Schralping Chile In Half -- a trip report from Nick Devore's first annual Portillo Big Mountain Telemark Camp
In June 2008, Black Diamond ski athlete and World Champion telemark skier, Nick Devore, held his first annual Portillo Big Mountain Telemark Camp, a week-long intensive instructional course held in Chile’s Andes mountains. Read camp co-instructor Kayo Ogilby’s brief recap of the week’s excitement, and get psyched for next year.
Nick’s head pops over the edge of my top bunk and I know there is no more ignoring the 7:00 a.m. alarm. He cranes his neck out of the narrow window of our room in Portillo, Chile’s Inca Lodge and gives the report: “Bluebird.”
Our dream of over two years had come to fruition: Create a telemark camp in a location with terrain that was stunning enough to be able to teach and develop the contemporary tools to safely navigate and rip big mountain terrain on telemark skis. Nick had approached me with the idea two years ago after a trip to Portillo to check out his friend Chris Davenport’s Ski With the Superstars Camp. He knew he had found the place: A stunning Andean setting with endless chutes, spines and couloirs both on and off-piste. The Inca Lodge was a small cozy all-inclusive lodge that sits like a stranded cruise-ship at the foot of a glacial valley.
During breakfast our stares are glued to the Andean peaks and purple/blue sky. The plan for our seven clients this morning is to hike and traverse into remaining patches of untracked powder from a storm three days ago and then pack up the backcountry gear for the legendary Lake Run. We divide up into two groups: the juniors with Nick to hit some airs and begin thinking about competition lines, and the adults with me to work on wide open super-G turns.
By 10 a.m. the sun has already begun loosening up snow thousands of feet above. Hang fire sluff begins ripping out of couloirs around us as we all reconvene on Primavera, a stunning bit of apron that unfolds right above the lake. We get the cameras situated in two different spots and the crew begins ripping fast, monster turns through the untracked outer margins of the run.
Nick and I both look at each other with the same thoughts as we watch Carder Lamb, a 17-year-old from Vail, Colorado throw up a monster rooster tail of snow followed by Peter White from New York City as he lays out clean, wide-radius turns. The crew is progressing magnificently; they were starting to stand up tall and ripping at high speeds with ease and comfort. It took us many months to put all the pieces together and get the camp up and running, and finally we were watching our first seven clients rip powder lines in front of a deep purple lake.
The energy is high as we make the transition to backcountry mode. For many, this is their first time using skins, and we take some time to cut skins and get everyone situated. Then it is up the lift and on to one of Portillo’s legendary five-man pomma lifts that drag you straight up couloirs. Unloading these pommas on a 40-degree slope always provides laughs and antics, and this ride is no different. From there we begin booting up several more hundred feet across the ski area boundary to the upper reaches of the Lake Run. We come to rest just below a cliff band where we look down 3000 feet to the reflection of the mountains in the lake.
We begin having our first discussions of backcountry safety, and Nick lays out the plan. “We are going to stay out of the main gulley at all costs. We’ll divide the run into two halves and go one at a time. I’ll rip down first and duck into the safety of the rock outcrop on the right. Then we will do the same thing with the lower half and reconvene at the lake.” With a smile he’s off, and in signature form he straight lines the first 50 feet to build up enough speed to really lay it out.
This technique became the foundation for the camp. To ski in this style begs a technique overhaul, which we both had been tweaking and developing over the last ten years, me in the venue of the Colorado Rocky Mountain School Telemark Team and Nick in his global adventures, big mountain descents and competition lines. Now we were both crawling with excitement as we were starting to see it manifest itself in a place that was truly conducive to this type of skiing.
One by one the group took off for the second half of the run, carving monster turns and disappearing in a cloud of snow over the last rise that dead-ended in the lake. The end result is almost 3000 feet of the most stunning skiing people had ever experienced. People were smiling, laughing and trying to find the language to describe what had just happened as I carved my last turn and joined the group.
As we skinned up Nick layed out the plan again: “We face the same hazards going up as we did coming down. I am going to cut a skin trail that keeps out of the main gulley. We will only cross the gully once at the top, where we have to.” Our destination was Tio Bob’s restaurant, which sat on-piste at the top of the run for a Chilean feast overlooking the entire Portillo valley.
It is now Friday, technically the last day of the camp. A monster Andean storm has moved in and we woke up to 25 cm of a projected meter of snow. The weather has shut the entire mountain down, closed the road and will possibly cause us to miss our Saturday flights out. For now we are all hunkered down in the lodge. Nick is crocheting a hat, Adam is out cold in his bunk, Joe and Peter are hunched over espresso, and Katrina, Kelsey, Danny and Carder are in a heated game of cards. It is a happy scene and every five minutes or so someone looks out through the snow to see if the lifts have opened.
In addition to the Lake Run, we have skied wide and narrow chutes, booted up another 1000-foot-plus couloir, logged endless powder laps on the pommas, used groomers to develop the foundation, held a miniature big mountain competition, and done beacon searches and avalanche safety. In the evenings we have often evaluated days with video sessions, and each day has started and ended with yoga. The group has taken on an ease and goofiness that can only be achieved by sharing a remarkable experience in close quarters, and tonight we will celebrate our search for a new paradigm of telemark skiing with a closing ceremony and barbeque at the Bar El Posada.
If you are interested in signing up for the 2009 Portillo Big Mountain Telemark Camp go to: www.bigmountaintelemark.blogspot.com