When I was twenty-four or twenty-five years old, my girlfriend at the time wanted to go to Europe in the spring. I was working as a ski instructor and going to college and thought she was crazy. I "couldn't afford it." As a matter of fact, I was sure she couldn't afford it either, so I grilled her about it. Her response was simple and unarguable.
Here's the very short version: Commit to a trip with Chile Powder Adventures before January 20th, 2015 and get 10% off.
I first skied the Puyehue crater in 2010. The next year a major eruption occurred two kilometers from the crater and the ash made a real mess of the entire region. I haven't had a chance to go back until this year – it was also my first opportunity to guide the trip. I would say it was worth the wait.
I spent last week skiing and exploring the area around the town of Melipeuco, close to Parque Nacional Conguillo. I had visited this valley once before, many years ago. It was great to get back and see it in a new light.
After three-weeks of most bad weather in southern and central Chile, the recent high pressure was certainly welcome. I had five-days to get up into the mountains and poke around. There is so much adventure here. It's really a different experience. Obviously, my 2014 season is booked out and I am focused on making sure it goes perfectly; but I already looking forward to offering some new experiences in 2015. One thing is for sure: my primary goal on every trip is to make sure we never miss an opportunity to ski. As this year has proven, the Andes can give you the best or the worst. Never miss the good days.
There are a lot of people trying to ski in Chile right now. Most are stuck in the valley. Those that can't wait are finding themselves with visibility like being in a ping pong ball filled with milk and spinning around very quickly.
This is the Santa Rosa storm – one of those things that makes skiing in Chile interesting. The Santa Rosa is really a legend; but it is amazing how often it seems to happen. The Santa Rosa is the name given to the storm that happens "every year" five-days to either side of August 30th. It is believed to be both the last and strongest storm of the winter. Now that we have science to measure and record data, we know this isn't actually the case; but who are we to let science get in the way of our beliefs.
This year's Santa Rosa is mostly irritating; but with a little luck it will turn out for the best. The meteogram picture above is likely a little off. Typically, the winds and precip amounts are underestimated and the temps are a little too cold. But it's a good indicator of what's in store. If you're trying to ski this week, you'll be in flat light and wind most of the week. There will be five to twenty centimeters of new snow up high and it will be rainy in the valleys. The good news is that it is here and it is going to leave some snow for the spring season, which is coming quickly.
It's still fun to see a legend in action.
If I had a buck for every time someone told me, this year, that they will "definitely ski with me – next year." I would buy land down here and retire. I know... Chile is more expensive than most people imagine at first. And as a certified guide, with insurance, a lot invested in my business, and the desire to provide high-quality experiences for my guests, my service is not "cheap" either. So I do understand when people are surprised at the cost of skiing here.
While you're waiting for next year, this is what has happened this year. So far:
My single biggest piece of advice is this: Don't wait another year. "Time is not money; because once lost, time cannot be regained." After eleven-seasons in Chile, I am confident in two things: 1. Climate change is taking its toll here. The northern areas are much drier and hotter. The southern zones still get precipitation, but it is often warmer. Winter will look much different here in the near future. 2. There are still some great "stashes" to enjoy; but the pressure from snowmobiles and helicopters is increasing.
If skiing in Chile is on your bucket list, I would do it in 2015. Every year that you say "next year" will be one more regret you have.
When I was a kid I liked to "explore" the creeks behind my house. I found all kinds of adventures and learned many lessons. Sometimes I would get a little lost and come home late. Sometimes I would fall in the creek and get wet. All of this seemed like a big adventure at the time. Obviously it wouldn't seem so amazing today.
I have to say, this feature in Powder Magazine bothers me a little. And I will be perfectly upfront about that I am a little jealous of the exposure, and a little irritated that I am not given any credit for the information I shared with the authors. But beyond this, I am amazed that these two were able to create an "epic adventure" out of something that hundreds of people do each year.
An inch of snow rarely becomes the backdrop for an epic; but if you have rented a van with crappy tires and don't know how to use chains, well... I guess it's an adventure. Not being able to ask locals questions or understand the answer doesn't mean a road is unnamed. A good tour plan will help you prepare for a 9000-foot ascent and not be surprised when it takes all day. Yes, concrete structures without heat are cold in the winter.
Why the hell would you get up at 5AM to ski on Villarrica? It's a five-hour ascent for the average skier and the skiing gets good around 3PM. One of my favorite days each year is when I get up have a leisurely breakfast in Pucón, get to the mountain around nine or ten, ski two or three laps off the summit and am home in time to hit the hot springs at sunset. 5AM!? This is ridiculous.
Skiing in Chile doesn't have to be like this. Each year, hundreds of people embark on this trip and find beautiful places, great snow and challenging peaks without being flustered by the basics. Many people do this by bicycle! Chile is a wonderful place to find adventure, but it shouldn't come from a lack of experience or preparedness. Check out this Powder Magazine piece. Adam's photos are beautiful as usual. If you want to experience these places without the headache and hassle, give me a shout – this is what I do everyday for a couple months each year. And yes, even though I don't freeze my ass off in crappy concrete huts, I feel I still find plenty of adventure.
I can help you do it right.
If you were going skiing in Alaska, would you get a weather report from Los Angeles?
Chile is about 3000-miles from north to south. That's about the distance from Los Angeles to Haines, Alaska. And if you look on a map, you can see how the topographies of the two coasts are mirrors of each other.
Most of the bigger, well-known ski centers in Chile – those with marketing budgets – are located close to Santiago, which is in the central part of the country. Santiago has a similar climate and topography to Sacramento, California. So when you here a weather report from "Chile" it's important to understand where that is from. Imagine if you got a snow report from the "U.S." or "Europe." The distance, topography and climate from the central Andes to the area of lakes and volcanoes is very similar to the difference between Lake Tahoe and the Pacific Northwest – very different indeed. It can be sunny and warm in the central mountains and pounding snow in the south.
And in fact, that's exactly what's happening.
With that said, if skiing in Chile is on your "bucket list" I wouldn't wait for too many years. I am a ski guide, not a climate scientist, but there is a trend that is tough to ignore. The past several years have been drier than average. If you consider the same is happening in California – another coastal area, directly effected by weather straight off the Pacific Ocean – well... great, deep conditions may be harder to come by. Presently, the recent weather patterns are favorable for skiing volcanoes. The periods of high pressure between storms allow for more skiing and fewer down days. It's hard to say how long this will last.
If you want to ski in Chile, do it soon. If you are looking for good conditions, look farther south and don't put too much weight on the reports coming from the northern resorts. There's still fun to be had in this long, skinny, beautiful country.