Banana couloir, Las Leñas, Argentina

Las Leñas in Argentina has many options for freeriding, most of them easily accessible by the Marte chairlift. These options include many bowls, chutes and some steep couloirs and can keep you busy for days or even weeks. In case you want to explore a but further there are some fantastic options in the “backyard” with mountains like Cerro Martin, Entre Rios and Torrecillas…

Ever since I have been coming to Las Leñas I have skied once or twice in the backyard. In 2009 I skied the classic line from Torrecillas and in 2013 I skied from the top of Entre Rios. Clearly a descent from the summit of Cerro Martin was still missing on my resumé. From the top there are two options on the front side: the first option leads you through “the fingers” (a series of huge rock spires) and the second one is a steep couloir called the Banana because it is curved from top to bottom. On September 20, 2015 I skied the Banana couloir together with Fabien Nadal.

"the backyard" of Las Leñas with from right to left: Cerro Martin, Entre Rios, Cerro Negro and Cerro Torrecilas

“the backyard” of Las Leñas with from right to left: Cerro Martin, Entre Rios, Cerro Negro and Cerro Torrecilas

I arrived in Las Leñas on Thursday September 17, just in time of a big powder day. Friday the lifts opened and a group of hungry freeriders tracked out most of the mountain in a couple of hours. The energy and adrenaline was all over the place. I skied some great runs this day including a great descent in Frankie’s couloir. The next day Fabien arrived in the afternoon and we skied Human Error, Exocet and Sans Nom. When we made our way towards Sans Nom we spotted some tracks in the Banana couloir and decided we wanted to go the next day if weather would allow us…

The forecast for the next day was not the most promising; it would be cloudy, windy together with possibly snow showers. But, this is Las Leñas and you never know… When we woke up the next day we opened the curtains and… yep, cloudy and windy. We still gave it a go. I bought a half day pass thinking the Banana couloir would be the only run anyway, possibly followed by another run accessed by some skinning so no extra laps on Marte needed. The weather was still challenging but at least we found Marte was open. On the way up we were faced by some very interesting winds, almost like mini tornados (check out the video below!). Once on the top, the weather was still variable with heavy winds at times. We decided to start hiking with the skis on our backs and check after about 100 meters what the weather would be like. The problem with the weather was not so much the ascend of Cerro Martin but skiing down the steep couloir in zero visibility is something that can best be avoided. However, every 100 meters we decided to continue and therefore we made it to the top in around an hour. The weather had improved in the meantime with good visibility on the top. Time to go skiing!

the Banana couloir, marked in red, is accessed from the summit of Cerro Martin

the Banana couloir, marked in red, is accessed from the summit of Cerro Martin

The top of the Banana couloir is roughly 40 degrees steep followed by a steeper and narrower section in the middle of 45 degrees. Once you’re passed the choke of the couloir, it opens up and becomes less steep. Avalanches in this couloir will most likely be fatal, as will a fall be, so we played things as safe as possible. First, Fabien made his way down on the ridge until the narrower section starts. This part, skier’s right, is most likely safer than the very tempting and untracked bowl skier’s left. I followed the ridge as well and skied towards Fabien. From there on we skied the steeper section, one at the time again. Whereas conditions were great in the upper section, they unfortunately changed in the steeper and narrower part of the couloir. This part gets less sun in general making for different conditions. Add the zero visibility thanks to some clouds that came in and we had the perfect cocktail for some very interesting skiing…

Fabien skied all the way to the bottom and made it clear along the way that there were certain points that should be taken with a lot of care. Again, a steep narrow couloir with many rocks just underneath the surface and hardly any visibility are not the best ingredients for a great descent. As a result I took it extra slow, especially at the hardest part. I realized how great this run must be in good conditions, top to bottom. I survived the hardest part and luckily found some soft snow again below the choke. Both exhausted and relieved, I skied towards Fabien. Even though it might not have been the best skiing, we still completed one of the great descents in Las Leñas!

Check out this video I made from the adventure of climbing Cerro Martin and skiing the Banana couloir:

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