Snoworks Chile Argentina Adventure

Lee Townend, Snoworks instructor reports on the Snoworks Chile & Argentina Adventure. August 9th – 22nd 2015
Words by Lee Townend (unless otherwise stated)

Snoworks Adventurer Skiers
Cristina Baker, Peter Barrett, Philip Jay, Patrick Davis, Nicola Davis, Matt Davis, Callum Davis

Instructors/guides
Lee Townend, Guido Schilling, Cristian Levy

Day 1 (August 10th – Chile)
This year’s team of Snoworks adventurers all flew into Santiago, here we all met up, introductions complete it was time for coffee and the first of many ‘Empanadas’. We then boarded the internal flight south to Temuco. This is where we met our good friends, and local guides Cristian, Alejandro and Guido from Amity tours. We were then whisked up to the first of our many ski areas ‘Corralco’. With a couple of hours to settle in, unpack and order up the pisco sours! A fantastic buffet dinner and course briefing for day one was quickly followed by an early night for all.

Day 2 (August 11th – Chile)
The first day skiing (warning – over used word coming) was EPIC! This is not an exaggeration, not a cloud in the sky, 30cm fresh of snow and fresh tracks of pow for everyone all day!

We used the lift system for the majority of the day in order to find our skiing legs, and then had a twenty minute ski tour, which was planned as a ‘kit check’, this also provided the group with the last run of the day (5pm) with fresh powder all the way to the café!
Back to the hotel to celebrate and enjoy the spa, pool and hotel’s facilities before dinner and the day two briefing.

Day 3 (August 12th – Chile)
Words by Snoworks adventurer ‘Peter Barrett’
Target – Summit of Lonquimay volcano (type Stratovolcano) via the northwest face, located deep in the Andes in the la Araucania Region. The snow capped volcano lies within the protected area of Malalcahuello-Nalcas. Lonquimay last erupted in 1988, which ended in 1990 ‘’ (never trust a sleeping beauty) with a summit at 2865m (9,400ft) on our second day in Corralco. We started our ascent from the highest point attainable by lift at 2147m.

Lee Townend to break trail, and Guido to follow on tail. A quick transceiver check, skins on, for a climb in moderately deep fresh powder snow. During our climb the absence of ski tracks, and more significantly other skiers in sight, and the realisation that all we observe will be ours for the taking.

An estimated two plus hour skin took around three hours, at a moderate pace with a few very minor skin malfunctions. The view from the top was spectacular looking down into the snow filled volcano, about the size of a large football pitch. The panoramic views – Lonquimay sits at rest with illustrious company, to the left the Sierra Nevada, of the three peaks to the right is the Villarica Volcano and Quetrupillian Volcano and further to the left is the Lanin volcano.

Clearly from our ascent we had the confidence to know our descent was going to be an exceptional (see note at close) ski. We set off for our ski down at 2.45pm local time; ‘’Fresh Tracks’’ a term used all too often in Europe, every time a dusting of snow covers a network of tracks that cover a slope or field, and return within hours of the first tracks. The first pitch off the top was steep & deep and a taste of what was to come ‘’that was incredible’’, followed by the next equally incredible steep untracked long steep pitch (pitch, as in not a flat field), at this point the collective ‘’does it get any better’’ … yes it does, the next serving; a drop into another long powder slope, without any need to traverse – already we have entered ski nirvana, there is yet a final slope of equal standing. We skied 1000m of untracked continuous steep & deep sweet Chile powder. Our tracks will remain for a few more days, or at least until the next snowfall. I guess all off piste skiers know the feeling of skiing fresh untracked powder, but it all ends so quickly leaving you with thoughts of ‘’I need more’’. We filled our boots with a 1000m of vertical descent in deep steep power, at the end of which we traversed the piste into a gentle meadow and skied right back to the hotel door!

