copyright 1994 JAMES MICHAEL KUSACK
It's today. I leave, Sunday, August 14, for Argentina. Around 11 this morning
I'll throw the skis in the car, drive down to the limo service, and ride into
NYC Kennedy. Aerolineas Argentinas will get us into Buenos Aires around 6:30
After customs and stuff, we bus over to the domestic airport (Aeroparque
Newberry, where a bomb was discovered in a bathroom last week). The aeroparque
is almost downtown, on the shores of the Rio de la Plata. That's the river
where the Graf Spee was interned during WWII -- but a few miles downstream in
The domestic flight (Austral Air) will take about two hours. Should get to
Bariloche around noon, or 25 hours after leaving Connecticut. We reverse the
procedure a week later. BTW, the Andes share the same time zone with us in the
U.S. east, tho Buenos Aires is an hour later.
Bariloche is the described [yawn] as the cradle of Andes skiing, with the first
lifts going up in the 1930s.
Geography: It is maybe 900 miles due southwest of Buenos Aires and maybe 900
miles due northwest of the Malvinas/Faulkland islands. We're talking
Patagonia, the part of Argentina where the country is really starting to narrow
into the cone that ends at Tierra del Fuego. Bariloche is in the lake district,
so it's a year round resort area. Fishing, hiking, biking, and a couple of
national parks are in the area.
The guide books say the area was founded by Germans (don't ask) and prides
itself on its Swiss/Bavarian architectural themes. Lots of chocolate shops.
The town of San Carlos de Bariloche is quite large with maybe 70-80,000
The ski area is on Cerro Catedral, about 10 miles from town. It's has a
well-developed infrastructure with 32 lifts, 27 of which have been called
'major' lifts. There's a tram, too, but that's sure not my favorite lift.
Vertical drop is 3,280 feet.
The rap is that the terrain is predominantly intermediate with 25 percent of
the trails rated advanced or expert. (South America uses the four level
European system of rating).
This gave me pause, but on reflection I've had terrific times at predominantly
intermediate hills like Stratton and Okemo. I hope and expect, given it's
size, that there will be enough interesting stuff to keep me amused.
I looked at Las Lenas this year which has more challenging terrain but that
deal didn't work out. Two years ago I chatted with a fellow who skied both Las
Lenas and Bariloche and he said he had a great time at the latter. He said
they are big on the 'boomps' there. So I think it will be okay.
Other factors in going to Bariloche: I've never been there, it's famous, and I
did the other side of the Andes (Chile) last year. Plus, the Chileno resorts
near Santiago are great for a group, which might come to pass next year ('95).
One more factor: the snow has been thin the last couple of years in the north
around Santiago and Las Lenas but great in the south lake district. It makes
sense to go where the snow is.
Here's the regional forecast for this weekend on the Chileno side of the
*Valdivia Nublado y chubascos 12 "
*Osorno Nublado y chubascos 12 "
*P.Montt Nublado y chubascos 12 "
*P.Aysen Nublado y chubascos 9 DEB/MOD
Puerto Montt is closest to Bariloche. A chubasco is a storm or squall. Should
be fresh snow.
More in a week or so.
Argentina is a long ways away, guys. It took over a day to get there thanks to
weather, mechanical and a smattering of other problems.
Left Connecticut Sunday August 14 at 11 am for a 4:30 flight out of JFK. Rain
caused almost a hour delay in NYC. An unexplained mechanical problem with the
Aerolineas Argentinas 747 caused another two hour delay in Miami.
The overnight flight from Miami to Buenos Aires took around eight hours. It
was jammed packed, with no leg or elbow room. Tough to catch a nap. But we
picked up a little time and arrived in Bs. As. around 8 am Monday morning.
The flight crew reported that the temperature was a abnormally cold one degree
centigrade (maybe 34 degrees F.) at the airport. The passengers, mostly
Argentines, gasped with the announcement. I dug out out my jacket.
It took a couple of hours to get out of Ezeiza airport what with baggage delays
and the normal bureaucratic processing. When you arrive in Bs. As., there are
always huge crowds waiting to greet family and friends arriving from el norte.
Hundreds of people, a genuine mob. Still, I managed to connect with a tour
host and got in a car for a hair raising trip to the domestic airport, maybe
twenty miles away.
The tour hosts thought maybe we could still make my scheduled flight to
Bariloche, which is around 900 from Buenos Aires. It would be close.
The hightway was wide open since the Argentines were celebrating the San Martin
holiday, one of the biggies. Fast, scarey trip weaving between trucks and
autos but to no avail.
