Tag Archives: chile

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.

Converting Steve

Now proud owners of Steve the 2005 Sprinter, it was time for some van conversion work. The awesome guys at La Chimba hostel had said we could use the parking round the back for the build and even use any tools they had in their bodega. This made the whole build possible, thanks guys!

I had spent some of the time whilst we were van searching researching where to get the necessary supplies (wood, water pumps, leisure battery and charging relays etc.). It turns out Santiago is pretty awesome for getting everything you need for a camper conversion if you know where to look. Although the internet is not used that much by a lot of businesses so some leg work is required. Most shops are very helpful, if they do not have something they often tell you somewhere that does.

The van basic design had been rolling around my head for a while and would provide seating, a kitchen unit with sink and stove, a double bed, lots of storage and a wood burning stove to keep us warm on cold winter nights! The van would also need a healthy amount of insulation to help keep it warm too, and I guess cool on hot days.

The design was sketched out and we went purchasing the necessary supplies. Some of the shops were quite fun, especially the solar shop run by geeky guys who ferreted around their warehouse to find the various components on my list.

Before we got into the build proper we decided to go for a little trip in the van to Cajon Del Maipo where there is some good climbing. We found that the ripio (gravel) roads can be pretty rough, which helped me decide how to construct the cabinets, they would be framed in sturdy 2″ x 2″ rather than just fitting up ply together with brackets.I also set about starting to strip the van out prior to the build during the trip. This was finished off and the inside cleaned out on our return to Santiago.

Steve stripped out and clean ready for the build.
Steve stripped out and clean ready for the build.

The insulation was two layers of insulation wool for the voids between the structural members of the van and inside the members where we could.  This was then overlaid with aluminised foam and sealed with aluminium tape to help prevent moisture getting to the metalwork behind. Whilst we aren’t keeping the van for long we thought we should do a proper job so he would last and provide a home and transport for many more adventures once we sell him in September .

Insulation wool complete
Insulation wool complete.

The van was starting to look pretty space age by the time the aluminium foam was nearly done and some people thought we may indeed be building a time machine!

Steve insulation complete and hole for the roof vent cut.
Steve insulation complete and hole for the roof vent cut.

All the insulation and first fix wiring was now done and the time machine was ready from ply lining. I had kept the lining that had been removed and took the dimensions from these to a wood store that I had found stocked 3mm ply. Two of the guys there were from Venezuela and really cool, Johnny and Francisco, they were both learning English and Francisco’s was pretty good.


Tommy, Johnny and Franky
Tommy, Johnny and Franky

We got the wood required for the lining and left, only to return the next day cos I’d forgotten the sides of the original lining didn’t quite meet the roof! Still the old lining was really useful for templating round the curvy bits i.e. wheel arches etc.

Foil insulation appied and roof vent fitted.
Foil insulation applied and Barbara repairing some taped seams torn when fitting ply lining.
The ply lining and lights were finished late one night!
The ply lining and lights were finished late one night!

With the lining complete the van was looking pretty good now.

Time had come for the framing for the units. However the frustrations started here as the 2x2s were all warped and vans are not square as such with plenty of curves to deal with. In addition the tenon saw I had bought, complete with mitre box, didn’t want to cut square, the corner brackets I got to join it all together were not that square and the screw holes were asymmetrical. This was an engineers nightmare! However this was what we had to work with and the results were not too bad – just don’t get a set square out! Hopefully some of the non squareness could be hidden with the ply facing material, either that or it would really look terrible. To my surprise the ply went on really well with a bit of fettling although it was also all warped and warping more by the second! It could be held flat on the timber frames but the doors, well not so much, but hopefully it would all settle down…

Wardrobe and kitchen units   taking shape.
Wardrobe and kitchen units taking shape.

During the build Barbara was serving her apprenticeship as a junior camper van builder and going off to the Ferreteria (hardware store) to get long weights, sky hooks etc. and holding various pieces of wood in place while they were fixed. Barbara’s skills developed pretty well and it was time for the apprentice’s project, the wine rack! There was space in the kitchen cupboard unit allocated so Barbara set to work designing, sawing, gluing and screwing, there was some design development as we went along and the wine bottles were used to ensure a proper fit for 2 x 75cl and 1 x 1.5l bottles.

Wine Rack, every good campervan should  have one!
Wine Rack, every good campervan should have one!

The end result was looking pretty good, Barbara was justifiably looking very pleased. Time to call it a day and have a nice glass of wine and some dinner. Selecting the nice big 1.5l bottle of wine, we found out it didn’t want to come out of the rack – Barbara had managed to actually build it in to the rack and no amount of frantic pulling would get it out.  Time to deploy the hacksaw!

Tom Releases the bottle!
Tom Releases the bottle!

Having mostly completed the units and installed the bed slats, we decided to go for a trip to Cajon del Maipo where we had been a week earlier for a mountain film festival. This time I planned on burning all the scrap wood I had generated from the build in a very big fire to mark the end of the main construction work, just the gas, water and wood burner to be fitted.

Two and a half weeks and a fair bit of fustration time for a fire!
Two and a half weeks and a fair bit of fustration time for a fire!

A further weeks work saw the sink, woodburner and cooker fitted, and the delivery of the cushions for the benches which also make up the bed. These were finally picked up after a Chilean week…. read 2 weeks! We were anxious to see what they had turned out like as the measurements were taken before the units were finished and Barbara had had to convey the design of the cushions with pretty limited Spanish. Actually they turned out exactly as per design and they fitted perfectly! Amazing! Time for another trip to the mountains to test things out and do some climbing, this time heading out to Farrellones, one of the winter ski resorts.

Van looking nice and cosy with wine and dinner on the go!
Van looking nice and cosy with wine and dinner on the go!

Steve was looking pretty sweet now and was really cosy and comfortable to live in. I just had the water and some electrics to sort, but these could be don whilst on the road.