The last big snow storm to come through Bariloche, Argentina left 8 inches of snow at the bottom of Catedral ski resort and a couple feet up top on August 20th. Then it got cold. Real cold. About -4F (-20C) at night and highs were only rolling up to about 10F (-12C) during the day.
This was the perfect recipe to keep the backcountry snow in great shape and keep the avalanche risk high.
After harvesting 2 amazing days at the ski resort (August 21st & August 22nd), we decided to head out into the backcountry on August 23rd. We likely should have started smaller, but we chose to head straight to Alaskita, a big line about an hour’s hike from the top of Catedral ski resort. This is a very exposed line with a lot of avalanche potential.
At the top of Alaskita, we gave it a ski cut and a piece of the spine we’d wanted to ski broke off about a foot deep and flowed to the bottom of the zone. It actually broke off about 30 feet away from where we touched the spine. A sympathetic fracture. The wind had loaded the spines heavily from the west, then changed to the east and was gradually packing and remolding them. They looked beautiful and would have skied great, but they were ready to slide.
Needless to say, we bailed on the line and skied something extremely mellow nearby.
The next day, August 24th, we picked a mellower line that we knew had lower avalanche danger, had a nice south face, and got a lot less wind. The name of this zone is “Staff Party” and it’s only about a 20 minute hike from La Laguna in Catedral ski resort.
The snow up top of “Staff Party” was firm and wind packed from the grinding east wind. The snow in the middle where the good rocks and pillows are was absolute perfect. The best snow we’ve skied all season by far. It was cold, dry, deep, re-crystalized Alaskan velvet. But much deeper than what you usually find in AK.
The snow was loud against your skis and the smoke from each turn would linger in the air for seconds. Snow gets this way after a storm drops powder then the air gets very cold. The cold air sucks the moisture out of the snow making it drier and less dense than it originally was. As longs as temps stay cold and the wind stays off this kind of snow, it skis like a dream. In my book, it’s the best snow there is. It’s very predictable.
Below the rock/pillow zone the tree skiing was also in perfect re-crystalized pow. The snow was even louder down here or maybe it was just the old trees and moss that dampened all white noise and made the snow seem louder.
The end of the ski is a full-on battle with bamboo, creeks, bushes, trees, trails, and bridges. The trail was actually in great shape and the bridges were easily skied across. The bamboo (caña de colihue) wasn’t too bad either.
After reassessing the avalanche danger in the Alaskita – Roca Inclinada zone, we’d decided that because of the continued cold, avalanche risk had not likely gone down. We chose to ski Staff Party again on August 25th and it was fun again. Although the snow had changed by then. A 2 inch deep crust (what they call cartón [cardboard] down here) had formed on most all the snow. The skiing was still good once you got some good speed going, but it was nowhere near the perfect snow of the previous day.
Today, the wind is up and most of the upper mountain lifts are down at Catedral. The forecast is for warm temperatures and rain beginning tomorrow. It’s been a great stretch. Pow everyday from August 4th – August 26th. It all ends tomorrow.