We missed my connecting flight by minutes. So I had three hours to kill. I
spent most of the time walking along the Rio de la Plata, watching
piscaderos/fishermen, joggers, bikers, strollers along the river front . Warm,
pleasant day, actually.
Left on Austral around 2:30 for Bariloche, a flight lasting around two and a
Flying into the Andes is fun. Great view as we poked thru clounds to get
sight of snow topped mountains and huge alpine lakes.
Touched down around 5 pm, 30 hours after leaving Connecticut. My ride into
town was long gone (because I was expected on the earlier flight) but I got a
$3 lift in a microbus/van.
Met lots of extremely nice, helpful people. Can't say enough about how
supportive and cordial everyone was.
But soon I began hearing, "The snow was great -- last year. This year,
You know, it is great to ski any time. It is wonderful to ski in August because
it is roughly midway between April and December, halfway between ski seasons in
the northern hemisphere.
It's great to ski in August even when the snow isn't perfect.
And there could have been more snow for sure in Bariloche. As I asked a skier
waiting for a flight out of Buenos Aires, "Es nieve bueno en Bariloche?" He
responded with a shrug: "Medio bueno." So-so.
Medio bueno/half good meant that the snow on top was terrific, it was decent in
the middle, and poor down to the base. No snow making meant a reverse load of
chairs to get off the mountain at the end of the day. I've now made three trips
to the Andes and have skied six major resorts. I've never had to do this
It's always a risk when you plan a distant ski trip. Last year Bariloche had
record snowfall. I met a dude at Bariloche who was just down from Las Lenas
(where I had planned to go). He said Las Lenas got twelve feet of snow in six
days, beginning the end of July. Said he was knee-deep in powder for over a
week. The most fresh stuff I saw during the week was two or three inches of
windblown snow in midweek.
So it goes.
I had a great time anyway. Bariloche (really Cerro Catedral) has a vertical
drop of 3280. The bottom 7-800 feet was rocks and mud mostly, tho I did see
people skiing all the way down. Rented skis obviously. Which meant that there
was still over 2,000 feet of good vertical to ski. Which is plenty.
It's just that we always want more, don't we?
Bariloche has 32 lifts and no snowmaking. Wrong, it has one tiny snowmaking
spigot attached to what looks like a jet-engine in a newbie area.
Nine of the lifts are chairs, all doubles. There is a tram, one or two T-bars,
I think, and the rest pomas. Despite all these lifts, the resort is
underserved. Lines can get longer on weekends than I've ever seen in South
America. The infra structure needs upgrading badly to stay up with the resorts
in Chile and Las Lenas (several hundred miles north) in Argentina. And they
need a bit of snow making to guarantee top to bottom access in years like this
Guess what? They say it is on the way.
I rode a chair with the resort PR manager who told me about the recent change
in ownership. Cerro Catedral Centro de Esqui was once operated by three
different companies with their own lifts, base facilities, the works. Until the
recent deal, there were down to two operations but with a common ticket. It is
a big place.
The story is that a partnership involving North American ski money and
Argentine interests will be pouring in bucks for new lifts and snowmaking.
There are plans for four gondolas (!) and the tram, he said, will be used only
for service personnel and staff.
Water for snowmaking is no problem. The giant Lake Nauhel Huapi is on the
My question: Is this another Killington buyout? If anyone has heard who the
norteamericanos are, I'd like to know
My sense is that the resort is making money. July is the BIG month but even in
August there seems to be almost too many skiers. Again, remember there are 32
lifts with over 20,000 skier capacity. There are lots of folks on the mountain
and they are charging $32 for a single day ticket. Pretty high by Andino
They seem to be milking the cash cow. The lifts are old, there is now little
management of snow and next to no thought about trail creation or logic in
linking trails into a system.
So it seems to me that with a little investment and some enlightened ski
management, Bariloche/Cerro Catedral could be as good as any resort in South
America and maybe in the Western Hemisphere.
Someday maybe I'll be able to say, "Yeah, I skied catedral in the old days . .
It goes without saying that you can ski anywhere in Cerro Catedral/Bariloche
with little fear of having your ticket pulled. It is rare to see a Pista
Cerrada/trail closed sign anywhere, even when there is no snow on the trail.
I did not see any out of bounds ropes or signs.
Attention by lift attendants is often minimal and on occasion it is possible to
ski right onto the empty (but operating) lifts.
There are pisteros or patrulleros/ski patrol but they are not much in evidence.
And there wasn't a lawyer in sight, either. Ski it if you can.
The dominant theme seems to be laissez faire and decentralization.