Photo: Peter Barrett, Descent of Lonquimay

Photo: Matt Davis, Descent of Lonquimay

Note: Exceptional by comparison is now rated at 6+ out of 10, we have redefined our day as a 10++

Day 4 (August 13th – Chile)
Our last ski day in Corralco was greeted by another bluebird day, some of the team choosing a rest day and to enjoy the hotels’ amazing facilities after yesterday’s big summit day.

Photo: Volcano Lonquimay

We took a warm up run, and then traversed onto the south face of the volcano to enjoy a different off-piste descent to yesterday. The wind had been busy so the results were mixed, with some powder and some smooth wind packed faces.

We approached the foot of today’s climb to the summit of ‘Colorado’ where our indestructible guide ‘Guido’ (whom we believe has snapped some knee ligaments on day one! Tbc) announced we would put the skis on the rucksacks and hike as opposed to skin.

Only a 30 minute hike brought us to the top and another amazing view from the west side of the ski area. The ski down was a mixture of powder and smooth wind pack chalky snow, we skied right to the lodge door and finished the third and last ski day here with some amazing pictures and fist bumps all round. A cheeky bottle of Sauvignon Blanc and a buffet lunch and we hit the road to Argentina.

Normally a five hour drive would be something to sleep through, or avoid, however the road from Chile to Argentina is not only incredibly photographic there is also a near certainty you will see lots of wildlife such as red deer, wild lama, ostrich, wild boar, eagles, condors and even flamingos!

We checked into the Hosteria del Sauquen and enjoyed a fantastic meal and an early night in preparation for the next of many adventurous ski experiences that will be Caviahue.

Day 5 (August 14th – Argentina)

 

Our first day in Argentina was in the ski area of ‘Caviahue’, this is only the second visit for Snoworks to this stunning area, surrounded by monkey puzzle trees, overlooking the lake flanked by stunning mountain ranges and Copahue volcano.

However this first day we would not see too much of these, as there were 55k winds that picked up as the day went on to 80k! The lift system was of course limited by this situation, we therefore took to skiing the off piste and tree runs that were open, and followed that up with a healthy training session.

Guido took a session on kick turns and ski touring techniques that will prove valuable in the days to come. I took an avalanche training session with basic knowledge for the newbies, and a testing multi burial for the more experienced group members.

Photo: Transceiver training

A fantastic day had by all, even with limited terrain and lifts, we retired to our hosteria for après ski and some down time. Opportunities were taken to explore this small but quaint Argentinian town, take photographs of the lake and relax.

We re-grouped at 7pm to head into town to source the bar that Nick Quinn frequented the last time Snoworks came, a few ‘Quilmes’ and a game of Perudo’ and it was back to the hosteria for dinner. The meal tonight was the first of many pieces of the finest beef this country has to offer, of course washed down with a nice bottle of Malbec or three!

Day 6 (August 15th – Argentina)
Words by Snoworks adventure brothers ‘Matt Davis (16) and Callum Davis (10)’

 

In the morning we had a relaxed start to the day as we were anticipating bad weather and therefore decided it would be easier to have a somewhat different activity for the morning. This was driving snowmobiles around the local wood and town, taking it in turns to attempt at controlling these powerful machines. For everyone it was a different and exhilarating experience even though we were all trailing behind the “James May mobile” of Patrick Davis and Philip Jay who insisted on having no fun at all and just trying to survive the ride safely.

Lee however decided that he would be the “Jeremy Clarkson” of the group and overtook at any opportunity to be able to stop and throw snowballs at the rest of us as we drove past. This was my favourite part of the day as I have always wanted to drive one and the speed and acceleration gave me an incredible adrenaline rush.

Photo: Skidoos in Caviahue

Lunch was in a small restaurant with Crayola crayons and a canvas for a placemat. After finishing caricatures of the person opposite and attempts at drawing a Chilean Volcano our food arrived and the chips were among the best in the world. During our food it was noted that there was a 3-foot high volcano in the car park, perfect for Callum to ascend and pose at the top. This helped him burn some of the steak off so that he could come back and finish the fight against the Argentinian heavy weight beef.

