Back in Chile…

Returned to Chile and hightailed it on the bus to Las Trancas/Nevados de Chillán the same day I arrived in Santiago. Lots of hours of travel but a promising weather forecast kept me going. Sure enough, the bus to Las Trancas couldn’t ascend the final curves in the road due to snowy conditions and Goñi was nice enough to come pick me up 10 minutes below his house.

The next day was as hoped a sunny day of powder skiing. What absurd luxury – jet setting from one metropolis to another on a different continent, clicking into skis the next morning and shredding pow all day with friends. What the hell? Someone pinch me.

I spent the week staying at Claudia Diaz’s house and many people were in town for the Chilean National Junior Alpine Championships which lasted four days during the week.

Unfortunately after the powder day, the puelche arrived. Puelche is a very strong east wind that comes howling out of Argentina into Chile. It is a well-known meteorological event in this part of Chile and it typically happens a couple times a season. So the day after pow my friend Reymundo and I greeted the incoming puelche by going for a ski tour in the atrociously windy conditions. It is amazing how even the most benign, recognizable, and flat terrain becomes terribly intimidating in the wind. From the ski area base we toured to the Garganta del Diablo refugio to rest and eat before heading back into the gale. Our intent was to traverse the lower flanks of Volcán Nevados, arriving at Valle Shangri-La and the town of Las Trancas. I have made this crossing several times previously. But the wind’s affect on steeper terrain higher on the mountain forced us to take a lower line than either of us was familiar with and we ended up on the wrong side of the expansive lava field which spills out of the bottom of the volcano. We could see where we needed to be but the terrain separating us caused for terribly slow movement. What ensued was a multiple hour crossing of instable lava ridges, deep cracks and holes in the rock precariously hidden by the recent snowfall. I imagine we travelled at about 1 km/h for two hours. Finally back on track after the crossing, we got in touch with Chopo who had just arrived from Pucón. He offered to come pick us up at the top of the Shangri-La road, saving us from walking the few miles of dirt road back to town.

The next day we didn’t even attempt to ski. Full puelche again, stronger yet. Resting was welcomed.

The following day we headed to a secret place. Information omitted. The last run of the day with Chopo was excellent spring snow.

That night I camped on Beni and Stefano’s property in Shangri-La valley. They’re so roots that called me a spoiled brat for bring a tent. Asado, vino, sleep. The next day it was time for a bigger hike. Beni, Stefano, Paloma, Gonza and I packed the backpacks and headed up. Skinning from the base of Nevados de Chillán ski area we climbed thousands of feet and millions of kilometers to the summit of Nevados de Chillán volcano. Some wind still whipped across the summit, though the direction had switched and it now came from the NW. The effects of several days of 150km/h+ winds were apparent everywhere. We didn’t begin skiing till nearly 5pm, and the late hour contributed to some of the NW-facing slopes to softening every so slightly. Otherwise much of the mountain was covered in unskiable sheen ice. The run got better and better as we got lower, again arriving towards to lava field which I had crossed days before, though now on the correct side. We easily exited to the road and finished the circuit, walking out to the boys’ land with the last light of day.

The next day we returned to secret spot, finding excellent spring snow on W-facing slopes during the last hours of sun.

The next day weather unexpectedly returned, bringing midday snowflurries. Beni and I met up at the ski center, organized tickets knowing we’d only ski a few runs. Conditions reports from the ski center were grim. Complete, utter icy hardpack. But with the 3cm of fresh snow we were entertained enough to ski for a couple hours before calling it quits.

That night was the party for the organizers and trainers of the Junior Nationals which had concluded the day before, just an hour before the snow arrived. So we partied until quite late, went to bed, and did not ski the following day.

My bag is now packed for a return trip to Santiago. It has recently snowed in that region, so I will check out conditions, see if there are any ski runs that pique my interest. But mostly I’ll probably head to the coast and work on my lung capacity in the powerful Chilean waves.

Stefano and Paloma heading up Nevados. Sierra Velluda behind.

Beni on the cumbre. Turns out he didn't know his hat was inside-out all week. I thought it was intentional but it turns out he just hadn't seen a mirror.

Rock Bottom/Mountain High: August in Chile

(originally posted to Ski Sickness, August 29, 2013)

Chile, you motherfucker. How you test me.

After I skied that Leoloca couloir I headed to Chillán. It was apparent the snow would be poor, but some of my friends were running the first-ever freeride event there, and I went down to help/participate/consult. There is a lot to talk about regarding what happened that weekend… To summarize, it rained to the summits, then got really cold, and a friend is still in the hospital. More details won’t aid in understanding. So instead of skiing the rad, we randonee’d the beautiful, touring on the volcanoes at sunset, visited a few different hot springs, all the while sharing mate and stories with friends. You know a place is special when you have a great day every day even when the snow sucks.

Then I came back to Farellones to work a few days… A little dusting of snow and some fun skiing. Then I rolled to Puma Lodge, a heli-skiing op a couple hours south of Santiago. Some German friends with a BMW sponsorship had an extra seat in their helicopter and I was the lucky occupier. Puma is fucking radical. Within about 15 km of the lodge are endless peaks pushing from 1500m up to 5000m. Like I’ve mentioned, the snow is beat this year, but high south-facing places still hold spines and pow. Will return to this place, it is incredible.

