Most of my summers end with an eager anticipation for the snow season to start again. But there’s a good three or four months of waiting before it actually snows! Sound familiar? This year, however, was different for me. This year I took three planes, travelled over twenty-four hours, ended up in a mystical ski town, and skied my buns off in the middle of August. Yes, I chased winter. I chased winter all the way down to Bariloche, Argentina.
I could see mountain ranges in the distance from the moment I walked out of the little airport in Bariloche. I didn’t sleep on the car ride into town because the mountains got bigger and bigger! And then there was a giant lake! A dark, dark, windy, wild Patagonian lake. Filled with trout. Nahuel Huapi Lake. I arrived at a house in a private neighborhood just passed town, on Lago Gutierrez, and joined the rest of the Oakley Field Testing team for a week of product tests and action on the snow! Our group was a mix of pro athletes, scientists, and engineers – all advanced riders.
We started the week skiing at the resort of Cerro Catedral. The views from this mountain are heavenly. I had to let out whoops of excitement while skiing down and gazing at giant lakes, miles of lush green land, snowy mountain tops, and jagged rocky ridges. The landscape is dramatic and powerful – more so than any place I have seen in the US. But the weather at this resort is unpredictable! The Patagonian winds sweep in and take command. On a sunny lift you can feel like it’s 40 degrees and then on a windy lift you’ll feel like it’s 25 degrees. I quickly learned that a trusty face-guard was my best accessory. I was also deeply amused at some of the lift names, like the “Sextuple Express,” and the “Nubes” Chair, which supplied a solid amount of immature American jokes. We skied a few laps to learn the mountain, but most of us didn’t exactly travel across the world to ski groomers! So we hiked above the resort and out to an area called Zona La Laguna. The snow stays fresh up there and you end up skiing into a steep rock-garden zone with an ample supply of lines! On days where the snow gets firm and sticky, we found that the Laguna zone actually softened up in the afternoon. If you hike to the very tippy-top of the Laguna zone, you arrive at a breathtaking ridge that looks onto the next backcountry valley. It’s a really neat area to take photos, and there’s cool rock that you can climb up on (if you dare in your ski boots, in the wind!). We all had our GoPro’s out and dubbed the spot “Selfie-Rock”. It was magical skiing down from “Selfie-Rock” right before sunset, when everything was golden and glowing.
After a few days of skiing at Cerro Catedral, we decided that there was a great weather window for a trip into the backcountry. Across a big valley, on the opposite side of Cerro Catedral, is a magical little ski hut called Refugio Frey. It takes about half a day to skin there, so we packed up our backpacks in the van after skiing a half-day at the resort and began our trip around 1pm. One lift ride, a rocky ridge traverse, and a few big backcountry turns later, we were putting on our skins at the bottom of a very branchy forest. Skinning through this forest is both a struggle and a giggle fest because you will inevitably be slapped in the face by a branch that someone in front of you bent out of the way. The forest opens up by the time you get to steeper cat tracks, and then you ascend above the tree line. The hike was over before I knew it, and suddenly I was gazing down at a little swiss style hut on the edge of a frozen lake. My attention was quickly beckoned across the lake to the most prime, accessible couloirs I had ever laid eyes on. I took some time to wander around outside the hut and feast my senses. I made friends with a little black dog and was amazed that it made the trip there. I was even more amazed upon entering the hut when I saw a large, lackadaisical black cat chilling in the middle of the little wooden stairway. We spent the night, along with around 20 other people (an enormous amount of people for this usually empty hut), playing Cards Against Humanity and meeting people. All thirty of us were to sleep upstairs in one big room that night, so the wine was flowing at all tables. Everyone was friendly by the time dinner was over and, suddenly, a little guitar was placed in my lap. I guess someone in my group had seen it and planned to surprise me. What happened next was probably one of the most memorable moments of my life. In that little ski hut, amongst 30 wine-drunk skiers in the backcountry of Bariloche, I played a concert. I sang my heart out in my ski clothes with a backdrop of skins draped in front of the fire. The next morning I hiked two hours and skied my first Argentine couloir.
The last day of my trip I made a point of going into Bariloche and experiencing more of the culture. I got a very affordable massage to recover from all the hiking, and walked around the tourist shops. I bought gifts for family and friends and ate wonderful chocolate and pastries. For our last dinner we dined at a restaurant called Cassis and had a mind-blowing fancy 6 course dinner. If you go to Bariloche, you MUST go there. I left with the feeling that I could have stayed there for months and remain bewildered every day.