Photo: Callum’s car park volcano!

After much assurance from Lee and Peter that the beef was better than amazing, they took on the role of coaching Callum to become the cow devouring champion, who filled the role rather well after having consumed two 350g steaks in one day! He concluded that the Argentinian beef was “the best in the world” and would be impossible to beat.

The afternoon we split the group, with a small team going ski touring and we went Husky dog sledding. This was a tranquil experience and relaxing as well as enjoyable. It was interesting to see how the dogs worked together with the sled drivers and as a team. Murro the crazy yapping dog was soon adopted as Callum’s favourite as he was always desperate to keep running. All of the dogs were very cute and well behaved. Another incredible adventure for everyone.

Photo: Matt & Callum on Husky sled

Words by Lee Townend

In the afternoon the team opted for a group split, following our fantastic lunch in one of the many local restaurants, team Davis went Husky sledding and the remaining splinter group went for a short ski tour.

We went to work up an appetite skinning between the monkey puzzle trees and enjoyed magnificent views of the town and lake of Caviahue.

The wind had of course had an effect on the snow, but therefore it had placed it nicely into other pockets, that meant we enjoyed two short pitches of powder, this all boded well for tomorrow’s big plans.

To be ski touring in such a beautiful and quiet place will be etched in the memory of us for years to come.

The ski resort of Caviahue is only 20 years old and it’s clear to see why those that were inspired to bring skiing and tourism into the area did so.

A cheeky Cervesa and a game of Perudo and it was off to the Nito restaurant for another fine lump of Argentina’s finest beef. Callum incredibly polished off a second one in a day! The rest of us enjoyed some empanadas to wet the palate then the restaurant special – a 500g steak! Wow! You would pay £30 plus for meat of this quality in the UK and even then it wouldn’t be this flavoursome.

 

Day 7 (August 16th – Argentina)
Words by Snoworks adventurer ‘Pat Davis’

 

A bright and early start and within twenty minutes, I’m grinning like a Cheshire cat and completely ignoring the ‘ice-cream head-ache’ thus occasioned. What’s not to smile about? I’m being towed up a mountain behind one of four skidoos hired for the day, over six inches of fresh powder. The sun is rising into a cloudless, blue sky. The backdrop is the beautiful Lake Copahue on the one hand, and a smoking volcano of the same name on the other.

You know those off piste movies you stare at whilst half cut in Dick’s Tea-Bar? The ones shot by dudes far cooler than you or I will ever be? Well this is a Snoworks Production and I’m starring in it! Fifteen minutes later, at the base of El Pyramido, and it’s evident that the rest of the team are thinking along the same lines. There’s a minor epidemic of ‘ice-cream headaches’. Our revered leaders decide to try for three descents. Two off the massive shoulder and one down the socking great couloir. Skis are strapped to rucksacks and we jump onto the skidoos for our ride to the top.

Photo: Skiddos at the top

Skidoos, have I mentioned them? Infernal machines, manufactured by ‘Hades’ and driven by caffeine fuelled crazies with wild hair and tattoos. Three of the most uncomfortable minutes imaginable, hunched over the handlebars whilst the ‘pilot’ is leaping about like a demented monkey behind you. If my teeth survive this, it will be a minor miracle. I swear that nutcase is trying to tip this thing over! Miraculously, we all get to the top with nothing worse than a full body cramp, and following a quick dental checkup, the ice-cream headaches return. Words cannot describe just how beautiful the view is. Skis are donned with renewed enthusiasm and we’re off! A 200m traverse followed by a hop-skip-and-a-jump across some volcanic scree serves for a warm up and we find ourselves at the top of several acres of steep, untracked heaven. Let ’em ride.

