Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Catching Up on a Few Days of Mixed Fortunes

Skunked at Corralco

Up until the point we arrived in Corralco to ski the vaunted Volcano Lonquimay, we were blessed with more than a week of skiing in which every single day brought either perfect weather, perfect powder skiing, or both.

As with all good things, our luck eventually ran out.

The good news is we stayed at a Tirolean lodge called the Anden Rose, which looked as if it was plucked off a Bavarian hillside and deposited in the Andes lock, stock, and barrel.

The owners are Bavarian, the hired help was Tirolean, the food was wonderful, the rooms were fantastic, the wine was delicious, but they had no internet.....hence my silence for a few days.

The bad news was our first day, in which were were to attempt to alpentour the Lonquimay volcano, started with huge rains and high winds, and headed further downhill when we arrived at the ski area to find it was closed.

It was pissing down rain, the snow line was way up at 9,000 feet (1000 feet below the summit of Lonquimay), and even the base area had wind gusts of 75 mph.

So we dropped back 10 and punted. Instead of skiing, we spent the whole day luxuriating in one of the local hot springs with some of the local talent:

The next day, Corralco was still closed, but the weather had improved a bit. Wasn't exactly sunny, but at least it had stopped raining in Whistler-style drenching sheets. The owner of the Anden Rose called the Governor of the Province and told him to get some employees up there and at least open the gate for us so we could try to ski.

After sitting at the locked gate for a while, a pickup truck appeared bearing the ski area's director of operations, who not only unlocked the gate for us, but opened up the day lodge, threw some logs on the fire, and arranged one cat ride for the gang up to the top of the lifts.

Corralco starts at about 5,000 feet. It has one small chairlift, and from there you can either ski down or alpentour further up the volcano. The snow at the bottom was corn from all the rain, and as I climbed on my skins, the corn turned to very firm corn, and then turned icy. Most of the gang turned back at pretty low altitude, but I kept climbing with Travis, one of the CASA guides. Travis is a snowboarder but climbs on a custom split-board with skins.

We made it up to just below 8,000 feet, but the winds were howling, a storm was clearly blowing in, the visibility was going to hell, and the snow was rapidly turning to ice and getting dangerous. We packed it in and skied down from 8,000 feet.

Unfortunately, I forgot my camera that day, but Travis took a pretty good photo of me taking my skins off up at 8,000 feet with the volcano Llaima (which exploded spectacularly last ski season) in the background. If Travis sends me that photo, I'll post it.

Today we drove down to Pucon to try to alpentour the volcano Villarrica tomorrow. Pucon is a really gorgeous little town, vaguely reminiscent of some of the half-Swiss, half-cowboy ski towns I visited in the Argentine Powder Triangle near San Carlos de Bariloche last August.

The weather is still nasty, so skiing Villarrica in the next two days is very much a question mark. We're supposed to get over a meter of snow in the next few days, and it has been raining to beat the band down here in Pucon (elevation 1,000 feet) for two days. It pissed down rain the whole way down from Corralco today, so even if the rain fell as snow up on Villarica, the conditions could still be very tough, and our window is only two days.

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