of skiing between all the lovely food, jumping into the pool after ski and watching whatever was on in the cinema. My main goal of my visit was skiing the Super C couloir. As turned out to be the main subject of conversation in the pool too. I quickly realized conditions were good this season after the heavy snowfalls and steady temperatures. Now, all I needed was a solid partner for this adventure. That sounds a lot easier than done. My roommates consisted of a great Brazilian guy but with no backcountry experience at all, a very annoying Brit who I’d probably kill during the ascend and a guy who ruined my sleep several times by taking an obnoxious girl into our small room. In other words, my ski partner was not in the room…

On arrival I noticed Chris Davenport was still in Portillo after he guided during a camp the previous week and on one of the nights he gave a presentation about one of his projects (skiing the 14 thousanders of Colorado). After his presentation I approached him and we talked about the Super C. He confirmed the good current conditions of the couloir and then said he might go the next day and invited me to tag along. It took me a while to process this information, but I tried to stay as cool as possible. “Oh, that would be great”, was my reply while my heart rate was going crazy. Seriously, skiing the Super C couloir together with Chris Davenport…

It took a while for me to fall asleep because of the idea to ski with Chris the next day and also because my roommate was doing “the dance with no pants” with his local hookup in the adjoining bed. The next morning I felt so tired I couldn’t even think about skiing the Super C. Luckily Chris had work to do and didn’t go either so it didn’t feel as a missed chance to ski with one of the best skiers on the planet. The remaining days I enjoyed a couple of fresh inches of snow and the nice atmosphere this unique place still has. After 4 days in Portillo I decided time had come to go back to the other side of the border and visit Las Leñas…

temperatures were pretty high during the ascent of Entre Rios (photo credits: Robby Sumpf)

temperatures were pretty high during the ascent of Entre Rios (photo credits: Robby Sumpf)

Rumours were that the freeride paradise was having a great season compared to the previous seasons. In 2013, for example, when I visited Las Leñas for the last time, snow cover was really bad. So bad actually, that the offpiste was only ‘open’ during the last two weeks of August. And with offpiste I mean only some of the offpiste. Several areas were unskiable for the whole season. Things were different this time. OK, the mountain wasn’t constantly covered in two feet of powder but at least everything was open and skiable. I stayed with Fabien, ski guide and tester for Salomon, just like the previous time. While he was skiing with professional Elyse Saugstad and a client, I was discovering all the possibilities this mountain has to offer. First I skied with a guy who enjoyed the Andes while taking advantage of the Belgium social security system and annoyed me in several other ways too but later I met up with Robby, a guy I had met in Portillo. We skied some great corn in the Sombrero – and Sans Nom area before aiming for a bigger objective on our last day. Entre Rios was on the agenda. After waiting for at least half an hour because skipatrol decided they had to groom the mountains again around 10 am, we were good to go. From the cat track we hiked for a couple of hours until we reached the summit. A couple of minutes later Robby and I had enjoyed some delicious corn and were back on the piste with yet another great run under our belts!

skiing great corn snow on Entre Rios

skiing great corn snow on Entre Rios

As good as the terrain of Las Leñas is, just as bad is the town and the atmosphere if you’d ask me. After two weeks I simply had to leave and went South to Bariloche together with Robby. There we found a much better environment in terms of the town. Of course this was no surprise. We enjoyed the great food and ambience in the restaurants, especially Alto el Fuego, and sort of enjoyed a ski tour. When Robby left to India to meet up with his dad, I went to neighbouring town Villa la Angostura. Because of the wind the upper lifts had been closed since the last snowfall and together with the lack of crowds, I was hoping to find some good snow there. Unfortunately the lifts remained closed for a couple of days, but with the help of skins and human power I found some great snow. The next morning the lifts finally opened and some fresh tracks were to be enjoyed before venturing into the backcountry…

the backcountry around Bariloche offers some nice views...

the backcountry around Bariloche offers some nice views…

That’s when I met up with Canadian proskier Eric Hjorleifson. I had met him two years ago around Cerro Catedral and he invited me to join him and his fiancé on a nice backcountry adventure. We skinned and hiked to ski some great snow and finished the day with a beautiful couloir. All this happened on a Saturday afternoon in pure solitude. Imagine that in Chamonix or Whistler. The following days I managed to ski some more fresh snow in the backcountry in between watching the US Open in the hostel and eating some of the best Mexican food in a great little restaurant called Ay Ay Ay Maria before saying goodbye to Villa la Angostura. There was a lot of snow on its way to Las Leñas, so I had to go back North…

Check out this video I made of a couple of great days of skiing in and around Cerro Bayo:

 

