Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Finally powder in Chile!

We headed straight to the border and were the first guys out. After the usual south american efficiency at the customs, we were finally good to go and our way to Chile. There was only 14km between us and the customs. It has snowed overnight, but the road was nicely cleared….

Until we got to a crossroad. The machinery didn’t plowed the road that was goin to Chile.

There was one track that was plowing through about a foot of snow. We figured, it would get better, so I jumped on the gas and went for it!

My enthousiasm last for 10meters… until we got stuck.
That was the second time we got stuck in two days.

Damn we should have crossed the night before instead of going for a steak and wine!

About 30 minutes later, the grader showed up and and perfectly cleared the road!
We were pretty excited about still being on target for skiing that day!

We followed the machines…. Until the official international border. When we got to the line separating Chile and Argentina, the machinery turned back. Guess what?! Yep the road wasn’t cleared on the Chilean side.
We parked the van and waited an hour, then two. After drinking the last beer we had, I went for a nap

Amelie eventually wakes me up as a 4x4 was making his way up from the Chilean side. They explained us their machinery was broken and they kept going to go explained the situation to the border patrol in Argentina.

When they eventually came back Amelie arranges that we would followed them.
That was quite a challenge to stay in their tracks as the van was getting jacked up by the snow but as we were going down, there was less and less snow. We finally got to the customs 5 hours after we left the Argentinean customs!

Our fun didn’t end up there! The guy from the immigration wasn’t working as he has left for personal reason. He came back an hour and a half later…

After trying to cross for 3 days, we were FINALLY in Chile!

With more snow on the forecast, we headed straight to  Nevados de Chillan in Las Trancas that apparently has the best snow of Chile.

The storm was accompanied by some harsh wind that kept the lifts closed. We tried to hike our way up but were also forced down due to the high wind.
We quit and got soaked in one of the numerous commercial termas with Tree, my friend from Canada. One thing led to another and we eventually ended up in the house of the owner of the Snowpub, the main bar in Las Trancas. The storm was forecasted to get stronger the following day, so we didn’t fell bad to enjoy the party with the chileans until almost dawn.
When we eventually woke up, we head to the hill just to make sure it was close…. And it wasn’t!

In a sense of emergency that we didn’t really feel during this trip, we got dressed and went to the Tata lift. We weren’t able to see much and by looking at the tracks on the hill, we didn’t missed much on the powder. It kinda looked like the lift just opened.

We skied non stop through some nice silky snow.
We went to bed early since they were calling for more snow overnight then a clear sky with no wind.

The perfect day that we were hoping for, happened. As we woke up, the sun was shinning, there wasn’t any wind and the whole mountain was plastered with snow.
We followed the good skiers around the mountain.
I do have to say that it was quite a great day of skiing!!!
Fort the first time of the season, all the lifts were running, the snow was nice, it wasn’t cold or warm, there was plenty of terrain to ski, so we were able to get great turns after great turns.
It is quite great to be able not only to enjoy only a few runs in the morning but to be able to get great runs from the beginning to the end of the day.
When we eventually stops skiing after more than 8 hours of non-stop skiing!
When we left the resort to drive back towards Santiago, we left one of the best day of skiing I’ve had all summer and one of the great day you remember for a long time.
We stopped overnight in a Copec station. Those stations are the perfect stop for travellers. With 1$ super clean shower and state of the art station, they are a pretty reliable stop.

The sound of broken glass waked us up in the middle of our sleep. It sounds like people were throwing beer bottle at each other. Then we heard guys shouting, tires squealing and a loud deep sound. We heard the same thing 2 or 3 times as we were waiting for it to ends in our sleeping bags, Amelie said that we should just leave. I crawled to the front of the van to peek through the small opening of the window to see what was happening.

Outside was a masked man walking nervously and talking on the cellphone. It didn’t took me long to figured out that they were there to rob the store.
Hopefully, the finally succeed and left after the front panel of the ATM slammed our van.
We were kinda relief that nothing worse happened!

It was about 6AM (which is about 3AM for North America since they started their day pretty late!) and there was no way we would be able to get back to sleep! We left and started driving towards the ski station El Colorado.

After what was probably my worst ever traffic experience, we finally got to El Colorado around noon after 6+hours to cover about 100km!!!
Valle Nevado, El Colorado, Farellones and La Parva are located (usually) 45minutes from Santiago and next to each others.
The terrain is more extensive than what it looks at the first sight. We were both a bit tired from the previous extensive long day of skiing and the short night of sleep but since the conditions were pretty nice, we skied almost non-stop.
The cover was quite thin as we both hit rocks and the terrain is not super steep, but obviously, people are not too eager about the powder since there was plenty left!
After witnessing a great sunset, we drove down to check out the IF3 presentation The Eye of the Condor that was happening in Santiago. That competition consists of putting on the best video in a week.
It was quite impressive to see what those guys were capable in such a short period of time! No wonder why annual ski movies company presents such amazing images!
The following day was pretty standard with the last minute shopping and packing of our stuff. Pablo from Wicked Camper even kindly dropped us at the airport!!
Amelie and I both had to agree. Even if we didn’t ski that much powder, it was quite a great trip! I really loved it down there and I’m really looking forward to go back!
But before next summer, lets come winter!

Monday, August 5, 2013

Living the great Argentinean life!

