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 Monday morning.
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 Montevideo.
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 citizens.
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 mountains:
*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 half hours.
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, so-so."
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 before.
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?
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 one.
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 doorstep.
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 standards.
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 . . . ."
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 operators.
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 area.
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.
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 taller.
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 coverage.
There are trees here...
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.
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! Bonita, bonita!"
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.
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 chill.
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.
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 die.
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 fall.
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.
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 mouth.
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, I said.
Yes, they answered. And you should see it when it has powder.
They had showed me their stash preserve.
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 camper.
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.
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, frozen crud.
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.
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 Off mountain: 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 get-a-way, hmm?): 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..
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 Chile.
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 SHOP!!"
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 this margin.
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 fine.
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).
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. Extraordinary folks.
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.
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.
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 in empanadas.
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 boots.
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.