Photo: Pat Davis rips the powder

The only problem is the requirement to get back on the wretched skidoos if we fancy another go. Actually, it’s not too bad second time. Before we set off on descent No.2, our esteemed leaders decide that a 50m, uphill schlep will be worth the effort, or good for the soul, or something. 25m later and I’m thinking that an eternity spent working in the skidoo factory would be too good for them. I somehow complete the ascent and eventually my sight and my breath return. I can describe this one. 360 degrees of pure, unadulterated, WOW!!!!!!! Nine volcanoes in the chain, we’re looking at seven of them. Four are smoking. Headache returns. The couloir has been pushed up the running order, so that’s next. We make the entrance and the slightly worried expression on my face is mirrored throughout the team. I mean, I have seen steeper drops. Maybe looking down over Beachy Head. Guido and Lee give us the avalanche lecture. Thanks guys. Forty minutes and several enormous pitches later I’m looking back up and thinking ‘Lordy-Lorr’, I hope that camera was switched on, there must real evidence of this or I’ll come to believe it was all fantasy!

Photo: Pyramid Drain – Aka ‘Snoworks Coloir’

An extra five minutes of headache later and those of us with the energy to realise that it’s not possible to get too much of a good thing are back on the skidoos. Have I mentioned them? Awesome beasts. 600cc of pure exhilaration. Major air off the first roller, landing at an insane angle. The Olympic gymnast in back hangs his tail out further than Ben Ainslie sniffing gold, ‘guns’ it with split-second timing and we flip back to the horizontal just in time to ‘fish-tail’ it up the second roller! It briefly crosses my mind that I may have just had a near death experience, but I don’t care. This is a blast. Vamos, Gaucho! Give it the beans lad!

The third descent is back on the shoulder, except about 100 yards further over. I just cannot abide to even look at old tracks any more darling. We meet at the bottom for birthday ‘champers’ in honour of Air Vice-Marshall (ret) Sir Phil. (Nice touch, Christian and Lee). Skiing done for the day, so a quick late lunch and it’s on the road for St Martin De Los Andes. It’s a long drive over the vast Patagonian Desert.

You’ve seen it in the movies. Pampas, millions of years’ worth of bizarre rock formations (alligators Lee?), Condors soaring on thermals all to a soundtrack of Hotel California et al. The fact that the 4×4 carrying all the skis is playing up is of no real concern. After all, it’s only 400km and Guido’s driving. He’ll probably just jump out and push it without breaking sweat. His other leg still works!

Photo: Sunset over Lanin volcano as we drive across Patagonia

 

Day 8 (August 17th – Argentina)

 

We planned a more leisurely start today, as we had all had an amazing day and a very big journey yesterday. The forecast was also not so good, however today we would use the modern and speedy lift system of Chapelco.  Unfortunately the cloud was low and the wind was high.

This is one of the bigger resorts in Argentina, and has the only gondola in Argentina! With strong winds and light snowfalls we took to the trees, whilst there was no powder, the skiing was enjoyed by all. We carved up the pistes, skied every open lift and had countless runs whipping through the trees with a whoop and a holler.

Photo: Matt Davis getting air in the tree runs of Chapelco

After lunch in one of the many mountain restaurants, some more tree runs later we went back down to St Martin for some r&r and some retail therapy, before one of the most amazing dinners yet. A fancy looking restaurant with an incredible menu and even more incredible wine list, we quaffed Malbec and Champagne and dined on the restaurant specialities of wild boar, venison and trout.

To finish the evening and most of us off, Cristian said it was the law and tradition that we had dessert from the famous hot chocolate and ice cream parlour of ‘Abuela Goye’ (Grandma Goye). Many flavours to choose from, and a nice finish for the palate.

 

Day 9 (August 18th – Argentina and Chile)

 

Today was to be the only non-ski day of the adventure trip. A morning of shopping, photos, coffee and relaxing. Then it was on the road back to Chile for the final leg of this most magnificent trip.

A beautiful sunny day for the ‘official’ team photo at the border post, and then onto the ferry across lake Pirihueico into the biological national park that is Huilo-Huilo.

