December 25, 2018

Bariloche Argentina Skiing Adventure

There are a many things Argentinians do well, but there are two things in particular that they take such pride and passion in that no other culture on earth can compare to how well they do it. If you’ve been to Argentina then you likely already know that those two things are the asado and maté (pronounced “ma-tay”, yerba maté is the full name). Asado means both “barbecue” (the action of) and the actual cut of the meat  (in our case it was a mixture of ribs, ribeye and strip steak).   

parilla argentinaOur typical asado, performed by our Bariloche-born and raised-friends, was a 3-6 hour performance of the perfect preparation of wood fired coals, amply salted meats, and the ideal placement and timing of the flip of the meat over the coals on the parrilla (pronounced “pa-re-sha”) or grill. If you’re smart, you’ll stand close by the fire to get the first niblets passed around by the “Asador” or grill master. The asado is eventually served around midnight at a large table seating all ten of your friends alongside potatoes, perfectly toasted french baguettes and a lovely local malbec.

As for the tradition of maté, our local friends would sip this hot tea beverage all day, every day. Consuming this loose leaf tea is like a religion to them, and best drank shared among friends.  Most often there is one person with a tea gourd made from a dried squash rind and a metal straw known as a bombilla. yerba mateThis person will fill the gourd with maté and hot water (not boiling!) and pass it around the circle of friends, bonding us all together in conversation, warmth and energy.
One thing about maté..when you say “gracias,” it means you’re done and don’t want anymore. At the core of these two traditions is the strong emphasis on sharing and togetherness. During our three weeks summiting and skiing peaks throughout the Nahuel Huapi National Park with our Argentinian friends, we would witness these traditions of sharing and friendship woven throughout their culture.

Bariloche, Argentina is nestled in on the eastern slopes of the Andes within the northern boundary of the Patagonia region. Drive one hour east and you’re out in the desolate plains reminiscent of my home state of Wyoming. Drive any bit west and your amongst old growth temperate rainforests dripping in moss and towering white capped mountains gushing with waterfalls. We found ourselves here seeking summer snow and as timing would have it, a honeymoon trip. We also, so fortunately, have a close Argentinian friend, Nano, whose family has called Bariloche home for generations.

We arrived in late August to stormy skies and a lake of white caps. Our base camp for the coming weeks was a 4-bedroom house on the lake owned by a dutchess with an impressive hunting resume. Throughout the house there were close to 20 european mounts of the region’s Red Stag, a slightly smaller version of the North American elk. It was the perfect house to host many Asados with many new friends in the coming weeks.  As the storm was raging up high and the ski resort closed due to high winds and low visibility, we headed south two hours to visit Nano’s family’s ranch, of nearly 10,000 hectares, deep in the rainforests of Patagonia.

We arrived to the ranch down a long, narrow 4x4 dirt road with six friends, one dog (Topo) and half a lamb. As the sun set behind the jagged, cliff lined mountain peaks, we gathered firewood and set up camp. We spent the next four hours sipping malbec, telling stories and watching Nano perform a lamb asado that would give Francis Mallmann a run for his money.

We woke the next morning to light rain and low lying fog, a perfect time to sit around telling stories and sipping maté. Mid-day we ventured out for a hike through the towering old growth forest, across a river as clear as ice, and off to a nearby waterfall gushing down from the hillside perhaps six stories high. The hike to the waterfall was laden with down trees as the region had experienced a 10-year storm the year prior. This massive snowfall, however, is a rarity nowadays in this portion of the southern hemisphere as the effects of climate change and the hole in the ozone above has decreased snowfall in this region substantially.

After our recharge out at the ranch, the storm had cleared and we headed to Bariloche’s renowned ski resort, Cerro Catedral. The resort had seen five inches of new snowfall over the two-day storm and with bluebird skies we had a splendid time exploring a variety of terrain. The new snow above treeline had us skiing wide open, rocky bowls as we took in the breathtaking views of Lago Nahuel Huapi filling the valley below.  To get our fill of resort skiing in before we ventured off-piste for our ski mountaineering adventures, we rented a car (the “danger mouse” Fiat) and headed north three hours along the “Seven Lakes” road to San Martin de los Andes and their local ski hill, Cerro Chapelco.  

Chapelco argentina san martin de los andes

Chapelco is small, off the beaten path, and unassuming. Unassuming until you get to the summit and get your first view of the off-piste backbowl that each year hosts some of the best skiers in the world to compete in a stop on the World Freeskiing Qualifying Tour.  That event would happen just days after we skied here on some of the best snow and gnarliest lines of our trip. After ripping up Chapelco, we hit the town of San Martin de los Andes. This town is known as Steamboat’s sister ski town. Nestled deep in a valley at the white sand shores of Lago Lacar, you can feel the groovy mountain vibe that brings everyone together in this very special little town.

We arrived back to Bariloche in the midst of a frenzy as Nano was carefully orchestrating all the final details of our 5-day boat/ski expedition trip on the Lago Nahuel Haupi.  As weather moved in once again and it looked like an ideal opening of sun in two days, we decided to kill time by heading out the the famed Refugio Frey.  Nestled deep among towering spires in the Valle de Frey (Frey Valley), the Refugio Frey is most widely known among the climbing elite for having world-renowned granite spires.  The skiing to, from and within this valley is also well known in the ski mountaineering world.

Refugio Frey Bariloche argentina

There are two ways to get to the Frey Valley.  One involves a 4+ hour hike up from the base of Cerro Catedral and the other option requires an exposed traverse across the Col de Viento (300 yards of windy exposed loose shale rock), two very steep skin ascensions and two, heart-pumping descents.  We happily opted for the latter approach. Right out of the shoot, the Col de Viento provided all it’s cracked up to be- scary and exposed. As for our initial descent into the zone coined “Little Alaska”, the snow had remained cold in the shadows of the steep peaks above and we found ourselves flying through two thousand vertical feet of knee deep pow in terrain reminiscent of its nickname. We arrived to the Refugio Frey as the sun threw its lasts beams at the spires circling the valley and met the crew of hosts and guests for the evening- sipping maté and sharing stories of the adventures of the day.  

Next on the agenda was a 5-day boat-ski expedition that would take us across the Nahuel Huapi Lake and deep into the remote mountains of the region. Check out the video of our ski-boat expedition here:


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