The Argentine legal system and sense of individual responsiblity is a factor
behind this of course. But these patterns may be in part a result of the way
the mountain developed with several independent companies putting up lifts,
offering services, etc.
For example, there are at least a half dozen competing ski schools and maybe
many more at the resort. They all have separate offices, costumes, specialties,
etc. My guess is that they pay some kind of license fee to the mountain
Similarly, there are probably a half a dozen independent ski guard operations
at the base. All the major credit cards -- Visa, Master Charge, American
Express -- offer free overnight ski check service, tho a tip would certainly be
appreciated by the check-boy. If you don't have a card, you can pay something
like $15 for a week of ski check.
The base area is a quarter mile plus stretch of small buildings, bars, schools,
rental and repair shops, confriterias/cafes, guardias, you name it. A real
hodge-podge of smaller facilities, no large lodge.
The light poles in the village have sound speakers with music playing. It is
usually the local radio station. My introduction to the ski mountain was
accompanied by the Stones' Voodoo Lounge CD which was playing all over the base
There are some other unusal touches.
I was surprised one morning to see Visa credit card girls standing at the side
of the lift line passing out free hot chocolate. The surprise was that they
offered to put a shot of cognac in your chocolate if you wanted it.
I asked for poquito cognac. It was morning, after all.
Bariloche is such a beautiful place. It is easy to understand why this is where
the Argentines go for vacation.
The town and the ski mountain is adjacent to an very large lake, the Lago
Nahuel Huapi (pronounced roughly "na-well whoppy") which is part of the Nahuel
Huapi Nacional Parque.
It is really a neat place and people come all year round from all over
Argentina, Brazil and elsewhere just to see the place, fish for mountain lake
trout, and sometimes to ski.
I was not ready for this lake. Mauricio the microbus/van driver claims he
catches 4 kilo trout there. There are good views from the ski area and most of
the town, which is build up on hills on one side of the lake.
The lake has its own monster/creature: it's called Nahuelito. Of course.
The town itself is good size. I've seen figures that suggest there are
70-80,000 residents. One norteamericano said he saw figures indicating the
count is over 100,000.
It seems to me that Bariloche would be a good place for a couple or family
where not everyone skis. You can take a nine hour boat trip around Lake Nahuel
Huapie if you want to skip a day skiing. There are also day trips (by bus) to
Osorno, Chile. Osorno is a volcano with its own ski area, incidentally.
Most of San Carlos de Bariloche is oriented toward resort services: hundreds of
hotels, restaurants, tour agents, rental places, souvenir shops and the like.
Plus, scores of chocolate shops and many photo/camera shops.
The architecture is swiss/bavarian derivitive with steeply pitched roofs, lots
of log-cabin facades, and the like but often with Spanish-style terra cotta
roofing tiles. Most buldings are under four stories but a few hotels are a bit
There is also a university and sweater mills. I got a nice wool sueter/sweater
for $27, made right in town.
The town of San Carlos de Bariloche is 10-12 miles from the Cerro Catedral ski
area and most people stay in town. There is plenty of van and bus service to
the mountain. The ski area itself has a couple or three small hotels and lots
of condos and second homes.
It is probably tough for many folks from Buenos Aires ("Portenos") to get to
their vacation homes too often tho. It is a two hour plus plane ride. By car is
is around 1,000 miles and takes around 20 hours to drive. I did meet some kids
who were driving the distance the day I left. These are dedicated skiers.
S.C. de Bariloche is a lively place, lots of street action, people all over.
The streets are packed with kids (on vacation or school tours) especially in
the early evening. It is fun to walk and soak up the steet life.
The Cerro Catedral ski area has a reputation as an intermediate mountain.
But there is plenty of challenging terrain here and could be lots more. It is
just that most South Americans are not yet great skiers. They want and need
intermediate and easier advanced trails. Time should change that, though.
I tried to place the steepness on a Vermont scale: I think Catedral is steeper,
on average, than Okemo or Stratton but not as much as the resorts further north
in Vt. Maybe a bit like a gentler Sugarbush with fewer trees. It doesn't have
the pitch of Stowe or Jay.
It isn't hard finding steeper terrain to ski at Bariloche. It's here, it's just
that you have to be careful to connect with a lift somewhere along the line.
There are no out of bounds ropes and you could find yourself in a gulch with a
steep climb out.
There is steeper lots of terrain between intermediate catwalk trails carved
into the side of the mountain. Amazingly, only an ocassional skier points 'em
down; the masses take the catwalk.
The quality of the snow in any location could be problematic, of course. Powder
days would be ideal for this strategy. My experience was that often the snow
between pistas could be old, rotten crud. But it just depends. So you look,
watch and maybe try it. Jump off.