We hooked up with Babiche and Debra, his girlfriend, who just got to Bariloche. They were in South America here as well on their first summer pilgrimage.

With a nice warm day on the forecast, we picked them up to head to the resort, Cerro Catedral. It has been a miserable year so far in Bariloche. Beside on big dump in the beginning of July, it has been mostly dry on the hill.

With the warm weather of the past weeks, it didn’t look at it best.
The beginner’s run was probably the most miserable I’ve ever seen!
Apparently, the town of Bariloche used to get some snow during the winter but it has been about 4-5 years that the snow hasn’t made it way in town.

The resort is really in quite a stunning location. With the surrounding mountains around and the lake Nahuel Huapi, the view is one of the best I’ve seen from a ski resort.
The cover was certainly thin on the hill but where there was enough snow to make turns, the conditions were great!
It was quite a challenge not to hit rock; especially when we got closer to the lift at the lower elevation. We all got some new scratches but nothing too serious.
With not much new snow on the forecast, we made the plan to go up to the famous Refugio Frey to check it out.

It is quite a pain to get a single ride up from the resort. They are certainly not the most helpful resort around. You have to be accompanied by a certified mountain guide to be able to buy a single ride. We pretend that we were going cross-country skiing (with our huge backpack) and just went to the gondola, didn’t look at the liftie and jump on the lift.
There is 2 different route you can take to make it to the hut. With the thin cover, it was some kin of scrambling on the north faces. We eventually made it up to a col from where we were able to make turns down a nice open 500+meters vertical run.

Even if it was south facing and haven’t seen much sun to warm it up, we gave it a try.
Manu went first and on its very first turn we heard him sream loud and clear: ‘’C’est dégueulasse!!! (Its sucks big time!)’’
The run wasn’t any epic and the uneven snow conditions add up to the heavy backpack made it pretty hard to link turns.

But if linking the turns weren’t easy, it was nothing compared to was waiting.  With the thin snow coverage, the trees were really dense.
It was probably my worst skin up ever!
We were making our way up a quite steep slope through some fairly dense bush.
The choices were either making switchback on branches and trees or bootpacking on really weak snow that was collapsing under our weight.

We eventually reached the hut 5 hours later…
The hut is probably the best one in South America for backcountry skiing. It is so well equipped that you can kind of forget that you are in the backcountry. With electricity, radio, telephone, party music, cheap wine it certainly has its own vibe.

The hut has room for about 30 people but it must be really crowded since the common area if relatively small.

We were lucky since there wasn’t too many people there since the snow conditions sucked.

We spend the following day hiking around the hut and just spending the day out. The snow wasn’t really great, but it was still pretty cool to check out the terrain surrounding the hut.
We even spend part of the day shoveling a quarter pipe to shoot some jibbing action from Manu.
I really wish the conditions would have been better, but you have to enjoy what you have! With some great conditions, it should be quite epic!
We left the following morning to go back.
We weren’t looking forward to ski down through the steep thick bush slope. It wasn’t as bad as the way up, but all in all, I linked probably 3 turns the whole 400m…
The snow on the hike up to the col was a bit firm but the climb was quite fast anyway. Good things Babiche as brought crampons along since Amélie's teleboot weren't digging much deep into the snow.
Some enjoy the view their own way…
We had planned that trip well since some cold beer were waiting for us.
We kept the feasting mood and head to the El Boliche de Alberto for some great Argentinan cuisine. We were served the best and biggest steak I’ve had in a long time! We ate so much that in the end, we could barely finish the wine we ordered!
We spend the following day driving and chilling around Bariloche. We visited some (apparently) old Nazi bunker, a burned hotel, a quite posh hotel and a rocky beach!
There was some new snow on the forecast so we waited to see if that was really going to happen. ..
It snowed a bit overnight but not enough to get excited. With the usual wind and the poor visibility in the alpine, that wasn’t a day to even think about going up to the resort.
Instead, with Amelie, we left all our friends in Bariloche and hit the road to slowly start our drive north back to Chile.

The wind gusts were fierce and I was quite glad the road was clear since the van was shacking left to right!
We drove all day and finally made it to Las Lajas on the Argentinean side just to realize to pass was closed due to the poor weather conditions.
With the new snow, we turned around and head to Caviahue to check out the resort. The road condition this time was really poor!

We slept on the side of the road and made it to Caviahue just the following morning. The weather certainly didn’t cleared up too much overnight as the whole town seemed to be stuck and shut down due to snow.
We thought about going up to make some turns, but the wind was almost sweeping us off our feet!

Instead of clearing the road, they were using the grooming machine from the resort to groom the streets!!!
A groom street after some wind draft really looks like a cleared street and after a few minutes of driving around town, we eventually got stuck!

It took us about an hour to shovel ourselves out and we left town right after.

The pass was still closed and with more bad weather on the forecast, no one wanted to say when it was going to open. We met 2 different people who told us that our best chance to cross over to Chile was to make a 4-5 hours drive south and try the Hito Icalma pass.

We debates for a few minutes and quickly made our mind to drive there.

We had to put the chains 4 times to make it to the border and we got there just before it closes. The border patrol told us that they could let us go, but the border in Chile would certainly be close.
I figured it would be nice to have a last Argentinean steak before leaving and I made the call to stay overnight in Villa Pehuenia and make the short 8km drive the following morning since it looks like the storm was coming to an end!

Leaving to good life of Argentina for Chile in the morning!