Author: Justin

Full service guided ski and snowboard tours in Patagonia, Argentina

Professional Outdoor Guide, specializing in backcountry skiing, heliskiing

Stomping grounds: Wasatch Range, Andes Mountains

Mapa 4 Refugios - Map 4 Refugios
Route Map of the 4 Refugios Adventure Race in Bariloche, Argentina

Tomorrow, February 25, 2012, marks the beginning of the 7th Edition of the 4 Refugios Personal 2012 “Copa Makalu” Adventure Race in San Carlos de Bariloche, Argentina. Hosted by Club Andino Bariloche, this two-day adventure race covers some 80 km/50 miles of mountain trails through the Andean wilderness of Argentine Patagonia, stopping by four of the classic refugios (backcountry huts) of the region: Frey, Jakob, Lopez, and Laguna Negra (aka ‘Italia’). The event’s record number of 330 participants will be crossing the starting gate Saturday morning, departing from the Cerro Catedral ski resort, en route to Colonia Suiza via Refugio Frey and Refugio Jakob. The second day of the race will begin the following day, Sunday, February 26, starting and finishing in Colonia Suiza, after running up to Refugio Lopez and traversing the cordillera to Refugio Laguna Negra.

For more details, visit Club Andino Bariloche’s 4 Refugios website (translated to English): click here. Check out their promo video below:

Snowy mountains above the Town of Alta, Utah
Great skiing conditions in the mountains above the Town of Alta, Utah.

Thanks to recent snow storms, the ski and snowboard conditions are improving in Utah. So far we have received 200 inches of snow this season, around half of what we had at this time last year (380 inches).  It looks like we will be having some more unsettled weather in the coming weeks, which should bring some more snow to the Wasatch. Backcountry skiing and snowboarding conditions have been quite good as of late, although the avalanche hazard remains high in most of the upper elevation terrain. Wasatch Powderbird Guides has been heliskiing all over the range, from the Bountiful Sessions Mountains down to the Cascade Mountains above Provo, finding high quality powder snow. Keep checking our Facebook profile for new photos, video and snow forecasts of the 2011-2012 Utah ski season.

It looks like all of our hopes and prayers for snow are about to be answered, starting tomorrow morning. Current weather models are forecasting a major winter storm to hit Northern Utah on Wednesday morning, as a wet Westerly flow enters the area. I found the MM5 snow accumulation forecast model to be particularly exciting, showing 40 inches to fall in the Wasatch Range between Wednesday morning and Thursday evening, and it looks to continue through the weekend! The National Weather Service has issued a Winter Storm Watch for the area from Wednesday afternoon through Friday afternoon, containing the text: “STORM TOTAL ACCUMULATIONS OF 24 TO 36 INCHES … LOCALLY GREATER AMOUNTS POSSIBLE.” – click here for the complete text. Our friends over at have also released a forecasted snow total of 18-30″ for this week’s storm, with another 10-20″ over the weekend! This storm cycle appears to be the beginning of a major weather pattern change for our area, ushering in a series of storms, as the jetstream dips down and ‘opens the door’ for a major storm track.


MM5 Snow Accumulation Model 1.16.2012
The latest MM5 Snow Accumulation Model showing 40" to fall in the Wasatch Range from Wednesday morning to Thursday evening

This week’s storm cycle will likely be accompanied by our first major avalanche cycle of the season, as the wet, heavy snow begins to load our weak, thin snowpack. Please pay close attention to your local Avalanche Advisory, available on the Utah Avalanche Center website. They have already issued a preemptive Avalanche Watch for this week’s storm. Backcountry travel is not advised during this time. We would recommend everyone skiing or snowboarding during this time to use extreme caution, even if you will be riding at the ski resorts. Stick to marked trails, and observe all warnings. Be safe and have fun out there!

Yesterday, January 13, 2012, Aerolineas Argentinas flight 1682 landed at the Bariloche Airport at 1:45 pm. Hours later, at 5:58 pm, LAN flight 4346 also landed at the Bariloche Airport. As reported in our previous post, LAN had announced that they would be resuming daily flights between Buenos Aires and Bariloche. Hours after this news got out, Aerolineas Argentinas announced that they too would be resuming flights to Bariloche. This is the first time either airline, or any major carrier for that matter, has landed in Bariloche since last June. Due to volcanic ash complications following the eruption of the Puyehue Volcano, the Bariloche Airport had been closed for the past 7 months. After the completion of a major renovation project this past Christmas, as reported in one of our previous posts, the Bariloche Airport announced that they were ready to begin receiving flights once again. It took several weeks for Argentina’s two major airlines to respond, but the day has come at last.

