La Endless Winters
High on the bucket list of any serious ski bum is the chance to hit the slopes during the summer in South America. Not only are the mountains super high and steep, the relaxed and festive Latin culture is a perfect complement to the sport of skiing.
Having had marginal success with snow in our 2 month trip to Kashmir and Japan earlier in the winter, Max and I still had an itch that needed to be satisfied. In early June, reports started circulating about a massive early season storm that was rocking South America. The legendary resort Portillo had already received a whopping 10 feet of powder. We immediately booked flights for later in the summer after I returned from my annual trip in August to Hong Kong. We recruited our friend Morgan from BC who would join us for the Portillo leg of the trip.
Chile, and Portillo in particular, always held a special fascination for me. Not only was it the premier summertime destination for all hardcore ski industry professionals, but it was owned by alumni from the college I attended, Cornell. For several summers during college, I applied to work as an intern at the hotel. Perhaps due to my poor Spanish or the wisdom of whoever was reviewing my application, I was never offered a position or even given a response. Despite the continued let downs, I was committed to someday visit the giant yellow hotel next to the lake high in the Andes.
As the summer dragged on in Vancouver, we began to notice that there were less and less new snow storms. By the time I returned from a work trip in Hong Kong in mid-August, it had not snowed for a month. It seemed that no-snow curse of 2016 would follow us to South America. Unfazed, we boarded the plane to Santiago excited to embark on a new adventure. For me, it was my first time south of Mexico in the Western Hemisphere. Even if there was no snow, it would still be a new and exciting experience.
Arriving in Santiago, we picked up our Ford Explorer SUV. Having your own car is essential for anyone who wants the freedom to visit multiple resorts and hard to reach locations. Our first stop was the house of Francisco, a friend we had met when he was working in Whistler the previous season. It being morning, we dropped off our bags and headed straight for the nearest resort Valle Nevado. Considering that I had not slept on the flight down, this might not have been the wisest decision but this never stopped me in the past. We stopped for a coffee at a cool hippie rental shop at the bottom of the mountain pass. While only 50km from downtown Santiago as the crow flies, the climb up the 2000 vertical meters required navigating the most complex assortment of switchbacks I had ever encountered. After the 50th or so, I was beginning to question not getting any sleep…
Finally arriving at the top of the mountain plateau, the resort of Valle Nevado stretched out in peculiar rolling hills with steep canyons without a single tree. While it had not snowed in many weeks, the base of the resort sits at an altitude of 3000 meters so there were no trees to be seen. The infrastructure of the resort was minimal, dominated by a large hotel tower that jutted out toward the mountains reminiscent of a structure on some distant planet from a Star Wars movie.
Valle Nevado was part of the Mountain Collective pass. This is a pass that gives the user access for 2 days to 14 resorts in North America. It also offered 2 days at international destinations including Chamonix in France, Hakuba in Japan, and Valle Nevado in Chile. I had purchased the past 2 seasons prior and used it at 4 resorts for a total of 8 days. While this was only a fraction of the potential of the pass, at US$400, it still made sense. Since we were beginning the 2016-17 seasons in August of 2016, I figured it made sense to invest in it again. Ironically, due to my multiple injuries later in the season, I would not use it again until skiing in Mammoth, California the following July.
After picking up our lift tickets, we put on our gear and jumped on the first quad chair. The day was very sunny with blue skies. While it was still below freezing, it felt warmer due to the amount of sun. We took a few warm-up laps on hard groomers. These took us deeper into the resort where it looked like there would be some challenging terrain. We eventually made it to at-bar that took us up a relatively steep pitch with what seemed like fresh powder on top. It had snowed a small amount a few days prior and since there were no trees to block the wind, snow was blown onto this face and accumulated. Since we seemed to be the only people on this part of the resort, we proceeded to take several laps.
It was around this time that I decided to break out the UE Boom, a portable Bluetooth speaker that we had started using the season before. Multiple Booms could be set up to one audio source making it ideal for blasting tunes while skiing, to the enjoyment of many and the frustration of a few. Shortly after beginning a Tropical House mix, the Boom went silent. I quickly realized that my phone had fallen out of my pocket that I had evidently left open. Losing a phone while in a foreign country is the worst. I was beginning to get distressed realizing the difficulty to find a phone in fresh snow over a large face.
Originally planning to use the Boom to find the phone, we then were reminded of the Find My Phone app on the iPhone. I logged into my account on Max’s iPhone and immediately got the location of my phone. Using techniques that are employed when looking for transceiver beacon when someone is covered in an avalanche; we circled around the location where the phone was supposed to be until we finally zeroed in on the exact location. The phone was found under a few inches of fresh powder. Without this app, it would have been next to impossible to find the phone. With a sigh of relief, we got back to skiing. There was still a lot of time left in the day and we had only skied a small portion of the mountain.
After a lunch of the local fare of empanadas, what would be become the go-to throughout the trip, we set our sights on a hike up one of the neighboring peaks that circled the perimeter of the resort. It was at this time that I realized my large jacket pocket was wide open once again – and my phone was not there. Accepting the fact that I was probably destined to lose the phone on this trip, I wrote it off. Fortunately, Max pushed to find it again using the app that we had used earlier to find the phone before. This time, the phone was on the move. Someone had obviously picked it up. Max sent a message to the phone with his contact info which was soon replied to from whoever had picked up the phone. We tracked down the guy to the base of the resort near the hotel tower. Thanking him immensely, I happily recovered my phone. Since we were already at the base, we decided to call it a day. I had not slept in over 36 hours so I was likely to continue making mistakes if I kept skiing.
I learned 2 things from this day. First, after flying internationally with no sleep and driving for several hours, don’t go skiing without getting some rest. Second, use some sort of contraption that will keep my phone connected to my jacket so I don’t lose my phone again. I have since created such a contraption: Since my battery would run out on my phone when in the mountains due to music and cold, I got an external battery case. Then I attached a lanyard to the case and to my jacket pocket. Now, even if I leave pocket open, the phone falls out but stays attached to my jacket. I also try to remember to close all of my zippers before skiing.