Photo: Team shot heading back across to Chile

There is only one word to describe this place (don’t panic it’s not epic!) “magical” there is an air of tranquillity that hides the adventure this place also has to offer. The faces of the clients as they arrived at the hotel were one of surprise, delight and magical wonder. Some time to check into the rooms and explore before the official meeting about tomorrow’s ski adventure. Of course this meeting has to be held with a Pisco sour in hand!

Dinner was a culinary buffet delight, then an early night had by all in preparation for tomorrow’s big adventure.

 

Photo: Hotel Nothofagus.

 

Day 10 August 19th – Chile
Words by Snoworks adventurer and SnoworksGAP BASI level 1 instructor ‘Philip Jay’

 

Look, for goodness sake, we’re Snoworks veterans now so we should have known something was afoot shouldn’t we?  When the ‘Great Leeder’ organizes a pre-dawn start with all the kit, and I mean all i.e. not just the mimsy transceiver, shovel and probe but the skins, ski crampons, boot crampons, ice axes, harnesses, ropes and carabiners then we should have known that the man had a plan.

Huilo-Huilo reserve area doesn’t have ski lifts so getting up to the col between the twin volcanoes (El Mocho [2422m] and Choshuenco [2415m]) is a ride in or on the back of a piste basher.

Photo: Our private ski lift to the col

No one to worry about H&S rules here so we arrived at the col [2170m] at 10:35 under a nearly cloudless sky.  Good start; shame about the crampons faff.  Curious how those spiky things which fitted perfectly in the restaurant 10 days ago suddenly didn’t fit at all in contact with real snow.

Photo: Mocho volcano climb with boot crampons

Finally, skis on back, whole team departed col at 11:10 to reach summit of El Mocho volcano – thankfully long quiescent – at 12:15.

No, we couldn’t see both the Pacific and the Atlantic, but many lasting memories remain of snow-covered mountain ridges and conical volcanoes rolling away as far as the curvature of the earth allowed us to see them.

Photo: Team 2015 at the top of Mocho volcano with Choshuenco behind

Now for the fun bit and ‘Great Leeder’ and ‘Great Guide’ saw us all safely down the huge expanse of untracked mountainside to rendezvous with the piste basher far below.  It wasn’t perfect powder but readily skiable and in the descent some stunning action shots were captured against the stunning backdrop.

It is now confirmed that Callum Davis at 10 years old is the youngest ever to skin up Mocho and ski down.  What a story for his ‘My Summer Hols’ school essay!

Photo: Callum Davis “RECORD BREAKER”

At this point normal people would go to the bar and celebrate with a cerveza…and the normal ones did.  That left the ‘Great Guide’, the ‘Great Leeder’, Peter Barrett, myself – and Cristina Baker providing moral support – to do the abnormal and go up to the col a second time to tackle Choshuenco volcano.  Although later in the day than ideal and having skied one peak already, the fine weather and strong team made the plan feasible.  So back at the col ‘Great Guide’, ‘Great Leeder’, Peter and I left Cristina manning the col [2170m] at 14:45 to skin upwards again.

Photo: Guido leads Phil and Peter up the summit of Volcano Choshuenco

Pete and I happily assumed that we’d ski the smooth snow below the peak – easy peasy – but to our considerable consternation the ‘Great Guide’ kicked off his skis, fixed a rope below the final cliff…and carried on upwards on crampons and ice axes.  Madre de dios! Too late to bottle out now so up we all meekly followed!  All four were secured on the very narrow summit ridge by 16:30.

Photo: Guido, Peter and Phil at the summit

Equally stunning views and more pickies but wind was rising and sun and temperature dropping rapidly, so time to go.  All packed up, ski descent began at 17:40 as shadows lengthened.

Photo: Phil skiing down Volcano Choshuenco as the sun sets

However time enough to photograph the seracs on the edge of the glacier covering the volcanoes before rendezvousing with Cristina in the car park.  Beer, shower, dinner – usual stuff – before weariness overcame ten very contented skiers.

