Saturday August 26th, 2017
I’ve been sleeping for the last three days. Not straight – there have been long enough spurts of “awake” time to eat, move from my bed to the couch, and squeeze in the odd round of sub-par (as in mediocre, not under par) golf. I washed all my clothes the other morning and aired out all my gear. Big day. I couldn’t leave any of it out of eye sight though, as if some of it was going to go missing out of our backyard. I wandered around aimlessly, literally watching my clothes dry on the line. It’s funny how one can go for months on end travelling from place to place, riding the waves of excitement and adrenaline, and then when that last wave crashes, you feel lost and can hardly move. Lost is a good way to sum up how I’ve felt these last few days.
I got back to Canada on Tuesday morning, August 22nd, after a long, overnight flight from Santiago to Toronto. My buddy Neal graciously accompanied (consoled?) me all the way back to YYZ, where we parted ways. I continued east to Montreal and he flew west to Vancouver, and I’ll join him and others there in a few more days.
It’s taken a little while to really realize that this #skiaroundtheworld trip is finished and, to be honest, it probably still hasn’t fully sunken in. On the cab ride to the Santiago airport on Monday afternoon, there were a few tears, but it mostly just felt like I was packing up and heading off for that next flight to that next far off destination. And even after an emotional welcome with my mom, who picked me up in Montreal on Tuesday morning, I was still in travel mode, simply moving from an airport into a car, just another leg of a long journey.
For me, that last wave crashed on Tuesday afternoon when I pulled off the ferry in Tadoussac, still my favorite place in the whole world, parked the car in front of Maison Spruce Cliff (our family’s summer home), and saw the last nearly seven months of my life flash before my eyes: I did it.
Tadoussac has a special way of helping one relax, unwind, and reflect. It was the perfect place to come to help ease the pain of my re-entry into reality, pretty much completely unplug, and look back on all of amazing experiences and memories from the last few months. The freshest of those memories were of course the last days of the trip spent in Portillo.
If I had to draw up a grande finale to a trip like this one, I couldn’t have imagined a better one than our week in Portillo. After the awesome week of skiing in Bariloche, I travelled back to Santiago where I met three of my great friends – Neal, Mike, and Will. Mike and Neal have been around since the early days at McGill (study buddies, roommates, hockey teammates, reffing partners, barmates, you name it), but it took Will and I a few “international” hockey tournaments (the ones with too much beer and not enough hockey), not to mention me crashing his wedding five years ago, to really solidify our friendship. A perfect crew to spend a perfect week.
The transfer from Santiago to the iconic Ski Portillo resort on Saturday August 12th was relatively smooth, except that Will thought it would be best if he showed up fashionably late and so took his own shuttle. It was a scenic two and half hour or so drive from the airport up into the Andes. From the front seat, Mike kindly provided some co-piloting directions to the driver, while Neal and I sat in the back and enjoyed blind passing on hairpin corners.
One of the great things about Portillo is that there are no crowds. There are 500 or so beds at the resort and, thanks to a lower than normal snowpack, no day tickets were being sold. That meant we could ski to our hearts content, all week long, without ever having to wait in line. Despite the advertised low snowpack, the skiing was really great. We explored the high traverse and put in fresh lines off the interesting Roca Jack platter lift; rocked laps on the red-carpet entry to Garganta above the classic yellow hotel; and on try number two, we were fortunate to ski the incredible Super C couloir – a 5,500 foot beauty of continuous fall line. With a little bit of work, we were still making fresh tracks after five days of no snow – thanks largely to that no crowds thing. Mike and Will even got their first ever heli-ski run.
There was plenty to keep us busy off the slopes as well, with the whole place having a bit of a “cruise ship” feel to it. We were treated to delicious three course meals at dinner and lunch, tea time, mandatory hot tub soaks after a day on the slopes, and a variety of other activities that the resort prepared as part of “Friend’s Week”. Despite sitting in the corner by ourselves at the bar for most of the week, we still met lots of new friends over a few pisco sours, and chatted with ex-national team ski racers, current pros, and big mountain legends. It really was the perfect way to spend one very last week of skiing, and on our very last night, the Andes delivered one more gift to send us off.
I am borderline superstitious when it comes to mountain things, believing that anything less than complete humility in the mountains is enough to cause something to go wrong, and that the Snow Gods always deliver the goods when it matters most. I’m not trying to convince anyone of one thing or another, but it was pretty special when we woke up on our last morning in Portillo, my 73rd day of skiing around the world, and looked out the window: nearly a foot of fresh Andean powder, and bluebird skies by the time breakfast was over. We made fresh tracks in boot deep powder until our legs couldn’t handle it, and then on our very last run we pointed it all the way down to the shores of Laguna del Inca, under picture perfect sunshine and blue sky. Pure magic, as the saying in Portillo goes.
I’m not sure if it was the gift from the Snow Gods to wrap up the week, or the last needless purchase at 2:59AM the night before (we got an itemized printout of the “extras” on our room bill, with purchase times, so guess what that was), but the four of us took no time to fall fast asleep on the shuttle ride back to Santiago. We scheduled ourselves a couple days to explore some of the sights of the Chilean capital before our respective journeys home last Monday night.
And the rest, as they say, is history. And memories. Lots and lots of incredible memories. My dad likes to say that there are three parts to any great trip: the planning part, before you even leave; living the actual trip itself; and the memories that you take away from it all when you get home. Each part sees its own wave of emotions: excitement, anticipation, and nervousness before you go; happiness, enjoyment, awe (I’ve called them “holy sh*t moments”) when you’re out there doing it; and sadness, pride, and disbelief when it’s all over. It’s kind of hard to pick the best part, because each is so unique and so different. But, when all three are combined, it makes for a life experience that is pretty difficult to put into words.
When I started cooking up this trip, I had a vision of what it was going to look like. I had drawn things up 100 different ways, and planned and planned and planned, but at the end of the day I just had to get out there, hang on, and enjoy the ride as much as I possibly could. I’m happy, and proud, to say that the vision I had turned into everything I hoped it would, and then some. The experiences, the encounters, the new friends, the feelings, and the memories will be cherished forever.
If you’re visiting this blog page for the fifth time, or for the twentieth: thanks. I hope you enjoyed reading and being part of the ride, albeit virtually. Thanks for your comments and notes, and support along the way. If you’ve stumbled across this blog page because you are planning some far flung ski trip (like I was about a year ago, and there were blog pages that helped me out), all I can say is: do it. I hope you make it happen – maybe I can even help point you in the right direction (it’s usually downhill). And if you’re just clicking around online, looking to turn pipe dreams into reality: I hope this inspires you. I hope you decide to get out there and accomplish something you weren’t sure was even possible – it will be one of the best decisions you ever make.
Thanks for following along, I have to go back to work now. 🙂