My 5 Favourite Places to Ski in the World – part 2 Patagonia and Chile

In the second week of this five part series we visit some of the finest spots of Patagonia and Chile.

This trip was ten years in the coming for me. Getting the right person, at the right time in the right place proved difficult. I was working on a large engineering project in Brazil that summer and travelled from there to meet Michelle in Bariloche. From there we followed the snow along with many other fellow skiers who we crossed paths with several times in both Argentina and Chile.

The light, wind, ruggedness, red wine, steaks, monkey puzzles and friendly people made this trip one that will guarantee I go back.  Everyone should ski a volcano at some point in their life and the fantastic Frey Refugio comes with its own reputation as a freeride destination.

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Michelle in the vapours and walking between the cauliflowers on Llaima volcano

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Dropping into another sweet run above the Frey hut amongst the granite spires of Patganonia with Bariloche’s lake Rio Negra in the distance

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The volcano Llaima and the beautiful characteristic Monley Puzzle or Auracaria trees

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Skiing on Llaima with moody afternoon light

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Wall art in Bariloche

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Tree warmers?

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Dropping off the back of Cerro Catedral en route to the Frey

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Ross enjoying a fast run into Frey

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Wall art in Pucon

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Quietly contented and very shy

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Villarica and plumes of volcanic vapours

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Summit selfie shot on Villarica

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Michelle on Villarica with an abundance of riming near the crater rim

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Good low angled skiing lower on Villarica with the deep contrast of the volcanic landscape

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Michelle on Llaima volcano and the surrounding landscape

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The Frey hut at sunset with its stunning backdrop

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The Frey hut is nestled below the rock spires with access to a group of valleys providing different skiing options. Its also low enough to escape the worst Patagonian wind which destroys the snow for skiing.

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Ross Hewitt on a line directly above the hut

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Cosy nights at the Frey for enjoying the pizza and wine

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Loads of variety between open slopes, faces and couloirs. We found the best snow at Frey

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Matt Livingstone shredding

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Me shredding

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The road to the Argentinian – Chilean border and the 3700 m volcan Lanin

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Lanin offers 2000 m of vert and has a 1000 m cosmique like couloir from the summit which we were aiming for

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The military concrete hut at 2800 m provides shelter for the night en route up the mountain splitting the climb into 2 days.

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We spent the night with fellow travellers Brodie Leven and Adam Clark who had a faulty gas cylinder and were happy to have our stove to use.  Michelle and myself had travelled to South America without sleeping bags and the ones we borrowed in San Martin were bigger that our packs and pretty cold.

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Dawn hit Lanin as we leave the hut

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Michelle just below the summit

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The stunning contrast between snowcapped peaks and the lakes

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Michelle and myself on the summit above the volcanic and lake district landscape of Chile

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Ross Hewitt skiing the north east couloir of Lanin

