Detailed Las Lenas, Argentina Report: The Corn Machine is On!

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Cerro Collar.
Cerro Collar.

Finally the weather is nice and the Andes corn machine is on!

Sunday August 30
With rain to the top Friday night I was not eager for first chair. However, with a new week underway there was a ticket line that took about 10 minutes. Heading toward Marte on the Venus chair was another 10-minute line because the parallel poma lift broke down sometime last week (A-factor). Marte itself was not all that busy when I first boarded it a little before 10AM. The upper part of Marte shows evidence that the rain reached the top.

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But interestingly the wind had deposited loose snow in many places, including the steep chutes at the bottom of Marte. Today my plan was to ski some of the big runs down the frontside from the top. This can be an intimidating process because most of them are convex rollovers and you don’t know until venture down a bit whether you’re in the right place. I decided to follow a snowboard track even though there was a short section of 10 feet or so on top where you had to walk over gravel. Snow conditions were also unknown but hey, if a snowboarder can hold an edge, surely I can. Over the rollover here’s the view of a classic Las Lenas big line. :drool:

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It was a pleasant surprise that the steep upper section was dry windbuff. Once out of the Mercurio chute the wide open bowl below turned east and at 11:15 it was ~1,500 vertical of corn perfection. Sorry I didn’t stop for pics in that part. :-D

I skied down to Caris as the fastest way to get back to Marte. Before noon to no surprise Cenidor was a horrid refrozen mess. I got back to Marte 11:45 where there was now a 15-minute line. I decided now was the time to ski east facing Paraiso even though it might be more difficult to get back to the base area than in 2005. The windswept plateau rolled over to this mellow pitch of good corn.

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The next section looked ugly, sastrugi with ice crystals.

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But a short traverse across this junky part led to a line of windbuff. In 2005 this is where the Extremely Canadian guides turned right (south) to work their way back to the base, eventually dropping into the gully north of Vulcano. The 2 skiers circled in this pic are looking for the way to bail in that direction with this years’ sketchier snowpack.

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But I’m too tempted by the line of smooth corn dropping off to lower left. And from yesterday’s foray north of Vulcano I’m fairly sure any skiing those skiers find on the other side isn’t going to be very good. Eventually I reached this view and followed a couple of tracks to the valley floor via the marked route.

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The lower section was corn about an hour past its prime and starting to stick a little. But when the run is 3,700 vertical, spring snow is unlikely to be the same top to bottom.

Now for the slog out: after about 15 minutes I took this picture looking back.

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For this section the snow ran out and I was walking on the road a bit.

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Eventually I got back on snow and walked on skis up a gradual rise to the runout from the Vulcano gully. In total it took 50 minutes for me to get to the Urano poma from the bottom of Paraiso. Still worth doing once in a week here IMHO.

I rode Caris, and at least now it was 2:30 so Cenidor’s surface had finally softened. With a 10 minute Marte liftline I got to Billboard overlooking the top of Vulcano about 3:15. Billboard is tilted more south than Mercurio so if it’s in spring mode the softening should be later. It turned out to be dry windbuff for about ¾ of its 2,000 vertical. Halfway down I took pics looking first up.

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And then down.

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I had a pic from Wednesday taken from the Vulcano chair with a good view of both Mercurio and Billboard.

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Mercurio marked in red, Billboard in blue. The upper chute of Mercurio is about 40 degrees, upper Billboard is more like 35. The “X” marked on each line is about the transition point from dry windbuff to corn/spring snow.

I zipped down Vulcano’s groomer to Caris/Cenidor in order to get to Marte before its 4:15PM close. Patrollers don’t let you ski the more extreme routes that late in the day, but my plan was to take the Iris poma and find some mellow west facing off-piste that I hoped might be like Mammoth’s chair 14. I found about 500 vertical of varied windbuff dropping onto the Apolo trail. The pitch I skied is out of view farther up Apolo in this pic.

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The slopes in the pic face SW but obviously take too much direct wind to hold cover unless it’s a bigger year than this one.

Most of the South American skiers here just take the 2 Marte groomers and I expected them to be fairly chewed up this late in the day. But Jupiter was quite nice down to 9,000 feet or so and even had some wind deposition.

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I got down to the bottom a little after 5PM. 19,600 vertical, by far my best day of the trip, but hopefully there will be a few more like this the rest of the week.

Monday August 31
The morning started crystal clear and warm, though there was ice by the side of the road indicating some overnight freezing. I tempted fate by buying a 5-day ticket (price slightly less than 4 single days) with the ongoing warm and dry weather prediction.
Up Marte I once again started with Mercurio via a different chute skier’s right of the one I skied yesterday.

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Unfortunately the bowl of smooth corn below yesterday had been churned somewhat by people skiing it later in the day.

On the return Caris chair I took this pic of Necklace Bowl, which has beaten up quite a bit by the rain and sunny NE exposure.

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Next time up Marte I met two Pacific Northwest skiers, Bill from Bellevue and Jim from Bend. They were skiing with Annie, who owns an Atenas apartment with her injured husband George, and Annie’s brother John. We skied Billboard together, which retained most of its chalky surface from the prior afternoon. Annie here:

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Bill and Annie on the lower part, which was in nice corn mode at noon.

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Jim, John and Annie took a lunch break, but Bill, who had ripped the upper 1,500 of Billboard nonstop, was up for an adventure. We are both interested in finding Eduardo’s, but I guessed that my final “survival skiing run” from August 24 might be in forgiving corn mode today. So we entered Paraiso but cut off to this short gravel walk to Mt. Argos, informally known as “Sombrero.”

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I took more pics this time in the nicer weather. Short upper bowl:

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Bill at the top of the same rollover as a week ago:

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I guessed right on snow conditions. From this pic Bill is a tiny dot far below just right of the left rocks.

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At ~1:30 corn was ideal for 1,500+ vertical to the bottom of the gully. The route of this is traced on the last pic of my August 24 report.

We dodged the gravel in the gully and got down to Urano. Bill didn’t have his phone and need to find his friends. I took his info and since this was one of my more successful guiding jobs I’ll probably ski some more with this crew the rest oi the week. I took a snack and rest break at the Minerva base, refilled my water bottle (you need to drink a LOT here on days like this), before heading for my last Marte run.

It was a memorable grand finale. I followed 5 Argentines to the top of Eduardo’s.

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But then I peeked over the top of a narrow SW-facing couloir that I had seen while riding Marte.

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I needed to sideslip the top a bit. I knew that when it emerged into the sun, this was probably the safest scenario, ~3:30PM on a very warm day, for max softening.

About 500 vert in, I took a break and pics up:

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And a long way down.

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Out in the sun the snow was indeed in nice corn mode.

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I took a picture of this couloir on the way up, ski route marked in red.

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I was a little late with camera on the chair, so the perspective looks more hair-raising than it was. There is still a clear skiable line where the dotted line is going through rocks at the bottom of the pic. I don’t do air, especially in this kind of terrain.

Nonetheless this ranks on the short list of most demanding runs I’ve ever skied. Big Couloir at Big Sky in 2001 was the scariest, an average 43-degree dogleg and when I was there the upper half was partially refrozen. Little Chute at Alta is similarly steep and very intense with a choke ¾ of the way down, but I skied that one in 2014 in fresh powder. This one I think was just shy of 40 degrees, but maintains that pitch for over 2,000 vertical. That’s twice as long as Big Couloir and 3x as long as Main Chute or Little Chute.

These are the moments that make the trials and tribulations of Las Lenas worthwhile. 19,200 vertical. Staley and I met for a steak dinner. He informed me that the couloir I skied is called Human Error.


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