There were fewer pure bump runs than I anticipated. A few, but not difficult,
except when icey. Again, this reflects the predominant skill level. Some of my
best memories are the odd, semi bumpy run thru a gully, hard turn, jump up,
connect between trails.
Grooming is pretty minimal, mostly on a few key trails or maybe to equalize
There are trees here...
There are trees and the opportunity for some tree skiing on Catedral. Not a
lot, but some. There'd be more if someone would go in a whack some brush.
This is the first time I've skied with South American trees. All five resorts
I'd seen earlier are completely above tree line, in the alta cordillera, up
north toward Santiago and Mendoza. So this was nice.
The general lay of Bariloche/Catedral is about a third above tree line, the
lower two-thirds pretty conventional trails cut thru the bosque/forest. A bit
of it felt like New England.
Much of the vegitation is not familiar to me. There is a unusal looking brush
and low growth. One common type is made of clusters of spikes maybe three to
seven feet in heighth. I was told it's related to bamboo. Dunno.
The topography generally rolls downhill, with swoops and swells, crests,
ridges, gullies, ledges, drop offs, etc. It's not uniform or simple and it can
be difficult to figure out where you are or how to connect with other areas.
As I mentioned earlier, there is sometimes little apparent thought given to
connecting trails. On further thought it occurs to me that perhaps the rough
spots could be between the two operating companies; ie, there were until a
couple of months ago two independent companies running lifts and offering
services on the mountain. Maybe the transition are is where things get rough.
Hard to tell for sure.
At any rate, it would surprise me to see a trail disappear into brush for no
reason, with less and less evidence of earlier skiers having passed by. Then,
on skiing thru the scrub, wondering where I was going and what I was getting
into, I might find an entire, way cool pista, almost undiscovered and unskied.
See the Last Day post, soon at a PC near you.
The best way to find good trails/terrain, as in the North, is to attach
yourself to a local who seems to know what they are doing. Sometimes I just
followed better skiers, othertimes I chatted and maybe asked to accopmany them.
The thought brings me a smile. Some of the best runs came to me this way.
Three words: SPANDEX, SPANDEX, SPANDEX!!!
I dunno but I think Pierre du Pont de Nemors, or whatever his name is, must be
smilin', thinking about what he has wrought. Good job, Pedro.
So it is spandex for the chicas, ninas, y mujures. The microbus driver,
40-something Mauricio, is given to honking the horn and exclaiming, "Chicas!
It is generally pretty warm skiing, usually in the 40s F, so the lighter togs
work well. Few hats, good hair.
The remarkable thing is how good they look. I mean very good. Must be some kind
of natural selection going on here.
For a nation where each person is supposed to consume eigteen tons of beef
every year, it just doesn't seem possilble that they should do so well with the
spandex. We must get Susan Pouder down here to check this out..
Argentine TV is also a surprise. Lots of nudity, even in advertising. An ad for
L&M Lite cigarettes, for example, features a topless sun bather. Gasp.
What else? Maybe I just didn't notice it in my last visit to Buenos Aires but
there seems to be more bare breasts on bus ads and the like. [The term was
'bus' ad.] But on the other hand, two years ago the Argentines were still
shaking off the militares and just coming out of the first blush of libertad.
So this may be an evolutionary thing.
Hope no one is offended by this posting. If so, I humbly and abjectly
apologize. They made me do it.
Surprise. This IS a skiing trip report.
I got a late start on the first day since I need paper work done, vouchers
approved, photo taken, ticket procured, stuff stashed and such. Plus, I wasted
some time just cause I'm not sure what to do or where to go.
I'm told trail maps (mapas de pistas) are hard to find so, anxious to ski, I
jump onto a lift not sure where I'm going.
Turns out there are three ways the top of the mountain: Two skiens of three
chair lifts or the tram. I'm taking the first skein of chairs cause it's
closest. There is a little dirty snow dumped around the base chair so you can
use your skis to get on and off the first lift. After this lift, the snow is
adquate tho thin until you get up another hundred feet or so.
So I take all three lifts, the last being completely above tree line. A series
of pomas allows you to play off this highest chair. The snow is very good
topside, with lots of opporunity for speed cruising.
Which is fine with me, the first day and all. I find an area with small bumps
and play a bit (badly, of course). It's attractive because this area is below
tree line and feeds into a lift with no line. There is also a nice Red trail
(the scheme is green/facil, blue/intermedio, red/difficil, and black/muy
difficil) that I like. It has racing gates but no one is using the trail. Nice,
curvey, twisty, drops and swells. Good cruisin.'