Getting After It

Its been a while since I posted on my blog because I’ve been really lucky and had a run of routes in the mountains and not much time at home.  Michelle had 10 days off work and timed it perfectly with the arrival of 80 cm of powder. Enrico Mosetti was also visiting from the Julian Alps and I had the pleasure of showing him around the mountains for the week. We had a day on the Midi skiing a Rond and Cosmique with Minna Riihimaki and Dave Searle which got the juices flowing. Usually I ski around 200 runs off the Midi a year but this was only my 6th day on The Mothership – its definitely been a unique season. The next day we could have easily kept hoovering lift access powder off the Midi but I just want to ski in the mountains by this stage of the season so we decided to get some solitude and tour 800 m up to the Col du Capucin. I’d not been there since 2011 and no one had been there this season. At the col I was pretty sure the abseil anchor was on the left and we set about digging down to find it. With no traffic this year the 50 degree couloir had filled in to an extent that I’ve never seen. As I rapped in and sunk up to my chest I regretted not rapping with skis on.  The rest was beautiful deep sluffy cold pow and the only issue was avoiding your sluff, certainly my best powder run of the season. Over a beer Elevation in the hot afternoon sun we decided to go East facing the next day – I had a little project that I’d meant to do for a few years that would test our endurance to the max. The plan was to skin up 1200 m to Col Tour Noir Superior at 3690m, ski the 5.2 50/45 degree East Couloir, then skin 700 m up the scorchio South facing slopes to Col du Saleina at 3419m,  finishing with the grind up the Saleina Glacier and over Col du Chardonnet at 3223m. The route weighs in at circa 2500m of up, 4000 m of down, a lot of time in the dry air above 3000 m and getting microwaved from the inside out on South facing glaciers in the super hot sun. Enrico didn’t know better and was up for adventure and Michelle didn’t bother checking it out or listening to the numbers so came expecting it to be easy – I was surprised she thought I did easy things! Usually I carry 0.5 litres and decided 2 litres might just be enough. In the end 2.5 would have been ideal but 2 worked. The first climb gets the sun early and I’ve been cooked on this climb before. Fortunately a chilly wind kept us cool and we arrived at the col having not sweated much fluid. Looking down the sunnyside we were pleased to see the couloir was full of snow.  We were skiing on sight without any knowledge of conditions over there. After some steep sugar turns, things mellowed out to 45 degrees and we rode the couloir in 2 or 3 pitches on a combination of creamy spring snow and chalky powder. The next skin lived up to all expectations of being hotter than hell and we stripped down to white base layers and just got on with it loosing fluids and salts at a stupid rate. Just before the col Saleina I had to get my swollen feet out my boots as the crushing bone pain was becoming pretty bad. Enrico and myself ran out of water about here. Unfortunately for Michelle, she thought it was a ski down to Cham from here and didn’t take the news too well that we had 2 hours to the next col. I’m sure she is going to heavily scrutinise any of my future plans in minute detail! After force feeding her and with no technicalities left it was pretty easy for an ex-ironman triathlete to rally and get up to Col du Chardonnet. There we were rewarded with golden glow of the late evening sun and soft spring snow down to Lognan where we stepped of our skis after 11 hours. As the spring skiing in the A Neuve Basin had been so good, I decided to do another route there, this time just with Enrico. I’d never skied Passage D’Argentiere so that was the obvious choice with only 1000 m of skinning and the main difficulty being negotiating the large cliff at the base on sight. A quick rap off the col with skis on and we were away skiing soft spring snow in big turns and having a lot of fun. Then Enrico hit a trigger point and a metre deep wet slab ripped out – he did so well to point it out and ride clear – we were still above a large cliff at this point. With our nerves jangling I took a look at a picture of the face to find our exit and we mange to link some ramps out right and get off the face without taking our skis off. The snow turned to shit lower down the mellow glacier,  having not frozen the night before It was collapsing under the tails of our skis or sucking at them at different rates. I stopped half way down and turned expecting Enrico to be there, but no sign. After waiting 5 minutes he appeared with blood pissing down his face. In the gloop he had tomhawked and taken the tip of a ski through his mouth – oW!  OOOOOOWWWWWW!!!! He just stood there spitting out blood as it filled up in his mouth and shrugged it off with ‘is it beer time?’ Sure is, its past noon now! Somehow Enrico was allowed onto La Fouly’s Terrace bar despite looking like he had killed a wild boar by biting through its Aorta! I could see small upset children running to arms of their parents who had concerned looked. Backwoods Switzerland is pretty conservative and a bearded bloodstained man yielding an ice axe would be treated with caution in most places perhaps with the exception of Fort William. Enrico got cleaned up and amazingly we got served. After a pint (or 2) Michelle came and picked us up and took us home – what a star! For Enrico’s last day I had a long day in mind – a North-South traverse of Les Courtes. Up Cristeaux, along the ridge and down Croullante Couloir. After a 1000 m climb we hit the ridge and a beautiful traverse took us towards the Aiguille Croullante. 1997 was the last time I did this ridge and it was a real pleasure to do it again surrounded my magnificent scenery in all directions. We rapped onto the North Side to traverse below this pinnacle and found some horror show 55 degree sugar ontop of a mixture of black ice and weetabix rock. I couldnt get a pick placement and just teetered on my feet while I pulled the ropes. Getting my backpack (with skis) off and balancing it on my thighs to secure the ropes was probably the hardest manoeuvre I’ve been faced with in the hills.  I quickly joined Enrico at the col and we put our skis on the super exposed knife edge separating the Croullante Couloir and the 800 m North Face of Qui Remue.  A lassoed spike let us rap over a boulder and after packing the ropes we discussed if we should try make Montenvers in 35 mins or suffer the ball-baggery of walking to Cham. I elected to go for it and 8 mins later we were below the shrund after sending the line on perfect velvet corn. That definitely ranked in my top 5 big mountain ski descents for snow quality. We schussed down the Talefre glacier passing Pierre a Beranger. Slowing only for a rock slide and some slabs (sorry skis) we arrived below Montenevers just in time for the ‘last lift in 5 minutes’ announcement. A sprint up the stairs ensured we got the training effect that we may have missed earlier in the day! What a great day and a perfect finish to a week skiing with Enrico. I’m looking forward to going and visiting him in the Julian Alps next season. The last run that I’ll post here was with Luca Pandolfi and Tom Grant. The plan was to do the South Face of the Dent de Geant, which although I have skied before in pow, would be fun on the corn. Leaving the Helbronner we were met my a bitingly cold North East wind and on the way over we decided things were unlikely to soften at 4000 m. Instead we headed for the ‘Petit’ variation that sneaks onto the face 200 m or so lower. On the ridge the wind continued to howl and we hid behind the rocks, relaxing and laughing while waiting for the snow to soften up. I took my Atris for this freeride face and had a lot of fun arcing out the turns on the creamy corn. Down at the alpages we swapped ski boots for flip flops and strolled down through some of Italy’s prime real estate to Lou’s cafe and tunnel pizza. There was one more hit before the run came to an end, over Mont Dolent. With Andy Nelson we climbed the Charlet and descended the Gallet ridge – I’ll post that next!   20150406_112304 Heading to the Col Capucin20150406_135451(0)One rap in, Michelle skiing11024789_10153639642273973_656810169192206345_n Me trying to avoid getting sluffed with the sluff train down over the shrund20150406_135816Enrico charging20150406_140832_1_bestshot 20150406_141244_1_bestshot Michelle enjoying the powder under the Capucin 18596_10153639642918973_1096087686793219780_nThe reward for the best pow run of the season RH Enrico and Myself of Col Tour Noir Superior20150408_133919 Enrico blasting down the East Couloir20150408_133954_1_bestshot Michelle skiing 11030840_10205148974956140_1868574250360739144_n Me getting my shot in20150408_134251 Enrico big mountain wave riding 20150408_134359 Michelle20150408_134842 Enrico about half way down20150408_140447(0)Michelle exiting the couloir20150408_144613 Michelle underneath the Gallet Ridge of Dolent (left) which we skied later in the week and the stunningly beautiful North East Face of the Amone on the right which I skied with my good buddy Dave Searle one sick weekend in 2011. Did I mention it was hotter than hell skinning up this South Facing glacier?20150408_175950Final treadmill session was eased by the milky late afternoon light and cooler temperatures. 20150408_190254The final wee bootback on Col du Chardonnet, fixed rope handrail 20150408_192344 Savouring the moment, nearly 8 pm. 20150408_192827(0) Ripper corn on the West facing slopes20150410_124621 Passage d’Argentiere – Enrico blasting off20150410_125152Freeride down to the big cliff 20150410_133537#1 Enrico spitting blood after tomahawking in rotten slop and getting a ski tip in the mouth on flat glacier 20150410_132134In the zone!20150412_125543Traverse of the Courtes – up Cristeaux, along the ridge and down Croullante. The 2 Norwegians followed along on our heals the whole way but seemed reluctant to do any work instead letting an old man like me put the booter in. If I was 20 again there’d be no way I’d wait for some old codger.  20150412_135434On the Ridge 20150412_140804I had not been here since 1997 20150412_143023Enrico contemplating the traverse around the Croullante20150412_154352One of the most precarious spots to step onto skis on a knife edge ridge with 800 m Qui Remue behind and 600 m Croullante Couloir below 20150412_154405Excited about the perfect conditions on velvet20150412_155107Enrico on the 10 m rap20150412_155912Time to rip – 4 pm and Montenvers last gondola at 435 pm, about 6000 feet and 7 miles to cover.croullanteThe couloir rode smooth and fast – 8 mins including camera stops! In Elevation by 5 with a hell of a thirst.20150412_16035920150414_102633Next! Sheltering out the wind and waiting for the snow to soften on the South Face of Dent de Geant 11156943_10101530346871398_681779973_n   Beautiful setting. While Waiting for Luca and Tom I skinned over to the top of the Marbree seen behind to pay my respects to Dave Rosenbarger who died in an avalanche there earlier this year. It was the first time I went there this year and an emotional moment to be there on the col. 11157170_10152657073492260_586698300_oMe enjoying the creamy spring snow with Marbree behind. 