Aerolineas Argentinas Flight 1682 arrives at Bariloche Airport
Aerolineas Argentinas Flight 1682 touches down at the Bariloche Airport, photo: Trilce Reyes Bartoliche

The new Governor of the Río Negro province, Alberto Weretilneck, also announced that Argentina’s Ministry of National Defense will be installing new volcanic ash sensing technology at the end of the month, in an effort to avoid future problems. We are overjoyed with this news, and we wish everyone flying to Bariloche a safe flight and a great trip, Buen viaje!

We have some wonderful news to share with you all! LAN has just announced that they will be resuming flights to Bariloche, starting tomorrow, January 13, 2012. Daily flights from Buenos Aires to San Carlos de Bariloche will resume tomorrow. This is the best news to come to the region in recent months, since the closure of the Bariloche Airport due to volcanic ash complications resulting from the eruption of the Puyehue Volcano last June. The Bariloche Airport has since been renovated, as reported in one of our previous posts, and was reopened this past Christmas. LAN will be the first major airline to resume flights to the newly renovated airport.

Click here to book your flight!

LAN resumes flights to Bariloche
"We are happy. We are returning to fly to Bariloche. Starting January 13, we will fly from Buenos Aires to Bariloche every day."

Sources: Agencias de Noticias Bariloche,, Bariloche 2000

While the southern hemisphere enjoys its summer months, the guides at are currently working in the winter of Utah in the United States. As you may have already heard, the ski season is off to a slow start in Utah. On the heels of a record low December snow cycle, the Wasatch Range is currently experiencing lower than average snow coverage. As a result, most of the ski resorts have not yet opened all of their terrain, and the heliski season is temporarily on hold until they get more coverage. Such is the life of a skier. We are at the mercy of the weather (or lack thereof).

Current Utah Snow Depth (January 8, 2012) via satellite
Current Utah Snow Depth (January 9, 2012) via satellite

Sean has been hard at work at Snowbird, keeping the mountain safe in these sketchy conditions. In lieu of guiding heliskiing, Justin and the rest of the Wasatch Powderbird Guides have been busy building out their new second location at Canyons Resort in Park City. Powderbird is hoping to have operations in full swing by the end of January. Guests are encouraged to make reservations for February & March – discounted seats are still available in March. Check out their pages to get the latest updates: Dispatches, Powderbird Blog, Facebook, Twitter. If you can’t make it to Utah to heliski with Powderbird in the Wasatch this winter, you can still join them for heliskiing in one of their international locations: Greenland, Argentina, Chile, and Japan. Check out our Heliskiing page for more information about Powderbird International’s Argentina Heliski programs.

Heliskiing in Patagonia
Heliskiing in Patagonia

We have received an overwhelming amount of e-mails regarding the current status of the Bariloche Airport. The renovations reported in our previous post were completed according to plan, and the airport reopened as scheduled. However, airlines are dragging their feet on resuming flights to the area. At the moment, neither LAN nor Aerolineas Argentinas have scheduled flights to Bariloche. Aerolineas Argentinas has listed that they are planning to resume flights to Bariloche after January 31, 2012. The only current flight options are to fly to either Esquel or San Martin de Los Andes and take a shuttle bus into Bariloche. We have an excellent first-person account of the trip from one of our guests in a previous posts – click to read. We do know of a few small airlines that have been flying into Bariloche, but none of the major carriers seem to be in a rush to reinstate their segments to the area. Just as we can only wait for the snow in Utah, we must wait and see when the major airlines will return to Bariloche.

We will continue to do our best to keep you all informed and up to date on both the status of the Utah ski season and the status of the Bariloche Airport. Until then, we wait.

Please view our latest post for updated information on the status of the Bariloche Airport

Construction at BRC
Construcion projects on schedule at Bariloche International Airport

As stated in one of our previous posts, the Bariloche Airport is currently closed while undergoing major renovations of the runways, gates, and beacon systems. The project was started on Monday, October 24, and was scheduled to last for a period of 60 days, making the estimated date of completion Christmas Eve 2011, December 24. At the moment, over 50% of the work has been completed, indicating that the renovations will be finished by the quickly approaching completion date of December 20.

Río Negro Senator, Miguel Ángel Pichetto, is working on having Argentina President, Cristina Fernández Kirchner, present for the reopening of the Bariloche International Airport on December 20.

We have a real-time countdown clock on the right-hand side of our website for the reopening of the airport to keep you up to date.