Nice warm day. I'm wearing a shell (no liner) which I zip near the top of the
lift but unzip at the bottom of the run. It's a balance beetween sweat and
There is a cloud hovering mid mountain which is causing some trouble. It's
clear below and above the cloud but inside, its another story. Very dense,
almost dark. I had the disconcerting feeling while in it of not being sure I
was moving or standing still. I later talked to a woman so said the cloud was
so dense she actually felt nauseous.
So this is a problem. It's hard to see the overal scheme of a new mountain with
this damn cloud. Plus, I started to use the cloud as a frame of reference and
only later came to realize that it was moving on me. Dirty, rotten trick!
The cloud mosied on or burned off later in the day. But I mostly skied a couple
of three connected areas, planing to see more of the mountain tomorrow. Stayed
up as long as I could, no lunch. Lifts close at 5 pm.
Low clouds but they burn off quickly so I can get long views of the ski
terrain. Now too much sun can become a problem. I get colored despite two
applications of sun block.
This is my third trip to the Andes. I've noticed that I often ski much more
conservatively down here than I do when in Vermont. In Chile or Argentina, I'm
maybe a little intimidated by the distance, the uncertain medical facilities
and such. It took 30 hours of travel to get here, after all.
But mostly I'm just slack jawed at how exotic and beautiful everything is. I'm
agape and wide-eyed and not concentrating on the skiing end of things.
So this year I've decided I'm gunna push it a little. Remember, I'm not a great
skier (I'm from Iowa) but it seems like the time to gamble a little, to try
some things, to pretend I was a better skier than I am. It is a good day to
It was fine. I remember one mid mountain off pista bit I had scoped out from a
chairlift. Steep with brush and junk. The snow was getting thin so I tried to
stay where the snow was better on the south side of a ridge (recall that in the
Andes South means *away* from the sun).
It was steep enough that I couldn't see what was ahead, the terrain just fell
away. There was a dude ahead of me, but I could tell he was feeling his way
too, carefully, uncertainly. Follow him or not? I yelled ahead to him: "Bueno?"
He shrugged noncommitally, still studying the terrain.
I was sure there was a creek and rocks down there somewhere but I thought I
could connect to a trail leading to a lift if I stayed high enough. And didn't
So I side-slipped a bit until I could see what was ahead. Made a couple of jump
turns, dodged some brush, and got out of it. Normal bumps and normal steep til
I got onto a marked trail.
Whew -- a thrill.
The first two days had been warm and, generally, sunny. Temps were in the 40s
at least with the 50s F not unlikely. I usually wore only my gortex shell and
often left it unzippered to the waist.
Wednesday night (second day) brought a cold front. Viento/wind! Big wind all
night, rattling the windows on my hotel room and waking me several times. Loud,
noisy, howling wind. Could we get some snow?
No such luck. The morning brought clear high pressure and still more wind. And
cold. It was minus seven C at the base, maybe around 15 degrees F. But the wind
put the chill below zero F. The coldest I've seen in three trips South.
So of course all the snow that has softened in 50 degree temps the day before
was now solid helado/ice.
I'm losing confidence, spending too much time on my butt. It's a fight to keep
an edge. The wind blows, my nose drips. Forget the bumps, try some cruising. My
feet are soon aching from rattling around so much on the ice.
Skied with a couple from New Jersey that I met two years earier in Las Lenas,
Bill and Emily. Bill wants to be a ski instructor. I want to belt him in the
The snow does soften a bit with the sun. But not much. Moreover, many of the
lifts are closed because of the wind. Which means LONG lines at the ones that
are operating. Ugh. Killington again.
Some good and bad.
The bad: I look a little path off to the side of a pista, looking for
diversion. Yow! It took a sharp left, edge gave away. Ripped my bibs on rocks.
But only ended up with a razzberry on my left thigh/hip and an abrasion on
elbow. Could have been worse.
The good: At the end of the day I asked a group of Argentines for advice on the
best way off the mountain. They took me down an amazing off pista journey that
I could never even attempt to find again.
It ran thru trees, down narrow gulleys, up ravines, thru more trees, across a
traverse, more trees til finally connecting to a conventional trail. Beautiful,
Yes, they answered. And you should see it when it has powder.
They had showed me their stash preserve.
So Thursday night I'm watching the weather on ATC on the cable out of Buenos
Aires. They are predicting rain or snow in our region Friday. Good news,
The wind continues all night, maybe worse than the previous night. Strange
sounding wind. It seems to howl and then become dead quiet for a few seconds,
as tho listening to hear its echo. Or maybe to catch its breath. Then it howls
again, noisey as ever.