Starting in Chillán: Volcán Nevado. Marq Diamond and I skied this thing like 20 years ago.

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Volcán Viejo y Nuevo. Two more of the 11 volcanoes that make up the compact Nevados de Chillán chain. Full moon to add some vibe.
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My buddy Carlos touring out of the valley of the Aguas Calientes, rivers and pools of hot water that flow through a snowy valley surrounded by scenic ski lines. Pretty much what I imagine heaven looking like.
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Looking down into the Las Trancas valley from near the ski area.
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When back in Farellones I won a randonee race, made 400,000 chilean pesos, and drank a very good beer.
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Now for Puma. Skied most of the lines on this wall, Piedras Blancas.
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Which included this.
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And then also this, literally a stone’s throw from Argentina.
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Oh look, a granite wall that goes from ~3000m to ~5000m without a single route on it.
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Going back for this, hopefully with a heli-assist. Get dropped at camp and climb and ski’er.
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Got back to Farellones. Santiago just recorded the highest temps in 40 years. 30°C in the city. Skibums don’t even need a couch anymore.

Leoloca Canaleta, Yerba Loca, Chile

(originally posted at Ski Sickness on Aug 13, 2013)

Am still in Chile. Send help.

I recently skied a line I’ve been contemplating for some time. Accessed by skiing off the back of the La Parva ski area and skinning to an opposing ridge, it offers a big descent into the adjacent Yerba Loca valley, location of extensive schuss possibilities.

Much but not all of the line is visible from a turnout low on the road to the ski areas, and recent snowfall suggested acceptable conditions. I convinced my Spanish compañero Stefano it was a good time to check it out, though I didn’t know for sure if we’d make it down without getting cliffed out, run out of snow down low forcing an unpleasant several km of downclmbing, or get avalanched to our deaths. Though I didn’t elaborate on such thoughts when Stefano appeared convinced at my, “I’m pretty sure.”

We rode rope tows beginning across the steet from my house for appx 90 minutes, skied off the back of La Parva, and hiked for appx 90 minutes to gain the top-out. We ate two cans of sardines in tomatoe sauce with hard bread and an apple and gathered digital beta for future forays.

I skied first. Expecting to downclimb the upper, windswept portion, I was pleased to find skiable snow through the pepper leading to the upper gully, where upon the freeride revelry began in earnest. Superb boot-top powder was the norm, minus a short cardboard section in the middle wind-abused gully construction. We skied to within 50m of the river before the gully was too rocky and narrow to continue, making for a continuous 4,300′ descent, one of the longest, most consistent runs I’ve found in the vicinity. We walked to the other side of the creek and skied the old snow-covered hiking trail the remaining few km to the parking lot. My Cascadian training served me well, as I negotiated snow covered briars with deft skill.

Back at the parking lot, we immediately began to walk the 4.7km of dirt road out of the Yerba Loca natural reserve, finally scoring a hitchhiked lift for the final 1km. Back at the main road, we again stuck out our thumbs and shortly won another ride back to the bar in Farellones for 2 for 1 happy hour sunset suds.

Skinning out of Estero de la Leonera

Stefano Carlin, Cerro Altar behind.

Instant classic.

Looking back at the line from Villa Paulina.

 

First week in Chile, conditions update.

Arrived in the middle of July to Farellones in the zona central of Chile. The region is apparently in the fourth consecutive drought year. Some say its the continuance of El Niño keeping things dry. Some long term forecasts seem to say it will break down in August, letting moist flow back onto the region. But I seem to remember hearing the same thing last year.

Upon arrival, things were quite depressing, really thin snowpack at the ski areas and no storms on the horizon. Then, last weekend quite out of the blue, we got a miraculous snowfall that put conditions back into a great state. The forecasting is totally inadequate here, everyone just uses weather.com or snow-forecast.com, but there are apparently no dedicated mountain weather forecasts, at least available to the public. I believe some of the industrial installations (mines, hydroelectric) in the cordillera have dedicated mountain meteorological services, but none are available to the public, or even ski resorts.

Back to the storm, snow-forecast.com was calling for something like 4-8cm this last Friday and clouds on Saturday. Instead we got about 30cm on Friday, a brief clearing Saturday morning, and then the clouds closed back in and another 30cm fell without wind (uncharacteristic for the region). Ski conditions since then have been amazing. Super stable, unconsolidated, dry powder, nicely preserved on S-SE slopes. Definitely a rocky in places under the fresh blanket, but it was a much needed storm and skiing has been great. Now, obviously, we need more, or we gonna be in the same spot again in another couple weeks.

Taking a look in the El Colorado backcountry with Whiteworld guide Javier Durán.

 

Finding suitable stability, we proceeded with the next step of the assessment.

 

Dropping into the Cepo valley, one of the biggest runs possible from the ski resorts

 

With the full moon in full effect, went on a night ski with some friends and rode some chutes adjacent to Farellones.

