South American Pow… or not!

At last we hit the snow, first stop was El Colorado which is part of the Tres Valles (El Colorado, La Parva and Valle Nevado). We were quite excited about the prospect of getting those skis on to the South American snow, sadly this was somewhat tempered by the general lack of it. There was a dusting forecast, but we weren’t holding out much hope. When we arrived the dusting was in progress and the mountain was shrouded in cloud, so we bailed on actually going skiing. It’s no fun if you can’t see more than 10m!

We amused ourselves for a short while watching all the people driving round with snow chains on, it was quite bizarre given there was basically no snow on the roads. A small industry has developed on the road into the ski areas in Chile hiring out snow chains to meet the legal requirement to carry them, however it seems they insist on putting them on if it is looking like it might snow, whether there is snow on the roads or not. This results in people who don’t know any better nervously driving round with chains on, ruining their tyres and the road for no reason. This is compounded by ski area staff also encouraging people to put chains on even though there is no need, all very strange. Maybe it is to make the skiing experience seem more extreme?!

We ended up having a not so extreme day being van hobos, collecting waste wood and then parking up in the carpark to eat some of the best apple kuchen we’ve ever had and drink Bailey’s hot chocolate,  all in the warming company of Cyrill. This was the first proper cold test for the van and with Cyrill all fired up it was toasty, although there were small icicles forming on the screws securing the ceiling panels, as they are screwed into the van body work so remain at pretty much external temperature.

We got our first view of the ski area the following morning. It didn’t look that exciting, there was very little snow cover off piste and the majority of the pistes were just straight down the side of the conical mountain which made them all more or less identical. We headed out round the back of the resort where, as it turns out, there’s better terrain and were rewarded with some fresh tracks on wind blown snow. The back of the resort actually connects to Valle Nevado and La Parva, which opens up even more fun terrain, if you can afford multiple ski passes! Lord knows why they haven’t sorted out a single lift ticket where you can ski in all the resorts.

Where was the deep El Niño pow we’d been promised???? Not this far North that was for sure. We consulted the internet which told us not to bother going to Portillo (chile), Las Leñas (Argentina) or Penetenties (Argentina) either. We’d also spoken to someone who had said there was almost no snow on the Argentinian side of the Andes in the north at least. This some what scuppered the plan to head in that direction. However all was not lost the forecast was for big dumps in Chillan, Villarica and maybe Barriloche. We made a quick decision not to stay any longer at El Colorado. Even though Baileys hot chocolate and wine were calling, we instead hurriedly packed the van and hit the road heading south to the legendary resort of Nevados de Chillàn. We arrived in Chillàn late the following evening and there was a nice covering of snow in the carpark at least. It looked on for the next day to either tour to the top of the volcano or head over into the next valley to enjoy the natural hot springs.

Van living is awesome for beating everyone to the ski hill in the morning cos your already there, however it makes you lazy and we always seemed to actually make it on to the hill after everyone else?! At least by being tardy we got some info from some others heading out for a tour. They didn’t mention that everyone in Nevados de Chillan seems to be ski touring Nazis. We found this out ourselves when we were told we could not skin past the hot springs next to the resort, then found we couldn’t go through the resort either as they don’t allow it.  The summer trail up the hill was too icy even with ski crampons on, but eventually we found a way through into a valley next to the resort.  This was not the ideal place to skin up the hill as you’re at the bottom of a terrain trap with avalanche slope above you on both sides. We continued on as the avalanche conditions didn’t seem too bad.

We watched a couple of skiers ski down into the valley so I decided that heading up their tracks would be a good way out as they had kindly tested the slope for us! It was a pretty steep slope and we met the other skiers on their second lap at the top, they had got a lift pass. They were also in Chile for the season and had some good info on other good places to ski. We were all waiting for the big dump forecast hoping we would get an epic pow day on the Tuesday. They skied on and we were going to continue on, but I didn’t like the look of the slope we needed to cross to get out the valley. We decided to just turnround instead, a bit of a shame, but better than risk being buried in an avalanche. Anyhow there’s a storm a comin’!

The storm came, but it was a bit warmer than forecast and it was raining at the bottom lift.  Still, it would be dumping at the top – I hadn’t seen so much rain in a long time and it was forecast to rain 250mm in the following 2 days in the valley. That would be a lot of snow higher up, so we waited it out in the van in front of the fire with the obligatory bottles of wine. Eventually the storm ended and the skies cleared, this is where we realised that Chillan is a pretty poorly managed resort. The only lifts open were serving the lower beginner slopes that had remained below snow line during the storm, all the lifts providing access to the top of the resort and the fresh snow were closed. I wasn’t keen on going into the backcountry cos the avalanche risk couldn’t be anything more than high given the 60-100cm of new snow that had just fallen. And did. I mention they don’t let you ski tour in their resort?!

We reviewed our options, there was no point staying as it was turning stormy again, further south looked like the storms might be less severe, or there was a good weather window for Torres Del Paine. We decided to head for Torres as good weather there can be a rare occurrence.  So with only a 2500km drive down the road then, we headed for the Argentinean border.

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