Mas viento on Friday. Damn. More lifts closed down. Damn, damn. Drizzle in
town, but spitting snow in the base area.
My memory of the day is one spent mostly waiting in long lift lines, maybe
25-30 minutes on average. This is unusual. My experience with Las Lenas and the
Chileno resorts is maximum five minute waits, usually less. So I'm not a happy
The snow picks up but is blowing around pretty good. Hard to tell what we're
getting. It is still cold so the combination of ice and new snow can be tricky.
Yesterday the Argentines had been surprised by the unusal cold and were
noticably underdressed. Today, however, they are wearing hats.
Snow continues and there is remarkably good coverage by mid afternoon. It's a
small grain, powdery but heavy snow. I know it sounds contradictory. Despite
all the wind, it is possible to complete a run mostly on new snow. It only we
could lose the wind and long lift lines!
Mostly cruising on severely restricted terrain, red and blue trails.
By the end of the day, the snow is still falling. Tomorrow should be a good
day? The ultima dia/last day is tomorrow, Saturday.
The day dawned clear, warm, no wind, no more snow. The bad news is that the
snow quit before the wind did. So in the morning there are now pockets of hard,
icey snow and windblown loose snow.
But again the sun helps a lot. By noon conditions are pretty good -- and the
weekend crowds accompany the sun, calm and improving snow. Lift lines are often
10-15 minutes, still way too long.
Some great runs, some on new snow. It was only a couple of inches but it made a
difference. It's the kind of day where you want to study the surface of the
snow before deciding how to ski it. Some of the old crud had hardened with the
cold weather of the previous days. But new snow often filled in between spikey,
I found some remote, almost unused runs and made some first tracks. Depending
on the wind and toporgaphy, the blown snow could be surprisingly deep. Rather
than seeking untracked lines, tho, I preferred to study tracks of an earlier
skier so I could see how the turn was made, how far they sunk in, whether they
skidded on hard pack/ice, etc. Useful information.
This is the day I found the hidden pistas. Very strange: you work thru some
brush and scrub at the edge of the tree line and, surprise, two black /muy
dificil (but easy really) pistas standing all by themselves in the treees. Two
trails but the one on the right was virtually unskied. Its like a dream.
I hit this area several times in succession. On one run I could see a skier
behind me also exploring tentatively, following my lead. Later, in the liftline
we chatted. He was Argentine. We agreed how beautiful the area is. I told him,
yes, with the trees, it's reminiscent of Vermont.
The Pro Racing Tour (whatever) was performing Saturday. I watched a prelim but
didn't stay for the competition. You can see the races on ESPN later in the
Fall or on Chileno TV, if you have the chance. It'll give you a chance to see
Catedral and the above treeline pistas.
The day got better and better in the afternoon. Late runs were terrific, did
some bumps (badly of course). Felt good, tho, muy bueno.
Pushed it to the last: was skiing til 5:10 since the last lift operated til 5
pm. Last day, a full day -- tired, aching but pleased it ended well.
Now only three and a half months til I can ski again.
Oh, so you want to talk about discounts and swap meets, huh? Okay, I can talk
I've spent around $2,000 more or less for each August trip to Chile or
Argentina. It can be done more cheaply or more expensively. Sure, it's a piece
of cash but this is August, it's exotic, it's a long way away, and it's fun. I
really like doing this.
A barebones trip staying at cheaper hotels and refugios could be done for
around $1200 for a week's skiing.
For the Bariloche trip, the basic package from City Tours (NJ) was $1839 single
occupancy. Included five days sking, six nights lodging in Bariloche, one night
lodging in Buenos Aires, air and all ground transport, including to the slopes
each day. Also included a half day tour of Bs. As. and English speaking hosts.
Did not include meals (except continental breakfast each day), wine, beer,
t-shirts, bribes, or tips.
Prices of things:
On mountain beer/cerveza: $3
Base village beer $2
On Mtn hamburguesa $3.50
On Mtn hamb w/ ham&chese $4
On Mtn hamb completo $5
Mercado orange 23 cents
Mercado apple 19 cents
Trout dinner $9.50
1/4 chicken dinner (cheap) $5
Pizza grande, cheese $7
Pizze grande, completo $16
Nice t-shirt $13.50
Garish t-shirt $10
Bariloche cordoroy hat $6
NY Knicks hat $15
Real estate (Looking for a weekend
Three bedrooms, 2 bath
waterfront, nice looking $89,000 asking price
The nice thing about Argentina is that the peso is pegged to the dollar, one to
one. In fact the prices are marked not in pesos but in, as they put it, U$S
dinero. You can use dollars anywhere, tho you will probably get pesso in
change. Visa, MC, and AE accepted everywhere. Sorry, no Discover yet..
