BD athlete Zack Giffin reports on his South American ski trip
Black Diamond athlete Zack Giffin rallied down to Chile and Argentina for a strategic 18-day strike on South America's ski season. When Zack returned he sent us the following email, claiming it was one of his best ski trips ever. His report makes it sound pretty sweet, but when we saw the video and Grant Gunderson photos below, his trip took on a whole new level of sweetness.
Arriving at El Colorado, I quickly learn this place is all about dance parties, road laps, and wearing your helmet. In South American ski areas, if it isn’t snow, it’s rock. For us Pacific Northwest skiers, who are used to ten feet of base, the rockiness can take you by surprise. It did just this to my friend Blair Habenicht, who just days before tumbled through a covered scree field, landing him in the emergency room with a concussion and a dozen stitches in his head. Spending the next few days running the road laps of El Colorado provides exploration of a long series of chutes, tight couloirs, and some really cool sunset photos. But the warm days take a toll and the snow turns to sun crust. We make the move to the higher elevation of Portillo, Chile.
Portillo is situated a quarter mile from the Argentine boarder next to a large semi frozen lake, dividing two dramatic ridgelines to the north and south. With temperatures well above 50 degrees, I am surprised to find the shaded slopes still hold dry powder. The only setback is the dramatic rise in temps each day and the high risk of wet slides breaking each afternoon. Still, the skiing is great and the experience is topped off by a climb to the famous “C Couloir”. This five thousand foot run is easily accessed by an hour and a half long boot pack. The looming silhouette of 22,000ft Aconcagua comes into view at the top of the hike. With great skiing for the most part, the middle portion turns to ice, leaving my legs burning. After it opens up, we are able to traverse to some incredible spines with untouched pow. Another highlight for me is meeting Black Diamond athlete Jacqui Edgerly in the pool a day before the hike. Despite very little sleep and a stomach on the queasy side, she seems to have no problem with the 2,500 ft. boot pack.
After five days at Portillo we get the news we have been waiting for: Las Lenas’ famous lift “The Marte,” that only weeks earlier had been damaged by an avalanche, is running again. Already thinking about moving on, it takes little discussion and we hire an overnight transfer so we don’t miss a day of skiing. Our math is a little off, so the ride that is supposed to arrive at seven in the morning drops us off at a quarter after four. Not knowing where to go, we stumble into the lobby of the apartments we are staying in the next night and promptly made a bivy out of the basement sauna. This experience seems to exemplify our stay in Las Lenas: what first seems like a big mistake turns into the best thing we do in South America.
Callum’s close friend Kye Petersen has been hanging out with Seth Morrison and the Oakley crew for a few weeks before we get there. With all the other athletes already gone, Kye turns into our unofficial guide. The time he spent with Seth must have rubbed off because Kye demonstrates a level of confidence in super tight, absolutely no-fall situations, that I had never witnessed before from anyone. Even seasoned veteran Rick Armstrong is visibly impressed. Callum doesn’t seem to notice and instantly elevates his own game to match that of his good friend.
In Las Lenas backpacks and fat skis are a calling card of the Gringo. So it should have come as no surprise when Black Diamond team member Drew Stoecklein finds us, enjoying a $4 bottle of wine after our first day of exploring the Marte. He is in his fifth week in South America is much more familiar with the country than any of us, so we spend a few days skiing lines and learning what we can from Drew. Little by little the snow keeps getting better and on our last one we are blessed with stability, sun, and powder. It absolutely makes every penny I spent getting here worthwhile.
With Kye’s friend Jose leading the way, we waste little time and go straight for one of the most prominent peaks. After a two-hour hike, I find myself on top of one of the most glorious lines I have ever been privileged to ski. First Kye and Rick set the tone by skiing at least twice as fast as I was expecting. Soon it is my turn and the easy line I had picked from the bottom turns into a full commitment straight line through five hundred feet of forty-five degree couloir with jagged rocks on either side. The chute chokes and the snow turns to icy washboards then doglegs to the right. When I see what it is I have committed to, my stomach sinks. Thinking I may die if I bail, I make it to the apron traveling as fast as I ever have off a groomer, and blast through the last chunks of ice to safety.
We ski fresh lines all day. The only mishap comes on the last line when Kye lands on rock after a 25ft air, ripping his skis off and throwing him into a violent scorpion. Shaken, but not stirred, we ski down to the base where we barely make the bus to Mendoza. A long series of nearly missed rides and we are back on the plane heading to the states. The 18-day trip felt more like a month and I was so happy I had a friend like Beau, who was persistent enough to simply get me to buy a ticket. To top it off, a friend like Grant who works his magic to preserve the memories and two new friends - Rick and Callum. For me, spending time with them was the real highlight of the trip. Well, maybe it was the beautiful women, the wine, and “The Marte”. Sorry guys.
— Zack Giffin