How to: ski volcanos in South America

Ski mountaineer Brody Leven and Powder mag shooter Adam Clark go to Patagonia for some epic skiing.
Heck of a view © Adam Clark
By Brody Leven

The ski-mountaineers from Salt Lake City, Utah just got back from a trip to Patagonia's volcanoes. In his own words, Brody lists some of the hard lessons he and Adam learned on the trip.

Driving 5,000 kilometers in a foreign country is difficult.
Doing it on unfamiliar, largely unmarked, unfinished gravel roads is harder. In an under-equipped, unproven two-wheel-drive van? Harder still. With only one other person, who is your ski/cooking/eating/driving/logistics/climbing/sleeping partner? Even harder.

Completing this while focusing on an entirely different goal—steep skiing in rarely visited Andean locales—fortunately allows the difficulties to drift into the dusty aftermath of skiing-induced excitement, logistics, and exhaustion.

Welcome to volcano land © Adam Clark

Skiing volcanoes in Patagonia isn’t like skiing in your local mountains. Here’s what it took for us to ski the northeast couloir on 3,747-meter Volcan Lanín, on the Chile-Argentina border.

Flights & Visas:
Inevitably, you will encounter visa problems at the border. The Argentina border guard was unable to find any record of us having bought visas. “But your names might be on our other database, online,” he told us in Spanish.
“Great,” I said, “let’s look there.”
He looked me in the eyes before casually saying, “We don’t have internet.”

Paper. It existed before the internet. © Adam Clark

Fuel: be aware.
Car fuel is in different units and currencies, camping stove fuel is difficult to find, and body fuel is far from your favorite organic trail snacks.

Spend some time finding food that works to power your body through long days in the mountains. We paid closer attention to our van’s gas levels than any other metric on our trip.

Our trailhead was 1km into Argentina, but far from any place to get food or gas. We had to hustle the border guards to let us carry our mountain food into their country.

Gear: not the place to try those new bindings.
You shouldn’t think you know what you will encounter on these mountains. Don’t take new gear that you don’t know intimately. Your tried-and-true kit should be with you.

I took the same pair of reliable Surface Skis and Dynafit boots and bindings that have traveled the world with me over the past eight months. My avalanche and crevasse rescue were always in my Black Diamond backpack, which I stripped to be as light as possible.

With Terramar base layers and O’Neill outerwear, I was able to layer in a way that allowed me to comfortably slog through hot glacial sunshine or stand on summits in crazy windstorms.

Up, up, up © Adam Clark

Uphill skiing: what you’re getting yourself into.
Competency is critical in Patagonia. You need to know how to deal with local people, local wildlife, and local police. And long days of hiking.

On the volcanoes, uphill skiing is a huge part of every day, and it’s normal to spend a day hiking to a hut or campsite without ever putting your skis in downhill mode.

Hut sweet home © Adam Clark

Navigation, Hazards: confidence in familiarisation.
There aren’t trail signs, other parties to point you in the right direction, or avalanche forecasts. Maybe finding a road to the mountain will be the hardest part, or maybe finding a suitable ski descent will be harder.

Don’t go unless you are prepared to find your own way up and down and to make your own avalanche condition observations and decisions.

Adventure above © Adam Clark

The road less travelled.
Adam Clark and I are not the first people to link Chile’s Carretera Austral with Argentina’s Ruta 40 with skiing as our goal. But as Walt Whitman said, “Not I, nor anyone else, can travel that road for you. You must travel it for yourself.” The difficulties we experienced were all part of the experiences that we’d gone to South America to have.

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Follow Brody on Twitter, @brodyleven


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