With all the recent snowfall in up in North America, you may have forgotten that things are still ripping down in South America. This detailed review of the past few weeks is brought to you by Casa Tours.
Words and photos by Casa Tours’ David Johnson
September 18, 2013
We arrived to Bariloche the day before. The “pinche puelche” (fuckin’ wind) shut us down at Volcan Villarica in Pucon for the last couple of days. Crossing the pass to Argentina Volcan Lanin, the tallest volcano in the lakes region, greeted us and marked the transition zone between the lush temperate forests of Chile and the vast, dry steppes of Argentine Patagonia. Our first day at Cerro Catedral was a stellar bluebird day with afternoon spring corn skiing. Despite the lower mountain lacking snow there was certainly no shortage on the upper slopes.
September 19, 2013
A greybird day settled in this morning and the forecast called for afternoon snow showers. Unexpectedly that evening while toasting Ullr with Fernet libations snow began to fall all the way to the lake level. I’d been told Bariloche was particularly cold this winter and to receive snow all the way into town and coat the shores of Nahuel Huapi I knew we were in for a late season treat.
September 20, 2013
ULLR delivers!!!! The upper mountain of Cerro Catedral received between 20-30 cm of especially dry Patagonian powder. All the surrounding mountains also got a healthy covering. The last storm of the 2013 South American winter came at a very opportune time for me and my compadres. Once we got to Catedral we headed directly for the top of the Nubes lift which was closed all morning. I love it when this lift is closed on powder mornings. It means you can get several 20 minute hikes in before the masses shralp one of Catedral’s premier faces. We took full advantage of their slow opening and only had to share this terrain with a handful of other hikers. When the lift finally opened at 2 pm we’d already skied our favorite lines untouched.
September 21, 2013
We road tripped around Lago Nahuel Huapi to the small, boutique ski center Cerro Bayo, outside the village of Villa la Angostura. Wanting to skip the weekend crowds and unruly lift cues at Catedral, Cerro Bayo is a great escape from the madness. About an hour and fifteen minutes from Bariloche, Cerro Bayo is a small center with incredible views of Lago Nahuel Huapi and its hidden bays and densely forested peninsulas. This was the first year Cerro Bayo installed gondolas both at the base of the mountain and one all the way to the summit. Yesterday the summit gondola was closed and there were only a handful of tracks on its face when we arrived. Honestly I was a bigger fan of the hike to the summit as it preserved Bayo’s best terrain for those who wanted to earn it, but today I was grateful for being able to take multiple rides and still have unasked playgrounds just a short tour from the ridge line. The touring possibilities at Cerro Bayo abound. A pair of skins can take you to great places like the Black Box which is about an hour and a half tour from the top. I decided to stay closer and milk the Bayo slack country skiing an untouched face multiple times while only requiring a 15 minute tour back into the resort.
What a great day to welcome spring in the Andes!!!!
September 22, 2013
Cat-Skiing at Baguales. Argentina’s newest cat-ski operation at Baguales Mountain Reserve is a privately owned 14,000 hectare (Yes that is 34,500 acres) snowy playground. The name Baguales is an Argentine word for a wild cow that roams the hills and grasslands of Patagonia. Located deep in the Patagonian Andes about an hour and a half south of Bariloche we navigated a few significant river crossings in 4×4 trucks before arriving at Baguales’ summer lodge, a very sophisticated lodge complete with pool table and 4 very comfortable bedrooms. From here we continued a short way in the trucks before switching to snow machines for the last couple of kilometers to Baguales’ very sophisticated mountain refugio. We were greeted here with excellent coffee, fresh croissants and raspberry jam while Pao, the Ullr inspired bearded guide, gave our safety briefing and day’s mission. The mountain refugio also has 4 very comfortable bedrooms where guests can base themselves for multiple day adventures. The new piston bully snowcat toured our group of 10 throughout the mountain preserve. While many of the runs were not exceptionally long the amount of skiing our group did satiated all our powder desires. Being able to cover so much ground and ski such a variety of terrain makes Baguales an ideal snowcat operation. Still relishing the last storm of the winter’s gift we tracked a wide range of Baguales’ snow playground. We made it back to the refugio in the late afternoon spring glow and were treated with delicious apres snacks and of course cold beer!!!! It was a pleasure seeing Baguales’ owner Hubert’s powder smile and the pride he has in his mountain reserve. In the next couple of days he planned to ski tour to other areas of the reserve in order to get in shape for a Chile volcano mission and talking with him and seeing the vast terrain with my own eyes the possibilities are exceptional and the future very bright for Baguales.
