Crystal Wright smiles for the camera in front of some primo patagonian terrain. photo: Morgan McGlashon.
Argentina is AWESOME. Where else can you get a day of skiing, a five star steak dinner, some of the world’s best Malbec, and lodging at a backcountry hut all for less than you’d pay for a lift ticket in the US? If there is anywhere other than Argentina, I need to know immediately. As far as I can tell, backcountry skiing Argentina is the answer.
homemade pizza and cold beer at Refugio Frey. photo: Morgan McGlashon.
Food, wine, and culture are just the icing on the cake. The cake, of course, is the skiing. This summer I headed to Bariloche, a small city on the northern fringe of Argentine Patagonia, to discover the virtues of backcountry skiing the southern hemisphere.
I arrived in Buenos Aires with a huge ski bag and a palpable thirst for some powder turns. While I’m not much of a city slicker myself, I figured I might as well see what this city was all about. I remembered reading about this fantasy destination when I was thirteen and had always had a visit planned in the back of my mind.
The city is pure fun. Days start late and get going slowly. Evenings start late as well and dinner usually happens sometime between 9pm and midnight. After eating, party people slowly make their way to nightclubs sometime around when most clubs in the US are just about to close. At dawn most of the crowds head home but a few rage on to after parties until mid-morning! …Maybe I need to get out more, but these folks party like rock stars.
the beautiful water, mountains and clouds of San Carlos De Bariloche. Lago Nahuel Huapi. photo: Zeb Blais
There was no way that me or my liver would survive another few days in BA, so I headed south to find the goods in the backcountry of Bariloche. San Carlos de Bariloche is a decent sized city, with a population of just over 100,000. But here, on the northern fringe of Patagonia, the vibe is much more low key. In the winter, the scene has a European feel and the people are very much centered on skiing.
Miles Clark, of snowbrains.com, slashing a powder turn outside Catedral ski area. photo: Zeb Blais.
Cerro Catedral, the local ski resort, is one of the largest ski areas in the country. The setting is splendid with white mountains perched above Lago Nahuel Huapi, the large lake at the center of town. Despite it’s size, it reminded me very much of California’s Lake Tahoe. Beautiful water surrounded by great skiing! Above and beyond the views, Catedral has some great terrain. Steep skiing through granite chutes, wide open bowls and some thinly wooded glades.
Joe Deppler cuts his way into some good skiing! photo: Zeb Blais.
I met up with winter Bariloche residents Miles Clark of snowbrains.com and Joe Deppeler to seek out some pow turns at Catedral. Ten inches of fresh greeted us on the mountain and despite the new snow, the area was uncrowded. We skied a few lift accessed laps to get our legs under us then did a couple quick hikes to the Laguna and Playground areas just out of the ski area boundary.
Zeb earning turns. Catedral backcountry. photo: Joe Deppler.
Miles and pow getting along like old pals. photo: Zeb Blais.
Granite spires loom from the ridge tops, forming steep chutes and complicated terrain. Looking out from the ski area is like being a kid at a candy shop window. Face stuck to the glass all you can see is a series of untracked lines piled up next to each other, each one screaming “pick me, pick me!”
A crew from Jackson and Canada greeted us at Refugio Frey. photo: Morgan McGlashon.
We skied bell to bell, and picked off as much terrain as we could handle at Catedral. After a few days at the resort it was time to get on the backcountry scene. Bumping up the lift at Catedral, Joe and I traversed along a steep ridge line toward our final destination: the Frey Hut.
Refugio Frey as seen from Catedral backcountry. The hut is the tiny speck at the base of the brown granite in the midground. awesome terrain. photo: Zeb Blais.
Morgan McGlashon and Crystal Wright know where to find the goods in Argentina!
We gained the ridge and dropped a steep line into the bowl above the frozen Lago Toncek leading to Refugio Frey. We knew right away we had made a great choice. 360 degrees of steep, 1,500’+ couloirs greeted us to our new home for the next few days. Not able to wait for a hot meal or cup of tea at the hut, we picked a line and went for it. The snow was a bit variable in spots, but avoiding sun affected north faces (it’s opposite in the southern hemisphere) was all it took to find amazing powder turns. Coming down we cruised back across the frozen lake and headed into Frey.
Vasco prepping for dinner. His cooking doesn’t disappoint! photo: Morgan McGlashon.
Vasco (pronounced Bos-co), the hut keeper and cook, greeted us as we pulled in with our skis and packs and offered up some warm Yerba Mate. We took a few minutes to warm up, hydrate and grab a bit to eat before we ran back out for more skiing. You gotta make hay while the sun shines right?
Who could say no to a chute like this? Morgan sends it. photo: Zeb Blais.
After another fun couloir, we got back to the refugio just as fellow Americans Crystal Wright and Morgan McGlashon did. Apparently, it was pro skier week at Refugio Frey, cause these girls were former and current World Freeride Tour athletes and we found Brad Schalles, a ski mountaineer from the Canadian team, to ski with too.
Brad & the gals rip skins. More couloirs. photo: Zeb Blais.
From the windows of the hut, we picked out lines and discussed snow conditions. It was really fun skiing with this crew and we worked well as a team. Plus, we didn’t have to worry about another group shredding our lines, we were the only people there!
Bariloche doesn’t lack for dramatic scenery. photo: Morgan McGlashon.
One of the best parts of the Refugio system here is that you don’t have to pack anything. Lunch food, water, layers, avvy gear and a light sleeping bag are the only gear you need to drag in. All the heavy stuff is already at Frey! The food is great and the comfy bunk beds sure beat carrying pads and a tent. Dinners and breakfasts are made fresh from scratch ingredients and there is plenty of wine, beer and coffee to keep even the most die hard alcohol and caffeine addicts happy.
The Principal, a looming tower of granite above Frey. photo: Morgan McGlashon.
This simple style makes multi-day ski touring out here super fun and waaaay easier. It’s all the fun of backcountry skiing without slogging in tons of food, cooking gear and camping gear. The only thing more plush is lodge skiing in British Columbia.
To book a ski trip in Argentina or find out more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org.