Day 11 (August 20th – Chile)

 

Following several meetings, and weather checks last night between staff and ground crew it was agreed that we would not ski again this trip! Wow, why on earth not I here you cry?

Whatever skiing we did would only be below par to anything and everything we had done thus far. The concept of knocking the suitably placed cherry on the very iced cake of yesterday’s alpine adventure would be considered ludicrous.

The wind was forecast strong, thus meaning the sun would not soften and ‘spring-up’ the snow like it had done yesterday.

Most people were incredibly tired, even more elated and ready for a relaxing day.

However! Whilst skiing was not on the agenda the last day of this magnificent adventure would not be diluted to the extent of relaxing. At least not for Peter Barratt! (Read on)

The morning’s activities on offer were zip wiring through the forest, or an educational tour and walk through the biological and magical Huilo-Huilo national park. The group made their choices accordingly and Guido whizzed off with the world record breaker, his brother and father for the high wire excitement.

An incredibly passionate and informative tour guide that goes by the name of Cristian Levy escorted the remainder of us, you may have heard of him?

Photo: Cristian Levy with the powerful Huilo-Huilo waterfall

His knowledge and enthusiasm for the area and all it had to offer was enriching. Many photos taken, several souvenirs purchased, as all items are handmade by the local people with their local materials, and it was off to lunch. Fresh trout with equally fresh avocado salad cleansed and energised (some) of us for an afternoon of Chilean horse riding.

Now I have had the fortune of riding several of these wonderful, small ponies and whilst I claim no real skill in the activity a little knowledge on this occasion went a long way (to my amusement and added pleasure).

Group 1 went out for their ride, and returned relaxed content and at one with their steeds.

Photo Callum and Nicky Davis and their Gaucho guide

Then group 2 – Cristian, Peter, Cristina (somewhat bullied into going, but she ended up enjoying it) and I.

The first 20 minutes were typically uneventful as these sorts of occasions usually are, the horses all just follow each other and you sit there for the ride. However, Cristian has some skill on a horse and I seemed (probably just luck) to be able to get mine to manoeuvre, stop and follow my commands. We then arrived at a rather large muddy puddle, it was at this point that Peter’s afternoon became somewhat more exciting, (not by choice) as his horse decided it would like to cool down and commenced by flicking water up onto its belly with its front hooves, much to the surprise and dismay of Peter and to the amusement of the rest of us, it then went to lie down!!!

Photo: Peter Barrett

Fortunately for Peter the Gaucho leading the ride jumped from his steed and ran in to save him.

Now by this point the rest of us are laughing uncontrollably, (non more so than me, sorry Peter). Peter’s horse had now become aware that it could do what it wanted and Peter didn’t really have much say in the matter. The ride continued with Peter going for several trots, a near canter, a stop to graze and several other unplanned and generally unwanted (by Peter) manoeuvres.

It was at this point, on the ride for home that I decided the fun factor available here, (yes at Peter’s expense, sorry!) was an opportunity not to be missed. I would stop my horse, Peter’s would then of course stop, I would then leave a suitably frightening gap (for Peter) between us two and the others, then give the command and my horse would happily trot on to catch its friends with Peter holding on for dear life as his horse copied mine. Probably more amusing too be there than to read, but I promise you it was hilarious.

I’m not sure if Peter has forgiven me, he didn’t fall off, and I’m counting on him counteracting the incident with all of his previous positives of the adventure prior to me gaining amusement from his lack of equine experience.

A final celebration dinner, toasts, thank you’s and a slide show of the photos taken brought this 2-week South American adventure course to a close.

I hope this blog, the pictures and the video to follow will go some way into convincing you all that you MUST travel and ski in this magnificent part of the world. We of course hope you will do so with us at Snoworks and Amity Tours. Deposits for the 2016 adventure are now being taken, and 2 other different courses will also be offered very soon. Stay with us on all our social media feeds below for upcoming news, events, courses and more.

Lee.

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