September 12, 2011

Chileno de Alaska

Living in a snowy clime from Halloween to May Day was not enough this season.  This season would mark Kruser's 25th year of life on skis, skiing every consecutive calendar month for the past 300 months.  How to celebrate 25 years on skis in September?  Chile.

The celebration was an exceptional ski trip to a fascinating place with some great ski buddies.  Kruser and I met Bob Yoder en route at Dallas, Vince in Santiago and Brett, Chick, Terry, and Paul in Farellones.  We hailed from Alaska, Lake Tahoe, New York, Boston, Melbourne, and New Zealand.  
L to R:  Kruser, Terry, Bob, Vince, Brett, Paul, Chick
Bob organized The great trip to Tres Valles, El Arpa and Portillo.  At the Argentine border on the now defunct trans-Andean railroad, Chile's Portillo, constructed in the 1930's and 40's, has a Hemingway aura around it. 
Kruser above Laguna del Inca
Portillo is a unique place with its trail blasted out of the cliffs above Laguna del Inca, beautiful hotel, lift over the highway and Chilean switchback highway to the pass.
Wistfully pondering those 25 years of memories is a bittersweet endeavor, but my young man's perspective when Kruser started his quest is not so different now.  And twenty-five years later, we're still riding two planks on snow seeking powder, el nieve polvo, with as much freedom and exhilaration as ever.

September 9, 2011

El Dia de Polvo y Sol en Tres Valle

The day of powder in the Tres Valle sunshine provided more untracked turns in a single day than I can remember.  Perhaps it was karma, because the day before we storm skied all day, and got totally lost at the end of the day trying ski home on a traverse the mile from La Parva to El Colorado in the cloudy fog.  We took a wrong turn at a critical juncture and skied down the backside of El Colorado - they fortunately were still running one of the two backside T-bars and we were able to get back to Farellones without spending a cold night in the Andes.  Ah, but the skies cleared overnight and we awoke in the warm Powder Lodge to the Tres Valles blanketed in 6" fresh snow.
Which way home?

We skied untracked snow all day long from the lifts of La Parva and El Colorado.  One might expect crowds at Tres Valle with its eyeshot proximity to Santiago with a population of 5 million people, but no crowds on this day. 

Where is Everyone?
Ski Track Art

La roca de La Parva

Powder Lodge de Farellones, Chile

Lera y Pablo put on a beautiful spread at the Powder Lodge de Farellones.  Cristian Schindler, nicknamed Lera, and hardworking Pablo took good care of our crew at our Tres Valle base, Powder Lodge with great access to the La Parva, El Colorado and Valle Nevado ski resorts in Chile.  We're very happy at Powder Lodge with its excellent service and good food - Cristian and Pablo made sure that we were very, very comfortable.  A few images of our abode:
Powder Lodge, like almost everything in Farellones, is built on a hillside.  My room (door open) is on the entry level.  There are two half-levels above my room in this section of Powder Lodge. 

Chileno Vibe
Lera, the Splendid
El trabajador Pablocito
A local
View of Cerro La Parva from El Powder Lodge


Los Andes, Chile

An enchanting Chilean town just below the Andes cordillera spine, Los Andes was built on the Aconcagua River.  This river drains the western side of the highest point in the western hemisphere, Cerro Aconcagua with a summit elevation of nearly 23,000 feet.  Los Andes is a great base for skier access El Arpa and Portillo.  Copper mines, vineyards, and other agriculture, along with a little tourism and skiing, contribute to the economy. 

Los Andes, founded in 1791, has a beautiful plaza in the city center surrounded by shops, hotels and government buildings.

The people of Los Andes were gracious, kind and helpful.  It would be great to spend a little more time there, but our itenerary called for a move.  A few snapshots around town:

Incas Hoteles, our Los Andes abode is locatedIn on this boulevard

Incas Hoteles is a modern, very comfortable hotel, perfectly suited to our pursuit of Chilean powder.

Mall with Apartments
Womes Boutique

September 4, 2011

El Arpa

The Harp Valley above Los Andes, Chile is home for Ski Arpa, a uniquely Chilean cat ski operation.
In the shadow of Cerro Aconcaqua, Ski Arpa is located on a primitive road far from the grid.
Two Raptors on the Boulder (click to enlarge)
We travelled by van from Los Andes through San Esteban and Campos de Ahumada up to El Arpa, a high desert valley.  Frost on cacti is probably a common occurrence here, but none of our party had seen it before this trip.  Our driver, Polo, negotiated the primitive road with skill.