Another Sick Sunny Powder Day

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Liz Daley and Dave Searle enjoying and easy start to the dayTrappier Liz Daley Dave Searle-2 Trappier Liz Daley Dave Searle-3

On our way up with the Te Crew boys

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Dave getting used to a camera I lent him.

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Dave killing it, about 2000 m more to comeTrappier Liz Daley Dave Searle-6Liz realising its primo
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A little tree adventure and then perhaps last of the pillow lines for this winter

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Sunlight and Storm

We started the day in the sun with a cables then a Marbree run. By 1030 it was getting hot in the sun and we relocated to Courmayeur to ski the central BB Couloir on the Dolonne Face.DCIM100GOPRODCIM100GOPROScreen Shot 2014-02-28 at 16.37.39Screen Shot 2014-02-28 at 16.36.14Courmayeur Buccella Bauer CouloirCourmayeur Buccella Bauer Couloir-2Courmayeur Buccella Bauer Couloir-3Courmayeur Buccella Bauer Couloir-4Courmayeur Buccella Bauer Couloir-5

Sunny Powder Day

Sunny days have been few and far between this year here so you’d expect the lift company to be ready for business on the first sunny powder day for ages. But it snowed a little last night, as forecast, as it does in the mountains…so the lift opens late because they have to clear a few terraces with a snowblower. Its a uncontrolled mountain so they can’t even blame it on avalanche control.
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The looks say it all. First there, queuing for 2 hours and not in the first bin.Screen Shot 2014-02-17 at 17.15.42

Good fun once we got there and worth the wait. Super good to be back on the big hill 2800 m vertical runs down the West Face of the Aiguille du Midi to the road.

A Daley Dose

Liz Daley spine riding in Italy.Liz Daley Spine Riding

At the Menagerie

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Powder Panda getting strange looks from the locals.Palud Liz Daley Davide de Masi-2 Palud Liz Daley Davide de Masi-3

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