 

Gracias a dios.

CAST + Praxis = The future of binding/ski platforms

Now go forth and slash... My Praxis GPO with Pivot 18 binding on CAST touring plate with customized XT130.

Lars Chickering-Ayers and his brother Silas have been developing and testing their CAST touring binding system for the past couple seasons and I’ve been dying to get a pair for myself. This last winter in particular made me more envious than ever of the capabilities of this equipment. The brothers were both on the Freeride World Tour with me, and no matter where we went in the world they had this incredibly versatile-yet-bombproof setup to cruise around with, competing and touring on the same gear. “BUT YOU CAN’T DO THAT!” I was either left to bootpack if using my freeride setup, or ski cautiously on my lightweight touring rig. I’ve tried Dukes and their spinoffs, but they aren’t for me, nor does their size make them realistic to travel with in addition to a competition-tested setup.

Which is one of the many reasons that I think the CAST binding is the best option for aggressive, gear-abusing backcountry freeriders. When SI&I (the company name) launched their Kickstarter campaign to raise enough money to put the binding into production, I happily threw my money down. And many other like-minded backcountry skiers did so as well, as SI&I reached their $50,000 goal and then some, ending up with around $66,000 to get production rolling.

Though the full-production product wasn’t ready in time for my departure to Chile, I asked Lars if he had an older used pair I could take to the Andes with me and he was able to accomodate. Not only that, I overnighted a new pair of boots to his shop in Driggs, ID, some Lange XT130s, to see if he could install the dynafit toe fittings in the boots with just a day to turn them around. Sure enough, a day before my flight, the boots arrived at my house ready to roll. Sweet!

It made a big difference in the quiver I was able to bring to Chile to have the CAST binding. Basically I like to have a rotating cast of four skis in my quiver. Competition/freeride; hardpack/park/jumps; freeride touring; lightweight touring. So I brought to Chile three skis:  My competition/freeride ski (Praxis GPO) which with the CAST system, doubles as the freeride touring setup. A hardpack/park ski (Praxis MVP) and a mountaineering ski (Praxis Yeti w/ Plum Race 165). I can envision in the future with another CAST system having the hardpack/park ski double as the lightweight touring ski. Or maybe just one pair of binding+plate that switch between a few skis?

Which brings this gear blog to another discussion altogether. What you can’t see in the photo above is that everything is mounted together with machined screws. There are snowboard-style bolts installed through the bases of my skis, custom done by Praxis (and available on any ski you order from them). So the CAST toe plate is bolted into those inserts, as is the heel. This makes installing and changing this stuff out onto another setup super easy and as long as you take care of the hardware, the inserts should be very reliable through many seasons of use.

One of the main obstacles CAST deals with is machining templates that accommodate different screw footprints, depths, and screw head shapes of for as many binding manufacturers as possible. They’ve targeted the most common bindings in the market and will have available what most people need, but its too bad that this is where their time and money has to go, instead of other parts of development that the binding still needs like an integrated climbing lift/brake retainer.

In the future I see this system working really well with the heel binding being removable just like the toe. Then bindings don’t need to be screwed into anything, ever. You get toe and heel plates mounted (or built in during the pressing of the ski) to your ski, and then all bindings simply come fixed to compatible plates, mounting and swapping with the push of a button. Praxis and CAST are already able to produce the product I just described, now its just a matter of seeing the interest in it from the ski community to make it financially viable. Till then, I’ll be in the Andes, hard at work testing this stuff.

 

Not many people in the R&D lab tonight...

Hawaii

Went to Hawaii for three weeks with Mia.

Waimanu

 

meaning the true height of Mauna Loa from the start of its eruptive history is about 17,170 m (56,000 ft).[19]"”]

Wilderness coast of Volcano National Park.

 

And then all of sudden, we were watching sunsets in Seattle instead of Hawaii, and I had but a week to pack for winter in the Andes...

 

Adams, Portland, Surf…

Though I initially had designs on some steep, exposed, north-facing, icy, strenuous, and outright dangerous skiing on a shady and remote side of an unreasonably large volcano in the region, I reconsidered due to a recent urge to enjoy life more.

So I called Camila, met her in Portland on Tuesday, and cruised leisurely up to the south side of Mt. Adams. A late start and a short hike to a scenic bivouac allowed for optimal consumption of Bulleit Bourbon and expansive views.

We climbed the mountain the next morning, and though it was but Camila’s third time skinning she crushed the massive vertical like it wasn’t no thang. We descended the Southwest Chutes and returned to retrieve camp.

Though the idea of busting it straight to the Oregon coast for a possible evening surf session was tempting, again the tendency towards leisure and enjoyment deposited us at the pFreim brewery in Hood River with my good friend from Alta, Sam Thompson. A beer and a meal later, we were on our way to Cami’s sister’s place in Portland, a spectacular sunset lighting up the Colombia River Gorge as we rolled west.

We still accomplished the surf mission, hitting up the coast the following morning. Warm water during a surf session earlier in the week confused me greatly, so I was basically paralyzed by the -50° water we found. Brrr…

Camila nearing camp.

The Southwest Chutes.