Rancho Avalanchas is a wood-heated, electricity-free operations base for Ski Arpa.

Arriving at Rancho Avalanchas on a frosty morning was like stepping into a Clint Eastwood western set in a ficticious high desert place.  The rancho refugio with its natural lighting is unique, as was the entire Ski Arpa experience. 

Everyone enjoyed the trip to El Arpa, guanaco grazing on the ridge, roosting eagles warming up in the morning sun, spectacular view of Cerro Aconcagua, the primitive refugio - and the skiing.
AK Jack with Cerro Aconcagua 25 years after summiting
Ski Arpa lived up to their catch phrase includes "skiing... in the shadow of Aconcagua".  Ski Arpa is a unique experience and our group was unanimous in our affirmative decision to go.  Guanaco grazing in the distance, clear views of Aconcagua... a unique place, but our luck with the snow was not the best.  The snow was skiable and enjoyable, but the prior snowfall was several days prior and the snowpack was modest. 
25 Years on Skis
Our Leader, Bob
End of the Trail
Ski Arpa was a fascinating experience.  It was worth a 5th run for an additional fee.  The guides saved the best for last regarding snow quality, but some clouds moved up the valley and made the lower 2/3 of the ski out a follow-the-leader exercise.  The guide knew the route and we arrived exactly where they planned.

September 3, 2011

Day 2 Month 300

Three hundred months is equal to 25 years.  Kruser just completed Day 2 of his 300th consecutive month of skiing.  Each and every calendar month for the past 25 years have been witness to his epic quest.  Yours truly has personally witnessed the majority of these 300 months - my string is merely one tenth Kruser's - I made it 30 months.  The master started his string during mine, but I stopped and he didn't.  Now 25 years later, we're still getting down the mountain. 

Some pretty big mountains today at El Colorado.  Don't tell the Chilean cabarineros, but we went out of bounds for some fine snow and deadly cliffs.  Our stellar crew of Chick, Bob, Brett, Kruser and me discovered the magic of the 'Tres Valles' road run - officially banned, but totally safe (with some common sense) and not strictly enforced. 
Day 2 Month 300 Photocredits:  Kruser

September 2, 2011

Farellones, Chile

Brilliant sunshine and cold snow at Tres Valles, Chile was an enigmatic transition from the summertime grey skies of the Tsiu River on the Gulf of Alaska.  Tsiu coho catching was typical - our arms hurt.  Rough weather delayed our fishing trip to the day of our flight from Anchorage to Santiago.  Could have opted out of the Tsiu, and some said, "it's a bad idea," referring to our plan to take a charter air taxi flight to the Tsiu on Alaska's Lost Coast, catch coho silver salmon all day, return to Anchorage, and then jump on a trans-equatorial flight to Santiago, Chile.  But, we actually made it to Santiago with our gear, and we were riding our skis at Tres Valle about 30 hours after landing our last silver.

Tres Valles is perched in the Andes 7000 feet or so above the sprawling capital city, Santiago de Chile.  First impression of Chilean life was enchanting. 
El Powder Lodge en Farellones
Our accommodation is a hand-crafted dwelling in Farellones, the original village in the Tres Valles area.  Three ski areas are easily accessible from Farellones:  El Colorado, La Parva, and Valle Nevado; each with smaller villages around the base.
Farellones y La Parva
An immense area is accessible from the three resorts just above Farellones.  We started at El Colorado, explored La Parva and Valle Nevado with the help of Vince and Christian.  Vince is a ski instructor/guide/kite boarder/linguist/all around good guy Kiwi who met us at the airport and showed us a lot of Tres Valle terraine and made this exceptional movie.  Christian is the proprietor of Powder Lodge de Farellones.  Christian is also the retired national champion snowboarder of Chile.  A delightful man, Christian was the chef, concierge, taxi driver, ski guide, rescue assistance (not life threatening, but one our guys seriously tweaked a knee), and resident remodeler of his ecclectic Farellones Powder Lodge, a very comfortable abode with good food and very cool atmosphere. 
Traversing Across the La Parva Boundary above Santiago