How about this:
Sitting outside a the Refugio Lynch (a restauarant and warming station) at the
top of the cerro looking out over the Bariloche valley and the lake.
Or if you look west over the ridge you have a good view into the Andes and
And there is a Condor soaring at about eye level out over the valley.
Here's another one:
I'm on the microbus riding to the mountain and two of the passengers are
norteamericanos. Good looking woman who sometimes acts on TV commericials.
She's with this guy who is, hmmm, older probably.
I'm wondering: is this his daughter? wife? Very Good Friend?
It is sometimes hard to tell what with coats and hats and gaitors and stuff.
Later we're talking about language problems.
She: "I have just enough Spanish to get what I need: Eat, find a bathroom, and
One of the strangest things is the phenomenon of the peatones. Peatones are
pedestrians, non-skiers. There are lots of them at Bariloche. They are on the
lifts, standing around, slipping sliding and sledding, making crude snowballs,
not really knowing what to do.
But not skiing.
Peatones are apparently a lucrative business. I think they were asking $15 for
a non-skier lift to the top of the cerro, tho I'm sure group discounts cut into
Most of them are high school age or younger. Bariloche is THE class trip. There
are huge double decker road-cruising buses that make the 20 hour trip from
Buenos Aires with scores, maybe hundreds of students in each. And there are
special hotels or hostels for them, called (I think) Estudientiles. I didn't go
into any but I'd guess they are cheap, dorm-like accommodations.
The kids (and some adults) rent one piece snow suits in town for $5 a day or
$20 for a week. Sometimes you see a dozen or twenty or fifty all wearing the
same uniform, plodding around in cheap moon boots. Not a pretty picture.
Some skiers show disdain for them to the point that I think some downgrade
Bariiloche just because of this phenomenon. And I do have to admit that it is
kinda fun to bomb into a lift area at speed and watch them scatter. But they
really aren't a problem.
They seem to be having a good time. You see them singing, laughing, running
thru the street in non-threatening mobs. Unless the U.S.
So why are they there? You have to realize that most of Argentina is either
flat, agricultural pampas or urban. Just about everyone lives in Buenos Aires
(which has ten million people out of the 33 million in the country). Greater
Bs.As. is flat, flat, flat delta land. The Andes are a long ways away for most
people, maybe 1000 miles off on the western edge of the country.
So this is the place to go. They come to look at the mountains, the lake, the
snow, the Germans, and enjoy the air.
Advice to mountain management: because the peatones do seem to annoy some
skiers, it might make sense to try to separate the groups. If the plan to add
new lifts and gondolas and to use the tram for service personnel only goes
thru, it might make sense to add the peatones to the tram clientele.
They could make a little snow park at the top, fence it off and everyone would
be safer and more comfortable I think.
Other strange stuff:
You might run into some surprising foods. About half the Argentines are ethnic
Italio-Argentinos, so Italian food and influence is strong. But the pizzas can
be, ummm, unusual.
For example, they like to put hard boiled eggs and whole kernel corn on their
pizza. I had a pizza with two cheeses, ham, and olives (it was a regular menu
item). The olives were green and had the pits still in. Aside from that, it was
The coffee is very good all over Argentine. It is worth making this observation
since Chile has the worst coffee in the world. Almost exclusively in Chile you
get instant coffee made right at your table using water from a thermos. Ugh.
Next time I taking my own Coffee Singles (tm).
A trip like this is as much about seeing strange places and meeting new folks.
Here's a quick check of some people I met on the chair lift or on the pistas.
- A tractor salesman
- from Tucaman, which is in the pampas. We talked about
the leche industrie, hogs/cerdos and campos/fields. (I'm from Iowa)
- An Uruguayan, my first
- I learned that the Uruguayans also use the 'zzha' sound for Double LLs just
like the Argentines. It's a nice sound. Thus Valle Nevado is 'Va-zzhay Nevado'
for both Argentines and Uraguayans. The rest of the Spanish speaking world
would say "Va-yay Nevado." But I'm still not sure about the Paraguayans.
- A buyer
- for the Valentino fashion house in NYC.
- from NYC on their honeymoon.
- An Argentine teacher.
- An industrialist
- (maker of addititives used in manufacture of steel) from
- The PR director
- for the resort.
