Coming Into The Stretch Drive…

Friday August 11th, 2017

Somewhere between Bariloche and the Chilean border

It’s August 11th today. In 10 days I’ll be on a plane back to Canada. In. Sane.  Surprisingly, I’ve done a pretty good job the last couple weeks of just shutting all of that out of my mind and have been enjoying every last minute to the fullest.

The minutes of this last week were awesome, though, at the moment, I’m back on the bus heading west over the Andes, and back into Chile. This last week in Bariloche was one of those weeks where everything kind of comes together in ways that you can’t appreciate enough, and makes for a wonderful experience.

My time in Argentina was made so memorable thanks in large part to my friend Federico, who I met in New Zealand. The two of us were looking for people to ski with down there and we were able to spend some time on the slopes together. As it happens, Federico, and his family, are from Bariloche. Within minutes of meeting for the first time, Federico offered to talk to his mother to see if I could stay at their family home during my travels. His brother, Leonardo, would also be around and could perhaps show me some of the local stashes.  With no expectations, I accepted Fede’s more than generous offer and jumped in without knowing what I was getting myself into. It turned out to be one of the nicest things that has happened to me on this trip.

I showed up on the family doorstep a little sheepishly last Friday, wondering how I was going to introduce myself to Fede’s mother, Nilda, as he had told me she doesn’t speak a word of English. How do you say: “Uh, yeah hi, I’m Andrew, Federico’s friend who met me through Facebook ski touring groups in New Zealand and I’m here to stay for a few days”, in Argentinian Spanish?! Beats me.

Turns out it didn’t really matter, because thanks to a bunch of funny hand gestures and the dozen or so Spanish words that I do understand, the door didn’t get slammed in my face. Nilda greeted me warmly and, despite the fact we had never met before, I immediately felt welcome in their home.

Leonardo (“Cuny”), who speaks English very well, arrived at the house an hour or so after me, and played translator between his mother and I.  He is a super likeable guy and after some short introductions we got into the details of the week ahead: Tomorrow (Saturday), we would head up to Cerro Catedral (the resort outside town) for some laps, and then Sunday or Monday (weather depending) we would head into Refugio Frey for a few days of touring. Amazing. Pretty much exactly what I was hoping to do during my stay.

For the rest of the week Cuny completely took me under his wing, and showed me a side of Bariloche that I never would have experienced on my own. He’s hoping to make it up to Whistler one of these days, and I can’t wait to repay the favor.

After cranking out a few laps at Catedral on Saturday (high winds caused most of the lifts to close early), we went over to Leonardo’s friend Claudio’s place for a BBQ dinner. Argentinians are famous for their grilling skills, so I was excited for the meal. Claudio certainly delivered with a spread of beef steaks, ribs, and a variety of sausages to start. It was delicious.

The whole evening was made even more special because it was totally authentic: just a few friends and family enjoying a nice meal together on a Saturday night. I mostly just sat at the table, smiled, and helped myself to more meat and beer, because I couldn’t understand a single word that was being said. But everyone was laughing (maybe at me?!) and having a good time. It was neat to be a part of, and every so often Cuny and I would chat so I didn’t feel completely invisible!

After a bad weather day on Sunday, we packed up early on Monday morning and headed out to Refugio Frey.  I’m not sure how many of these days I’ve had on this trip, but it was another one of those ones where skis go on the pack, boots go on the pack, and snow line seems like miles away.  Plus we had four days worth of food to carry. And it was raining.  The things we do for skiing…

The hike in to Frey was straightforward, with Cuny having spent tons of time there over the years.  Eventually we crossed the freezing elevation and by the time we arrived to the hut there were a few centimetres of fresh snow on the ground. With snow falling, and more in the forecast for the days ahead,  it was shaping up to be an awesome few days.

Refugio Frey sits at the eastern edge of Laguna Tonchek, a few kilometres behind the Cerro Catedral ski area, and looks out towards tons of enormous granite spires and towers. Despite the less than favorable weather when we arrived, we could still make out plenty of different couloirs that looked great for skiing.  The hut is well equipped, with a full kitchen, running water, and caretakers there to keep things in order.  There were relatively few people at the hut when we arrived, so it was nice to have some space and make ourselves at home. Cuny took advantage of the kitchen to prepare delicious meals, and so all we had to do was eat, sleep, and ski.

From Monday until yesterday afternoon, we had the place more or less to ourselves and got first pick on fresh tracks for many of the lines outside the hut.  A pair of German guys who I had met earlier in the month at Chillan also arrived on the Monday and so teamed up with us for many of the runs.

The best day of the week was no doubt on Wednesday when, after two days of snow, the sun finally came out to reveal the true extent of the mountain playground we were in. Cuny had pretty keen to throw some “Patagonian backflips” during our stay, so after preparing a nice kicker on our first afternoon, he tested it out and landed some sweet tricks, with  massive granite spires framing the backdrop.  After a few jumps we’d pick a couloir and then go and ski a fun line.

The skiing was great.  Long, narrow lines, with huge granite walls on either side.  Most of the couloirs spilled out onto the frozen lake and so we just had to look up and pick the next one we wanted to climb and ski.  The fresh snow made it even more special.

Yesterday afternoon, after a few more tricks and a couple more runs, we packed up our things and made our way back into town.  We must have drawn just a few looks when we stumbled on to the city bus at 7:00PM last night, drenched, and once again with skis, boots, etc, all strapped to our packs.  The bus dropped us in town and we walked right to the front door of the house.

It was a short evening last night after getting settled back to the house and drying out our gear.  I had a nice dinner with Nilda and Leonardo and then early this morning it was back on the bus at 7:00 am, before the sun was even up.  The rest of the day will be fairly uneventful, with a few more hours on this bus, and then a two hour flight north to Santiago.  But,  the guys – Mike, Will, and Neal – should all be en route now (Mike lands in Santiago at the same time as me), and I can’t wait to see them. In the morning we will make our way up to Portillo for what should be an unbeatable finale to this unforgettable ski adventure.


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