About 6 months ago I realized that my past season has been the shortest of the 21st century. And even worse: it was in the Laurentides. You know that place? It’s a place where hills are called mountains, where charging only exists on groomers, where ski shops don’t sell skins, where artificial snow is what keeps you going all the way down to that crowded chairlift full of extreme skiers who brag "en tabarnak" about skiing a double black diamond while eating their "esti de bonne" 9$ slice of pizza with their rental boots undone. Vive le Québec! [It's not THAT bad, but you know...]
Ouch. Identity crisis. I’m a big mountain skier. What Am I doing in Montreal? Should I move back to the Bow Valley? Or join some friends in Revy? Who needs education anyways? Right?
The real question is: How can I stay here and complete my degree without ditching my powder skis?
The answer is: Patagonia.
The problem is: Money.
I looked at my bank account and realized that I could almost afford a trip to South America, but then all my savings from the past 4 years would be gone. So I took a couple days to think about it… (or not!). Then I started to look for the best prices on flighthub! Half an hour later, I was trying to find a ski buddy to tag along. And then my sister showed up…
Marie (my sister) and I get along pretty well and she is an awesome skier who loves travelling. Last time we skied powder together was in Banff (May 2014), just a couple months before she left for Japan, skiing waist deep powder and eating sushis (wise decision Marie). Yes she is my sister, and travelling with her will definitely not be the same vibe as if I was travelling with a bro, but, she speaks Spanish (I don’t), she is really organized (I’m not), and she actually is pretty cool (me too).
So I told her what was my plan and we both worked hard all summer to afford this trip.
Booking with SASS Global Travel was the easiest way to access great terrain and deep snow without wasting anytime. It’s expensive, but you won’t regret it. You meet awesome riders from all around North America and you don’t waste any time trying to find the good snow / good terrain. They know exactly where it is and they bring you there. Personally, my idea was book with them and learn. Get to know the backcountry, and then, for my next trips I’ll know where to go and if I’m short on money I won’t have to pay for guides.
We stayed in the Soulmax lodge which is about 2 minutes away from the base of Cerro Catedral. It’s pretty much like staying in a hostel, except you are with a bunch a sick riders (Garrett Russell, Michelle Parker, Piers Solomon, Chris Coulter, Robin Van Gyn, Andrew Burns, etc). Our typical day was: get up at 7:50, eat breakfast and get your gear ready, find Pete (he’s the one in charge of the groups), talk about your goals for the day and he would assign you to a group (4-5 people per group). Leave the lodge at 9:10 and go to TAGE. TAGE is where you learn how to order a sandwich “jambon y queso” and a chocolate bar in Spanish. Order a “budin de limon” (lemon loaf) if you feel fancy. Then you walk to the gondola (9:30) with all your gear. That’s an awesome part of the day because you get to walk in front of everybody with pro skiers and pretend that your are just that cool like “yeah, that’s Michelle Parker following me. No biggie”. But in your head you are all like: “OMFG that’s crazy!! Selfies selfies selfies!”
Then you tour around in the backcountry and ski chutes, bowls, trees, hit cliffs, watch your buddies rip, discover new zones, rip harder, etc, until 4. Between 4 and 5 = Cervezas! Patagonia Weisse was my classic. Oh, and don’t forget the empanadas. Then it was “merienda” (a.k.a. teatime). Then you eat dinner, drink more beer, play ping pong and go to bed! Sweet life eh?
Marie and I skied inbounds the first day. There was 20 cm of fresh snow so we skied it until it was mainly tracked out and then we did some beacon drills with our group just to get ready for the next days. Cerro Catedral offers awesome terrain. We skied open bowls and chutes in the alpine and open trees below tree line until the bamboo forest. Bamboos are exotic, but they can be tight as hell! If you ever bushwacked you way out in The Bow, you are qualified for this. If not, don’t worry: there’s a sledding trail that you can find easily (after crossing 3-4 creeks) and it will guide you back to the resort. Unless you go on a big mission, there’s always Frey Trail that you can use to go back to the lodge (yes, Frey Trail, the trail that brings you to Refugio Frey).
I won’t lie to you. Weather is an issue in Argentina. Wind can shut the chairlifts down for multiple days in a row, sun can screw up your snowpack and the clouds are thick. Be prepared for alternative options (beers). Marie and I had amazing weather the first 3 days. Good weather on the 4th day (a lot of wind and clouds so we stayed in the trees) and then during day 5, visibility was none existent. You could see your hands and the tip of your skis. We did short radius turns following each other with our group for about an hour before we called it. Day 6 = strong winds. Lifts were shut down except the lower ones, but it got hot the day before so everything below treeline was icy. It felt like the Laurentides (home sweet home). Day 7 was great! It was a Saturday and Saturdays are the guides’ day off. We stayed inbounds and skied casual terrain. That day was all about fresh snow, big fast turns, high fives, smiles and cervezas!
Why did we stay inbounds? Because. As much as I love going in the backcountry, explore further and learn from my friends’ knowledge, it’s also great not to worry about safety sometimes. The snow was good: the wind gave us a nice soft blanket to shred on. That day, my deepest turn was about 12 cm deep and my biggest cliff was less than 8 feet. Still, it was amazing. Marie and I chased each other down the Patagonian bowls like we use to do when we were 8. I guess that's what skiing is all about: just having fun on the mountain with your friends (or family) and forget about everything else. Forget about the money, forget about work, and forget about responsibilities. Just play and laugh.
Patagonia was one of the best trips of my life. Despite how bad my bank account got this summer, I know I need to go back. The souvenirs I came back with make me richer than I was. Special thanks to Marie (sister, you rock!), Meier Skis (www.meierskis.com) who made sure I was equipped to make the most out of each lines and the SASS family (www.sassglobaltravel.com) who made us feel more than welcome in Patagonia.
Whoever is reading this, if you are wondering what to do with your savings, Patagonia is your answer. Until then, have a great winter here in North America!