Returned to Chile and hightailed it on the bus to Las Trancas/Nevados de Chillán the same day I arrived in Santiago. Lots of hours of travel but a promising weather forecast kept me going. Sure enough, the bus to Las Trancas couldn’t ascend the final curves in the road due to snowy conditions and Goñi was nice enough to come pick me up 10 minutes below his house.
The next day was as hoped a sunny day of powder skiing. What absurd luxury – jet setting from one metropolis to another on a different continent, clicking into skis the next morning and shredding pow all day with friends. What the hell? Someone pinch me.
I spent the week staying at Claudia Diaz’s house and many people were in town for the Chilean National Junior Alpine Championships which lasted four days during the week.
Unfortunately after the powder day, the puelche arrived. Puelche is a very strong east wind that comes howling out of Argentina into Chile. It is a well-known meteorological event in this part of Chile and it typically happens a couple times a season. So the day after pow my friend Reymundo and I greeted the incoming puelche by going for a ski tour in the atrociously windy conditions. It is amazing how even the most benign, recognizable, and flat terrain becomes terribly intimidating in the wind. From the ski area base we toured to the Garganta del Diablo refugio to rest and eat before heading back into the gale. Our intent was to traverse the lower flanks of Volcán Nevados, arriving at Valle Shangri-La and the town of Las Trancas. I have made this crossing several times previously. But the wind’s affect on steeper terrain higher on the mountain forced us to take a lower line than either of us was familiar with and we ended up on the wrong side of the expansive lava field which spills out of the bottom of the volcano. We could see where we needed to be but the terrain separating us caused for terribly slow movement. What ensued was a multiple hour crossing of instable lava ridges, deep cracks and holes in the rock precariously hidden by the recent snowfall. I imagine we travelled at about 1 km/h for two hours. Finally back on track after the crossing, we got in touch with Chopo who had just arrived from Pucón. He offered to come pick us up at the top of the Shangri-La road, saving us from walking the few miles of dirt road back to town.
The next day we didn’t even attempt to ski. Full puelche again, stronger yet. Resting was welcomed.
The following day we headed to a secret place. Information omitted. The last run of the day with Chopo was excellent spring snow.
That night I camped on Beni and Stefano’s property in Shangri-La valley. They’re so roots that called me a spoiled brat for bring a tent. Asado, vino, sleep. The next day it was time for a bigger hike. Beni, Stefano, Paloma, Gonza and I packed the backpacks and headed up. Skinning from the base of Nevados de Chillán ski area we climbed thousands of feet and millions of kilometers to the summit of Nevados de Chillán volcano. Some wind still whipped across the summit, though the direction had switched and it now came from the NW. The effects of several days of 150km/h+ winds were apparent everywhere. We didn’t begin skiing till nearly 5pm, and the late hour contributed to some of the NW-facing slopes to softening every so slightly. Otherwise much of the mountain was covered in unskiable sheen ice. The run got better and better as we got lower, again arriving towards to lava field which I had crossed days before, though now on the correct side. We easily exited to the road and finished the circuit, walking out to the boys’ land with the last light of day.
The next day we returned to secret spot, finding excellent spring snow on W-facing slopes during the last hours of sun.
The next day weather unexpectedly returned, bringing midday snowflurries. Beni and I met up at the ski center, organized tickets knowing we’d only ski a few runs. Conditions reports from the ski center were grim. Complete, utter icy hardpack. But with the 3cm of fresh snow we were entertained enough to ski for a couple hours before calling it quits.
That night was the party for the organizers and trainers of the Junior Nationals which had concluded the day before, just an hour before the snow arrived. So we partied until quite late, went to bed, and did not ski the following day.
My bag is now packed for a return trip to Santiago. It has recently snowed in that region, so I will check out conditions, see if there are any ski runs that pique my interest. But mostly I’ll probably head to the coast and work on my lung capacity in the powerful Chilean waves.