- Lots of students:
- two in architecture, several in business. There was a
business student from Rosario who could not say enough about the beauty of
women in Rosario. One man promotion squad, I guess.
- Lots of people asked if I saw the World Cup
- and wanted to talk about
Maradona, the Argentine soccer star busted for cocaine use and other problems.
- Several Brasilians.
- They always seem to be smiling. We chatted about the
World Cup, of course, and I dutifully made fun of the Italianos.
In general, the clientele was more solidly Argentine and less international
than I found in Las Lenas or Chile.
Everyone was great. Incredible kindness and generosity. I had a dude get on the
chair who knew who I was and that I was from Connecticut. He knew because a
buddy, who was behind us in the lift line, had told him the story.
Consider this: You're at Stowe or MRG and you get on a chair with a fart from
Mars, who wants to talk to you. Yet he obviously only knows ten words in
English, none of which is a verb.
What would you do? How would you react?
I can tell you all these folks in Argentina were terrific.
Skiing in August and skiing in the Andes is a kick. You can probably tell I
have a good time. Even when conditions are not perfect, it's still fun.
Here's my subjective impression based on three trips to South America:
1992 Las Lenas, Argentina: Challenging terrain including some pistas marked
Extremo; the story is that the big scarey trail, Marte, couldn't be opened for
legal reasons in the U.S. It's a big resort, lots of off pista skiing. But
isolated in the remote mountains, pretty much skiing only. There is a casino
and a disco, but -- geez -- not to my taste. There is no town there. Not cheap.
All inclusive package, no decisions to make, language not a problem since
English speakers are everywhere. Great food. I'll go back.
1993 Farellones, Chile: four resorts of Portillo, Valle Nevado, La Parva, and
El Colorado. Variety, rented a car at Santiago airport, mobility, more cultural
interaction but less challenging terrain then Las Lenas. Mobility means more
decisions, more language problems. Can be cheaper depending on how you play it,
can even stay in Santiago if you want. Return for sure, good for a group.
1994 Bariloche: Uncertain snow? Urban environment with choice of non-skiing
alternatives, lots of restaurants, things to see and do. It's in a beautiful
spot; I do like trees and this is the only resort of the six with 'em. I'd go
back but not right away. Snowmaking on the lower runs and an upgrade of the
lift system would help a lot to convince me to return. Let's get the Killington
or Copper Mountain Boys in there to straighten things out!
So I feel like I've hit the major resorts and have seen a good bit of the
Andes. I'm glad I got to see the Lake District this year at Bariloche. The one
area still remaining is the Chileno Lake District on the other side of the
cordillera from Bariloche. There are three or four smaller resorts there, tho
somewhat scattered. I'm told they are on volcanoes, some of which are steaming.
It's where the Chilenos in Santiago go to ski, taking the ski train south from
the capitol. I'd still like to see this area, but the need is lessened since
Bariloche is so close. There is probably better skiing around Santiago; the
Chilenos leave because, well, no one takes a vacation 30 miles from home.
There is one other resort I tried to get to this year called Chapelco. It's 2-3
hours from Bariloche but it turned out to be too much trouble getting there. I
was intrigued since it's been called the Mad River Glen of South America. But
apparently this reference is to the trees and low-key ambiance. I asked chair
lift companions about Chapelco and nearly all agreed that Bariloche has more
challenging terrain. So scratch Chapelco. 8-)
Pretty long report, huh? But I'm still fired up. Send me email if you want to
hear more or have specific questions.
Boarding/riding is increasingly popular. I don't think it is restricted
anywhere,tho I can't really recall seeing any boards at Portillo. But my mind
is failing and I may have just not noticed.
Overall, it is not as big as it is here. I think I've seen figures that
indicate that something on the order of ten percent of all ticket sales in the
U.S. are to boarders. I'd guess the figure in South America is much lower.
Bariloche had the most and I'd just guess maybe half of that there is in the
U.S, or around five percent.
I had a nice chat with a young woman snowboard instructor at Bariloche. She was
Spanish, as in the Pyranees, and obviously had enough business to keep herself
I did notice that the majority of the boarders/riders used hard boots. Chatted
with one of the few using soft boots in a lift line. He agreed with my
observation but could not offer any explanation for the preponderance of hard
Interesting, perhaps, was that the cultural patterns for riders parallel those
in the U.S.: mostly male, mostly young adult-adolescent, mostly hip-hop
oversized clothes. Guess they read the same publications.
You didn't ask but telemarkers are extremely rare. I've only seen a couple.
Last year I briefly talked to one at Valle Nevado; he was from Massachusetts.
We subsequently met on the net and have exchanged notes.