September 23, 2013
Mission Mallin Alto- While Baguales epitomized sophisticated mountain living and modeled after the more civilized Canadian mountain lodges, Mallin Alto was a true gaucho rustic snow experience. Mallin Alto is a project in the making and like Baguales it encompasses a vast amount of Patagonian terrain with a multitude of connecting ridges accessing various pitches and mountain aspects . Project director Kao D’s grandfather homesteaded the lower valley which serves as the gateway to this mountain playground. The access road winds through river beds, cattle pasture, piercing spire rock outcroppings and up into the dense forest of old growth where the dirt road turned to snow and we swapped the truck for a 4 wheeler with snow-cat treads. Climbing through the forest, squirreling around between mud and snow we arrived at the geometric dome that serves as Kao’s mountain base camp. The dome reminded me much of the yurt trips I’ve taken around Idaho and Montana. Equipped with an antique wood cooking stove and a wrap around deck it was not hard for Kao to convince Craig and I to spend the night, especially when he presented us with a few cold Quilmes upon our arrival. We set out in early afternoon on the snow quad and still found dry powder on the South facing slopes. Epic views of Tronador, the highest peak in the region, and into the Chilean distance the perfectly conical Volcan Osorno. We crossed paths with a lone zorro, a Patagonian fox, as it wandered the vast, empty snow dunes while we explored future routes and descents. All epic adventures involve a little misadventure and on our last run the snow quad shat the bed and we had to slap on the skins and walk out under the star filled Patagonian sky. It is a memory I will not forget soon, the sky illuminated with a gazillion stars, the Southern cross acting as the ever present compass, and the vastness of these mountains highlighted by the glow of the milky way. Those first beers at the geodome tasted extra delicious and Kao prepared us a homemade pasta sauce that filled our bellies to hearts content.
September 24, 2013
Mission Mallin Alto – We only got a few turns in today with the snow quad being down. Nonetheless we thoroughly enjoyed soaking up the rays on this gorgeous bluebird day on Mallin Alto’s deck. Not a bad place to be broke down with a stockpile of Quilmes cervezas. Kao’s cousin was planning on meeting us at 5pm with the truck in the valley so there was no rush to leave. The second quad did not have snow treads but had no problems getting us out. On the way down we scared up large deer or ciervo, the first one I’ve seen in the wild here in Argentina. A few condors soared above us enjoying their afternoon thermals. Kao’s project here at Mallin Alto has a ton of potential and another option in the 42nd parallel.
September 25, 2013
Road Trip Bariloche to Esquel on the Ruta 40. After a solid night of celebrating at the Mannush Brewery in Bariloche and a few too many late night fernet & cokes we set off south down the Ruta 40 to the city of Esquel and our next ski destination La Hoya. The road south from Bariloche could not get more scenic. Glimpses of the legendary Frey Cirque and its granite spired towers followed us as we passed several pristine lakes and mountain passes into the hippy town of El Bolson. We stopped for a little hair of the dog at the El Bolson Cerveceria, one of the most prominent Patagonian breweries. Bolson’s dramatic peaks made a sharp contrast with the deep blue sky. Continuing south you enter the endless wind swept steppes reminiscent of Highway 50 in Nevada. Out of this vastness you enter the valley where Esquel sits and the base for the community run La Hoya ski center.
September 26, 2013
La Hoya – Poor Man’s Las Lenas!!! Where else on earth do lift tickets cost less than $20USD or more precisely $16.11 with Argentina’s blue market exchange rate. La Hoya is one of my favorite South American ski destinations. It is one of those throwback ski centers, with an empty dirt parking lot, a base area with buildings that have ‘character’ and a friendly staff happy to see the gringo snow traveler. Its simplicity is one of its greatest charms and coming from Bridger Bowl I have a great respect for mountains run by their community and not some large corporation who doesn’t know jack about running a ski area. La Hoya is all about function and a circuit of 3 lifts brings you to the upper ridges. Like Alta, La Hoya is set up far better for skiers who can traverse easily to the best terrain on the mountain and drop a serious of couloirs and rock features giving them 1800 vertical feet and a solid 38 degree pitch to the base area. Other options include 20 minute hikes to further bowls and steep faces that just seem to keep continuing around every ridge line and open even longer descents to the access road. Today the snow remained a little hard throughout the day and although it didn’t soften enough to come around to corn skiing, there was certainly pockets of chalky wind groomed powder. And who cares I am skiing on September 26th in Patagonia!!!!
September 27th, 2013
My last day of the 2013 South American ski season and coincidently my mama’s birthday. I love paying tribute to my mom skiing on her September birthday. Not only that but a front moved in the night before and flakes were falling during the evening all the way down to Esquel. We awoke to a cloudless bluebird day and while not much snow accumulated enough fell to fill troughs and provide hallways of super dry powder for my final day on the slopes. The 2013 season far surpassed 2012 where conditions were not as kind and late season turns like this were absent. For me La Hoya is all about the short hikes to the outlying bowls. The panoramic views into Los Alerces National Park and the jagged divide of high mountain peaks separating Argentina from Chile go on forever. I truly love this place and can’t wait to return in 2014. We skied until 3 before hightailing back to Bariloche, cruising the empty stretches of Ruta 40 and rolling into the outskirts of Bariloche on fumes, prepared for another misadventure and unworried because we knew we’d be stuck on one of the most beautiful roads I’ve ever driven.
Thank you all for the great adventures, memories, and friendships.
A huge thanks to Ben Nobel at Mystery Ranch, Dan Abrams at Flylow, and Andy Wenberg at BCA for gearing me up and being an ambassador for your awesome brands.
To Craig Ross and Gonzalo Osores Soler for your loyalty and continued commitment to making CASA Argentina the best snow trips available in Patagonia.
To my new friends at Baguales Mountain Reserve and Mallin Alto. I wish you continued success and admire your vision for creating these snow playgrounds.
To travel mate and CASA guest Dillon Johnson for skipping out on his return flight home and extending his work sabbatical. Patagonia is way more fun than the courtroom.
Thank you Snowbrains and Coreshot for publishing my adventures and giving the snow community a glimpse into my life journey.
Buena Onda Compadres