Want to get a head start on your ski season? The southern hemisphere has a few options for Canadian skiers, but none are particularly easy to get to. So, is it worth the effort? Or should you simply hike up to one of our local glaciers this fall?
Here’s what our correspondent, Kevin Hjertaas, found when he travelled to Bariloche, Argentina, with a few other Canadians.
In early September, I joined the Canadian Powder Team (my first advice is to give your crew a name; it makes everything sound more legit.) for a week of hiking couloirs, skiing powder and touring around granite spires in Bariloche, Argentina. I can’t tell you how to get lucky with the weather and snow conditions (that’s a secret), but I can tell you how we made six days of skiing in Argentina worth the nearly four days of travel to get there and back to Canada. I can also tell you to go! The skiing can be fantastic, the mountains are beautiful, and the cultural experience tops it all.
1. Touring gear. If you have the gear and know-how, don’t even think about skiing the lifts exclusively. The immediate backcountry off Catedral Alta Patagonia ski resort is easily accessed and provides a fantastic playground with plenty of options. Even on days when you buy lift tickets, the best runs include some touring.
Chris Rubens touring near Frey Hut.
2. Someone to do the leg work. With only six days to ski, you don’t want to waste any time. We were lucky enough to have friends who’d been down there a few years in a row and had the place dialled. If you aren’t parachuting into a trip like that, research all you can from home and then look into hiring a local guide. Jorge Kosulj of Andescross is a great guy to show you around, arrange lodging and transportation, and take you into the mountains.
3. Lomo, Lomo, Lomo. Huge, delicious steaks cooked to perfection with all the appies, bread and wine you can handle for the price of a pub meal back home. How could you not eat out every night? Great steak and wine are what I expected in Argentina, but holy cow. Many of us have been vegetarians at different times in our lives, but none of us even tried on this trip. If you can, enjoy the culture and eat meat in Argentina! (Lomo: Spanish for beef tenderloin)
4. A Trail Breaker. Christina Lustenberger is a former World Cup racer turned ski mountaineering powerhouse. She is faster than you on the uphills but will wait for you at the top and even let you ski first sometimes. If you can secure someone like this for your next trip, I highly recommend it. In fact, Christina occasionally works as a ski guide, so if you can peel her away from her home mountains in Revelstoke, perhaps you can hire her?
Rubens and Hoji leading into the white.
5. Luck With The Wind. On our final day, the Patagonia winds showed up and literally pushed us off ridge tops while scouring the slopes and devastating the powder we’d been enjoying. It made us appreciate how lucky we’d been with the weather for the first five days. Pack a lucky charm, light a candle and cross your fingers, but know that the weather can change everything quickly, and the Andes can get the kind of wind that has no rival in the Rockies (well, maybe Castle Mountain).
6. Simple Backcountry Logistics. The Frey Hut is a leisurely tour away from Catedral Alta. For about $40 per day, you get all three meals and a roof over your head. That means all you need to pack is a small sleeping bag to stuff in your usual ski pack. Add a toothbrush and clean underwear if you want to keep it classy. Wait for your weather window and stay as long as it lasts. You can ski back to the resort any day you choose. It’s logistically simple, and the mountains around Frey are full of impressive ski lines. Frey is the place I still dream of when I dream of Argentina.
7. American $100 Bills. You don’t need a ton of money once you’re there, but you’ll get a much better exchange rate if you show up with crisp $100 US bills and find a Blue Market money changer on the street. Ask around. It might feel shady at first, but that’s part of the fun.
8. An Optimist. Every group of friends has one. Harley Hegnauer hails from Canmore, Alberta but fits in anywhere he goes. You need someone who sees the good times around every corner and keeps everyone’s spirits high if you are going to live communally for a week.
Couloir skiing in the Bariloche backcountry.
9. Good Apres Skiing. You need to refuel when dinner isn’t until 10 pm or later, and you’ve played hard in the mountains all day. We ended most of our days at the base of Catedral Alta, where a few food options exist, including casual, outdoor seating, choripan sausage and 1L beers ($8). Simple and satisfying.
10. Ski Gear. Always carry your ski boots and an avalanche transceiver on the plane with you. Ski boots can be your “personal item” on most airlines. You won’t be able to borrow those easily if your gear doesn’t make the entire 25hr trip with you. Everything else you can borrow or rent, but you don’t want to miss a day of your trip waiting for lost baggage. (Bonus: check those boots on the way home when they are stinky from all your fun, or other passengers will hate you!)
11. Lodging With Local Knowledge. A great crew of people runs La Luna in Bariloche. Seb gave us directions to his favourite backcountry zones, made dinner reservations, showed us around the mountain, and generally hooked us up. We tried to repay him and his friends in ski gear. Due to different trade and economic factors, it isn’t easy to buy current equipment in Argentina, so real skiers are stoked to buy your equipment at fair prices. You’re actually doing the ski scene down there a service. So pack heavy and come home light.
Hoji and Rubens share a line in Bariloche.
12. No Spanish What-So-Ever. It’s six days. I can’t learn a language that quickly, and you can slide by without it. Remember your manners: Por Favor and Gracias. Then add in Lomo and Mas o Menos (More or Less). You’ll get by.
13. Come Rested. If you want to maximize ski time and the cultural experience, you won’t be sleeping much. So show up rested and crash on the plane ride home.
Skiing in September is a great way for skiers from the Northern Hemisphere to satiate their craving for the next ski season, not to mention get their legs in shape before there’s even snow on the ground at home. Flights aren’t cheap, and the carbon footprint is high, but there’s no denying what a great experience it is. If you can make your trip longer, obviously do it. If, like me, you can only get away for a week, make it count!
Harley Hegnauer and Hoji hitch a ride.
You'll want a versatile ski to take with you! Something like: