The lifts are closing across Switzerland, but if you’re like us, you’re still daydreaming about riding. Maybe it’s time to plan that trip of a lifetime to the southern hemisphere? In this story we catch back up with Léa Klaue, for the third chapter of her adventures in Chile and Argentina. Perhaps it’s all the inspiration that you need to start planning your next trip? If you missed parts 1 and 2, go ahead and hit those numbers.
The last South American freeride contest of the season was going to be held in Southern Chile, and since Bariloche had a bad storm and it had already dumped meters in Chile, we prepared ourselves for a long bus ride, once again. Not that we weren’t very used to it by now. Corralco, at the foot of Volcano Lonquimay was the next destination. Without any surprise this time, the terrain was completely flat, except for the beautiful majestic volcano at the top of the resort. We didn’t pay much attention to the competition, since the venue was emptier than our Fernet and Pisco bottles – but we still wondered how the judges could distinguish the differences, considering that all the riders took the same line. Maybe pisco is the answer?
Our attention turned to the volcano, where we hiked. Actually, it was more of a walk than a hike, because most of the snow on the ridge was blown off, allowing easy access all the way up, and a view down at the crater. We took a couple of selfies and found a sweet and very long run down with no tracks and enough powder for all the February tourists in an Alpine ski resort. But here, it was all for us. On our last day in Corralco, we decided to investigate the local flora, the Araucaría tree – an endemic tree that looks like a dinosaur. The exotic terrain almost made us feel like we were on another planet.
After sweet (but flat) times in lovely Corralco, our Spanish friend Ana had to leave us to go back to summertime, while Tamara and myself were left craving for something steep. “Why don’t we go up to the Northern Andes – there’s a secret spot where you can ride couloirs with chairlift access?” Tamara asked. “It’s just 1400km away” I answered. We looked at each other and understood: There was one mission left.
This last part of the trip was the cherry on top of the cake, the organic lemon slice in your piscola*, the avocado sauce on your hotdog — it was unexpected and it was joyful. After a 2.5 day bus ride, crossing the border to Argentina once again, while abusing red wine in order to sleep on the bus, we arrived in the high-altitude desert-like landscape of the Northern Andes. This time we knew that we were at the end of the world and it would be completely different from the spots where we’d been before. The valley where this relatively expensive ski resort is located is private, and therefore you can find quite a peculiar clientele there — mostly wealthy Argentines and Brazilians driving very big cars. But lower down from the resort, there are a couple of funky Favela style houses that look like they are about to fall apart. In front of the doors, another asado and a group of long haired and bearded skibums, Argentines, Spaniards, Gringos, Austrians, whatever, drinking beer and complaining that, “freeride was closed” again.
Since the valley is privately owned, the security of the ski resort decides whether the off-piste can be open or not. If you “poach” and get caught, you might get ejected from the valley. It seemed difficult to understand, but when we saw what kind of terrain was accessible with one or two chairlift rides, we could just imagine the stoke of what it must be like when the freeride is actually “open”. Soon we also understood why people kept on telling us not to communicate the name of the resort. Unlike all the ski places where we’d been so far on this trip, this one is a completely dry landscape with no trees, sharp rocks and red sand. I’ve heard that even a fern can destroy your board there… but between the rocks we found sweet couloirs and spines, still working well even though it hadn’t snowed in weeks.
Again, we were lucky to find almost-local gringo skiers who showed us the easy access spots and led us into the backcountry where beautiful terrain could be found after very short hikes. Despite a little discomfort due to the altitude and the drought (the final revenge of Montezuma*) I could enjoy most of the terrain and work on my steep riding on relatively hard snow, corn snow and sweet slush. Even without fresh snow, the steep little gullies and the orange-red dramatic landscape captivated us, as much as the cheap cumbia that was playing at the local nightclub and in our favela apartment. “This place is desolated. It’s for depressed people, it’s expensive and dry, people are crazy and the landscape is scary.” Said Tamara. “Let’s come back here next year!” (Side note: this is the reason why we’re keeping the name of this place secret, for now.)
Like every departure, the one back to Santiago to catch my flight back to Switzerland was with a heavy heart. I had thought that I had already seen the South American winter, but I was more wrong than any gringo trying to speak Spanish. This continent is huge, and hides its gems preciously. But with a bit of “Buena onda”, an open heart and solid trust in your luck, South America won’t stop surprising, leaving memories and music in your head that won’t fade anytime soon. If you don’t really know what you’re looking for, try going south. You may find exactly what you need.
1- Pisco is usually served with coke (“piscola” or mixed into pisco sours).
2 – The revenge of Montezuma: Latin America takes its revenge for the European colonization by making every European (or Gringo) tourist sick at some point during your travels.
Thanks once again to Léa’s sponsors who helped to make this trip possible. Léa rides for K2 snowboards, Penguin clothing, Julbo eyewear and Levitation Shop in Martigny.