My previous blog post was about why you would want to ski with a guide in Chile. After that I ran across a few advertisements from U.S.-based guides, offering trips to ski in Chile. Looking into these trips I see that they've done some homework – but not quite enough. The itineraries look good. For example, while I typically aim to ski three volcanoes in a week, some visiting guides have squeezed four volcanoes into their plans. That would be better. Never mind that the weather in southern Chile is far from perfect everyday and having some flexibility is critical. I saw one trip offered to a volcano which is presently erupting. I wouldn't recommend that. Some guides offer great prices. Cutting corners is never a good idea. Good food, comfortable lodging and safe vehicles with enough space are not cheap in Chile. So I am not sure where it's best to cut costs.
I guess I'd like to add to my previous post. Not all ski guides and trips to Chile are equal.
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 live in the U.S., would you go to Mexico for a hamburger? If you live in Mexico, would you go to France for a margarita? If you live in France, would you go to England for the wine? I could go on forever; but I think you get my drift. If you live in a place full of highly-refined ski resorts, (Europe, the U.S., Canada) why would you go to South America to ski in a resort?
Before I go any further, let me say, I don't have anything against South American ski resorts. They serve the same purpose in Chile and Argentina as they do in the rest of the world. They allow families to ski together and people of all ages to learn to slide on snow and enjoy the mountains in the winter. This is a good thing.
What if you are an accomplished skier? Is going to a South American resort really what you're looking for? If you've skied in places like Jackson Hole, Lake Tahoe, Chamonix, Whistler-Blackcomb, is going to a tiny area with slow lifts and variable conditions really satisfying? Sure, it's better than NOT skiing, which is your option in the northern hemisphere in August and September; and I think a lot of people rationalize it this way.
Why not go to Chile to do something you can't do in the northern winter? Ski into a crater of a volcano (and come back out); ride a horse through a forest to get to the snow; make a first descent; tree ski through 3000-year old trees; totally escape the modern world; follow a dirt road past the markings on a map. These are the experiences that bring me to Chile year after year, and these are the experiences that I live to share with others.
I think a lot of people say, "I want to ski in Chile." Then they look at the time and financial commitment and they realize, "Jeez, US$4000-plus per person for a week at a resort (including airfare), without a guide or wine. That's as much as... a week in Japan; a season in Colorado; a good amount of heli-skiing; a month in Europe..." And to this I say, "yup." If you compare apples to apples, resort experience to resort experience, it's, well... August.
Don't go to Chile looking for the experience you know and love at home. Go for something new. Go to do something you've never done before. It is this opportunity that makes this place so special.
It is a mistake to think that all Spanish speaking cultures subscribe to the laid-back attitude often characterized by the expression, manaña, signifiying 'we'll get to it later.'
How do you prevent food poisoning in Chile? What are the sanitation standards? Do I need to survive on energy bars and other stuff brought from home? I get a whole host of questions about this topic from people who have preconceived notions about traveling in a developing country.
You can't just ski in Chile. You have to eat as well. And finding great food isn't always easy. But in Pucón there are some great spots. One of my favorite being Restaurante Trawen.
¿Qué onda? A common greeting in Chile. Understanding and using the word onda will definitely help you fit in in Chile.
This Friday's "Chilenismo": Huevón. Without a doubt, this is the most important word in Chilean Spanish and is unique to Chile. Say it to a person from Spain and they will have no clue what you are talking about.
Last week we explored the question, "Cachái?" To which, a perfectly good response may be, "Ya, Po!" What the hell is 'Po!'? ...