Kyle had been in the northern part of Chile for the past month; in Portillo, and said that the conditions were good, but the snowpack was as low as he’d ever seen it. With low expectations, we headed south to Nevados de Chillan. On the way, I thought “The experience itself will be worth it, regardless of snow conditions”, or something to that effect. Luckily, that stupid thought never crossed my mind again.
We woke up the next morning to deep snow and good enough visibility, stumbling upon “the best day of the year”, as Crested Butte’s Ed Dujardin put it. After two solid days, the snow transitioned to rain in the alpine, rendering ski conditions soggy and dangerous. Fortunately, CASA Tours attracts a client base that includes hilariously enjoyable characters like Baron Ginnetti.
The rain was starting to scare herds of gringo tourists into their hotel rooms as El Barón lead our group to the resort’s hot springs. The enthusiastic thespian pushed our dignity to the limit as he choreographed a hot, wet, Escudo-fueled, semi-synchronized swimming routine. While we were busy entertaining ourselves, we were also unknowingly inspiring onlookers. After watching a few rehearsals from afar, a small group of seasoned Chilean women came over to socialize, steal some beers, and join our company for the final routine.
We made a pit stop in Chillan the next day for supplies and a mandatory café con piernas. Satisfied and loaded up, we hopped off the beaten path and continued south to El Volcán Lonquimay, where we would manage to catch up with winter again. The ski area on Lonquimay; Corralco, has a scene far different than Nevados de Chillan’s thriving ski culture. The majority of skiers here either arrived on giant tour busses from Brazil or in Chilean military vehicles.
Even though Corralco seems to lack an understanding of contemporary radness, its stunning araucaria forests, diverse wildlife, and vast, humbling terrain fill the social void a hundred times over. We spent three days under sunny skies using our skis to explore powder filled lava tubes, steep, bamboo lined creek drainages, and ancient forests straight out of Jurassic Park. We ate horse jerky, drank hot, chalky wine concoctions, and soaked in some hot springs on a sixth-generation cattle ranch. One of the days, at the summit of Lonquimay, Gomez pointed to a far-off white cone. It was Volcán Villarrica, a volcano that looms over one of Chile’s most popular adventure tourism destinations, Pucón, which happened to be our next stop.
With bleak weather on the horizon, arriving in a town where everybody except the Asian tourists speak English was refreshing. We arrived just in time for a late dinner, and made it back to our cabaña by 4am. With a few hours of shaky sleep under our belts, we set out for Villarrica’s 2840m summit with thick cloud cover and thin blood at the crack of noon. The clouds cleared on the way up and the frozen snow morphed into perfect corn, just to refreeze into a solid sheet before our late sunset descent.
Our timing was a little off, but it could’ve been worse. On March 3, 2015, just shy of six months since we’d skied it, Villarrica erupted for the first time since 1985. The eruption triggered an evacuation of Pucón and forced the closure of the ski area on Villarrica for the 2015 season. So, in the grand scheme of things, “a little off” wasn’t too shabby.
After two days of spring skiing, we’d had our fill of Villarica and were slated to head back to Santiago. The plan was to enjoy a down day in the city before traveling back home. But about halfway through the eight-hour drive, we got word of fresh snow and blue skies at El Colorado from Fernando Ochagavia, the owner, and pretty much mayor, of Base Camp Farellones. With that, our plans changed and we were en route to another freshly blanketed mountain range within minutes of arriving in Santiago.
As if picking us up and letting us crash wasn’t enough, Fernando hired one of his employees, Jose, as our personal sidecountry shuttle driver for the following day, which allowed us to scar up El Colorado’s legendary Santa Terre face with great efficiency. As we soaked in a mountainside hot tub at the end of the day, an airport shuttle arrived looking for me. I dried off, thanked my hosts in high school Spanish, and started planning my next trip back.