Since I didn’t want to arrive early in Las Leñas, I made a stopover in the lively metropolis of San Rafael. Spending two nights in what must have been one of the most interesting hostels around, was more than enough. As a result I made my comeback in Argentina’s freeride capital on Thursday, just in time to enjoy probably the best day of the season. Hungry freeriders from all over were waiting to jump on the Marte chair in order to consume as much of the 40 to 50 cm of fresh snow as possible. On a normal day I ski 4 or 5 laps on the Marte chair, this day I squeezed 9 laps out of my day pass. The Marte bowl, two runs on the frontside, two runs in Frankie’s couloir, two runs in Human Error, Exocet and Paraiso made this day unforgettable. Skiing Frankie became a true mission after all these years I have been going to Argentina and was really fantastic in these conditions. Human Error is more often than not a tricky run because of its exposure to the wind. This day the snow was soft and consistent, a real pleasure to ski it. The next day I figured the steep Southeast facing couloir named Hourglass might be a good objective. It’s off the beaten track, you have to hike (only a little bit…) to get there and it’s usually in good conditions early in the day. The plan worked out really well. With only a couple of tracks and soft snow almost all the way to the bottom, the couloir was in great shape. With rising temperatures the snow quickly changed that same day and the powder skiing had definitely came to an end. Together with Fabien I explored the backcountry and skied classics like Manhattan couloir and the Banana couloir. I had never skied the Banana before and that turned out to be a great adventure. Check out more about skiing this run from the top of Cerro Martin by clicking here. With conditions changing and bad weather coming in, this was also the last adventure of the trip in terms of skiing. I left the mountains and finished the trip in urban style…
the Human Error couloir was in great condition after the storm

the Human Error couloir was in great condition after the storm

In all my previous trips to this part of the world I had never visited Córdoba, the second largest city of the country. That finally had to change. I stayed for three nights just outside the historical center. The women had to be amazing and the city should be a paradise, a little Buenos Aires but even better. Well, I didn’t see all that but I did manage to find some good restaurants and a great beer at the Antares pub. The main sight I visited was the cinema in a local shopping mall where I watched Everest and the Intern. Especially Everest was a very impressive movie if you’d ask me. All in all, it was a nice city, not yet discovered by foreign mass tourism, but I didn’t understand what the hype was all about. Time to go to Buenos Aires…

To be honest I had too much time to kill in Buenos Aires, about 8 days. Over the years I have become quite familiar with this city. With much more sunshine compared to my first visit of the trip to the capital, I spent a lot of time outdoor. I walked from one neighbourhood to the other and checked out many restaurants, just as usual. New running shoes were soon tested in the Reserva Ecológica, a beautiful park in the Puerto Madero area, from where you have a nice view on the ocean. After another horrible night in yet another dormitory, I had left the world of hostels and checked out some hotels. The last two nights I ended up in a nice 4-star hotel where I finally found some peace. Before flying back home, I had one more thing to do. As usual I had to visit a football match. Previously I had been to River Plate, Boca Juniors, Velez Sarsfield and San Lorenzo (I know, spoilt…) so either Racing or Independiente, the two remaining big teams I had never visited before, would be next. Racing was playing away, Independiente was facing River Plate in a big match on Sunday evening. Tickets were taken care of in Las Leñas where I had met Juan Pablo, a socio (season ticket holder) of Independiente, on the Marte chairlift. He assured he’d arrange a ticket for me and, as turned out, he did. Together with some friends of Juan Pablo I enjoyed pizza and beers as a warm up before going to Avellaneda, the neighbourhood that is home to Independiente. The atmosphere during the game was simply fantastic. Literally everybody was involved and singing the majority of the game. The prospects of this game were not very promising for the Independiente fans since River Plate won most of their previous encounters. This time however, a 3-0 victory was the result of an exciting game. It won’t come as a surprise, but Juan Pablo and his friends want the skiing Dutchman to be there every time Independiente has to play River Plate from now on! Click here to read more about my visit to Independiente, I also posted a short movie so you can get an idea of the atmosphere over there…

the fanatics of Independiente, in fact everybody is a fanatic here...

the fanatics of Independiente, in fact everybody is a fanatic here…

After two months the trip had come to an end. The initial plan was to tick of some runs from my bucketlist, specifically the Super C couloir. Unfortunately I didn’t manage to climb and ski one of the best couloirs in South America, but I did ski some other great stuff. Frankie’s couloir was also on the bucketlist and I skied it in much better conditions than I had ever expected. I visited Cerro Bayo initially to do some easy and relaxed backcountry tours off the backside. Meeting Eric Hjorleifson and being invited to ski with him and his fiancé was a huge bonus. I skied a couloir I would never have found on my own, let alone ski it safely. Skiing with a pro also means you can watch and observe someone with much more experience and with great ability, a unique experience. In the end I wished I had done more ski mountaineering stuff (like exploring more terrain around Refugio Frey, Refugio Jakob and skiing in the crater of Puyehue) but the conditions in Las Leñas were so good I wanted to take full advantage of the opportunity to ski its great terrain.

All in all the trip was a great mix between skiing and relaxing. It turned out to be another great break from computer screens and hot summer days. However, I am not sure whether I’ll go back to Argentina and Chile for skiing soon. I have visited most places multiple times and the cities do not have many surprises anymore. A nice aspect of travelling is the sense of adventure and exploring. In order to have this feeling I might have to check out some new destinations in the near future.

One Response to Skiing the Andes…again

  1. Sander says:

    leuk!
    krijg ik echt zin van om te gaan skiën!

    groeten,

    Sander

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