Last Monday, September 15th, 2014, I was invited to ski at Mallin Alto, a ski and snowboard hut/snowmobile operation southeast of Bariloche, Argentina. Mallin Alto is a family operation consisting of 4 snowmobiles, an alpine hut, a base hut, comfy valley lodges, and more culture than they know what to do with.
After leaving 130,000-person Bariloche, a bumpy 40-minute dirt road and a deep river crossing brought us to El Abuelo (the grandfather). El Abuelo is an 84-year-old, brawny Argentine guacho who laughs with the confidence of a truly satisfied man. We found him at his country house feeding chickens and laughing. We conversed with a few of the locals who were having their morning coffee before moving up valley. As we were walking out, El Abuelo decided to join us for the day telling me:
“Me encanta la montaña” (I love the mountain).
We piled into the pickup truck, recrossed the river and headed south. We traversed plains, Indian lands, and unfenced horses and cows before crossing the river once more. We stopped to put chains on the pickup’s rear tires.
“Chains for the snow?” I asked.
“No, for the road,” said Kao, the owner/operator of Mallin Alto.
I’ve never seen chains put on a truck for a dirt road, but this was no ordinary dirt road. The road, like the operation is new and raw – both put in by Kao, El Abuelo and friends in 2012. The road ascends and winds and dips and switchbacks up the mountain and through an airy Lenga tree forest.
Further along, the road brought us to snow line and two new snowmobiles. We threw our gear and ourselves on the sleds and made the short journey to the hut. The hut sits at tree line and it’s there that seemingly endless views of the surrounding mountains first reveal themselves.
The hut is a geodesic dome tent with a small wooden structure adjoined. Both are elevated 6 feet off the ground atop a sprawling wooden deck. The dome houses a kitchen, living room, and sleeping quarters. The wooden structure houses a bathroom and shower.
This hut has all you need: running water, hot water (after it’s been heated by fire), beds, a full kitchen, a huge wood heating stove, a wood cooking stove, tables, and chairs. Two large windows allow for great views of the nearby mountains and forests.
Kao and El Abuelo made up a tasty, light brunch before we booted up and headed out on the snowmobile. Huere (a local female expert skier), myself, and Kao headed up the 4km ridge to access the impressively large terrain of Mallin Alto.
It’d been a week since the last snowfall and the heat of spring arrived two days before we did. On our first run, we dropped in and found powder. Kao smiled and hauled us up again and again.
We found differing varieties of powder and corn all day on various aspects and pitches. We generally skied long, wide-open slopes on rolling, friendly terrain. To spice it up we dropped a couple cornices and rock-walled chutes. The amount of terrain at Mallin Alto is extremely varied and impressively expansive.
Huere and I were often lost with no real idea of how to get home. Mallin Alto has terrain for all ability levels with the gnarliest terrain being hike-to only as it’s in a non-motorized travel zone.
After 8 great runs deep in the Andes, we headed back to the hut to find El Abuelo and a rich pasta dinner with hot buttered toast and cold beers. We greedily ate and drank, joked and told stories. El Abuelo laughed at our jollies and added his own happy antedotes. I’ve never seen a man laugh so much and need so little. He clearly knows what he has at Mallin Alto and is proud to share it with others.
“What good is this land if we can’t share it with the people.” – El Abuelo