2014 South America Recap: Nevados de Chillan and Las Leñas

Lee Lyon | BackcountryBackcountry
Santiago. Atleast it's surrounded by great mountains.
Santiago. At least it’s surrounded by great mountains.

I spent two months skiing in South America this summer, and it was fun! My trip took me to Nevados de Chillan for two weeks, Las Leñas for a month, and the Cordon del Plata for a week. I’ve been coming down here for nine years now, which makes me feel kind of old, but also very fortunate.

The majority of these photos were taken by Moritz Morlok. Thanks Boyscout!

Santiago at sunset.
Santiago at sunset.

I arrived in Santiago in the middle of August. Typically I head straight to Las Leñas, but things were looking a bit dry and warm there, so I decided to go south to Nevados de Chillan instead. I’ve been hearing good things about Nevados in recent years, and it seems to be the new snowiest place in the Andes, so I figured it was high time I checked it out.

Hitching from Las Trancas to Nevados.
Hitching from Las Trancas to Nevados.

We arrived to high pressure and a mediocre base, with a storm in the forecast. We spent a couple days touring around and skiing volcanoes, which was neat.


Volcan Nevados de Chillan.
Volcan Nevados de Chillan and the Pyramid.


Nevados de Chillan is a nice little place. It has plenty of medium angle volcanoey terrain, with a few surprises hidden here and there. And it does seem to get more consistent snowfall than just about anywhere else in the Andes.

After a couple days of touring, our storm arrived, so we skied powder.

Jerry approves.
Jerry Hance approves.
Hotel Nevados below.
Hotel Nevados below.
That looks interesting.
That looks interesting.
The Fingers.
One of the better runs we had in Chillan.

It stayed sunny for awhile, so we explored some different terrain and some hot springs.

This was probably the coolest zone we found in the area. Pretty steep and long, but ends in an epic terrain trap.
This was probably the coolest zone we found around Nevados de Chillan. Pretty steep and long, but it ends in an epic terrain trap.
Aguas calientes.
Aguas Calientes.
More hitching.
More hitching.

As the next low pressure system arrived, we decided it was time to move on. Nevados was fun, but I couldn’t stop thinking about home:

There's no place like home.
There’s no place like home.

I’ve been coming to Las Leñas for a lot of years, and I really love it there. It feels like a second home to me.

Oh yeah, BUT: it never snows, it blows 100mph every day, Marte opens once a month, the off piste never opens, it’s packed with gringos, it’s more expensive than Norway, and there’s no “culture”. So don’t come here.

Headed to the office.
Headed to the office.

We arrived with the next storm, and skied around for a few days in snow and clouds. The storm came in incredibly wet and heavy, sticking to everything and leaving quite a bit of accumulation up high.

The closest thing we have to tree skiing in Las Leñas.
The closest thing we have to tree skiing in Las Leñas.
The Banana in between snow falls.
The Banana in between snow falls. Boyscout skiing.
Yep. Deep pow in Las Leñas. Mike Hamilton photo.
Yep. Deep pow in Las Leñas. Mike Hamilton photo.
This actually never happens. Mike Hamilton photo.
This actually never happens here. Mike Hamilton photo.

Then, it got sunny, and Marte opened. With one storm, Las Leñas had gone from low base to high base on the upper mountain. Some lines were filled in better than they have been in years. Pillow lines had formed on Clasico, which I’m not sure if I’ve ever seen before.

Amanitas Phalloides.
Magic Mushrooms.
Frontside pow.
Sin Salida, ridiculously filled in.
And deep.
Somewhere on the front.
Unknown skier following Millan's Classico pillow line.
Unknown skier following Millan’s Clasico pillow line.
Screen Shot 2014-10-17 at 9.08.12 AM
Morlok the Warlock.

Here are a couple videos from my buddies Adri and Dorian from that day. They kill it.

Once the powder cloud had settled, it was time to get to work ticking off classic lines in the high alpine around Las Leñas. These were some of my favorite days of the year.

Turn two.
Entre Rios.
Between Go Or No Go and the Baño.
Cerro Negro and Torrecillas.
Screen Shot 2014-10-10 at 6.47.02 PM
Headed for the Baño.
Screen Shot 2014-10-17 at 9.04.54 AM
Dorian, also headed for the Baño.
Screen Shot 2014-10-17 at 9.05.42 AM
Entre Rios framed.
Screen Shot 2014-10-17 at 9.07.10 AM
I ended up spending a lot of time up here. Which is ok with me, because Entre Rios is one of my favorite places in the world.
Asado! Cumple Yaya.
Asado! Cumple Yaya.

After a whole lot of powder skiing, spring arrived, and the corn cycle began. What the Andes lack in great powder, they usually make up for in great corn, and this season was no exception. I think we had two weeks of great spring days. We would start the day with a quick hike to some bigger north facing couloir or line, then head back to Marte and ski as many front side and south wall laps as possible before the mountain closed. With big vertical on steep, rocky runs, day in and day out, I felt like I was skiing stronger than I have in years.

Enjoying this nice picture frame.
Principito, getting really thin.
Unnecessary scrambling. Lost my skis.
Screen Shot 2014-10-10 at 6.46.48 PM
Ponce Dos.
Screen Shot 2014-10-17 at 9.04.37 AM
Principito, Boyscout skiing.
Screen Shot 2014-10-17 at 9.05.22 AM
Mike and Dorian looking down Manhattan.
Screen Shot 2014-10-17 at 9.06.08 AM
Moritz and arches.

All too soon, the season in Las Leñas came to a close. After the resort closed, it snowed again, and the valley was once again blanketed in white. Unfortunately, the resort had decided that all terrain in and around the valley of Las Leñas would be closed, and ski patrol and security were out enforcing this policy. It seemed wrong to leave the valley covered in unskied powder, but there was nothing else to do.

Last run in Las Leñas.
Last run in Las Leñas.
Screen Shot 2014-10-10 at 6.44.55 PM
Valle de Las Leñas on the way out of town.

After a couple days in Mendoza, we decided to head up to the Cordon del Plata, which you can read about here.

It was another great season in South America, and I can’t wait for more. Winter in the northern hemisphere is just around the corner…

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3 thoughts on “2014 South America Recap: Nevados de Chillan and Las Leñas

  1. Great report dude! So happy you are continuing the family tradition of off piste ski adventure!

    Loved your video on high altitude trek and extreme ski down. Bon Chance jeune homme!

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