Imagine boarding a train in Buenos Aires, crossing the pampas to the Atlantic coast, then venturing west over the Patagonian Steppe and waking up in Bariloche! This will soon be a reality, thanks to a recent deal struck by two Argentine rail companies, Ferrobaires and Tren Patagonico.

Tren Patagonico
Tren Patagonico

The route, leaving from Estación Constitución in downtown Buenos Aires, passing through Bahía Blanca to the historic gateway of Patagonia, the twin cities of Viedma and Carmen de Patagones, had been previously interrupted in recent years, due to the large accumulation of sand on the rail segment between Bahía Blanca and Viedma. This region’s sandy soil, lack of rainfall, and strong winds have left the rails completely covered with sand, rendering them useless since some time at the beginning of last year.

Route between Bahía Blanca and Viedma
The recovered section of rail unites Bahía Blanca & Viedma and connects to the Tren Patagonico line.

This new deal, between the Buenos Aires government-owned Ferrobaires and the Río Negro-based Tren Patagonico company, states that the two entities will work together to maintain this stretch of track operable, linking their two rail networks. Ferrobaires runs rail lines all across the province of Buenos Aires, including lines down to Bahía Blanca. Tren Patagonico runs one main line across the province of Río Negro, from the Atlantic coast of the capital city, Viedma, to the Andes mountains of San Carlos de Bariloche. Recently, Tren Patagonico also revived several antique steam engines to make the trip down to Esquel from Jacobacci on the old narrow-gauge rail, ‘La Trochita’.

Tren Patagonico Dining Car
The dining car aboard the Tren Patagonico

Apparently, the Tren Patagonico, from Viedma to Bariloche, takes about 14 hours. Featuring a dining car, cinema car, and even a dance club car, this would be a very comfortable, fun and scenic ride. They also offer several different classes of seats for the trip: the basic ‘Turista’ fare, about $75 ARS/$18 USD; the upgrade to First Class, about $100 ARS/$24 USD; the ‘Pullman’, offering the most comfortable seat option, about $155 ARS/$37 USD; or the ‘Camarote’ option, featuring a private room with two beds, large storage space, and a table, about $304 ARS/$74 USD. These are prices per person for non-residents. Residents of the Río Negro province receive a discount on all fares. (Unconfirmed prices from last year at old 4.1 exchange rate)

There are a couple of options for getting to Viedma, now that the section between Bahía Blanca and Viedma will be operable. Taking the train from Estación Constitución in Buenos Aires to Bahía Blanca takes about 14 hours and costs about $58-95 ARS/$13-21 USD, depending on the seat class (Turista-Pullman, no Camarote). So far, we have not been able to find any information about the cost or duration of the ride between Bahía Blanca and Viedma. We are hoping that some kind of Ski Express Train service, from Buenos Aires to Bariloche, will eventually be enacted, allowing for a faster, more comfortable ride. Ideally, this service would offer the traveler the option to have their own room for the whole trip and would also feature all of the extras of the Tren Patagonico (dining car, cinema car and dance club car), all at a single, affordable price.

We have been thinking about taking the Tren Patagonico to Bariloche next year to kick off our 2012 ski season. Since our dream Ski Train does not yet exist, we would take a bus from Buenos Aires to Viedma, a 13-hour ride for about $440 ARS/$98 USD for the Cama Ejecutiva class. We would board the bus at the Retiro station on Thursday night and arrive in Viedma Friday morning. After spending the day enjoying the beauty and history of Viedma and Carmen de Patagones, we would board the Friday night train to Bariloche and wake up in the mountains of Patagonia on Saturday morning. This trip would ultimately cost about the same as just taking the bus straight to Bariloche (about $770 ARS/$170 USD) and take about 12 hours longer, but we feel it would be more than worth it for the adventure of it all.

Link to the status, schedule & rates of Tren Patagonico (translated to English):

July 3, 2012 Update: We have just spoken with a Tren Patagonico representative and have been informed that the Tren Patagonico service is not currently operational. They are running an alternative rail service from Viedma to Bariloche, utilizing a Spanish GM 319 Locomotive equipped with Portuguese Sorefame cars. This rail service is a basic passenger train with coach-style seating, no private rooms, and it does NOT feature the amenities of Tren Patagonico: dining car, cinema car, etc. The status, schedule and rates for this train can be found in the link above.

With winter knocking on the door in the northern hemisphere, it’s time to start thinking about snow safety. We recently came across a couple of good videos illustrating the horror of triggering an avalanche in the backcountry, highlighting the importance of snow safety knowledge.

Dan Treadway Snowmobile Avalanche PSA by Backcountry Access:

Dan was rescued by his crew of competent partners through the use of standard snow safety equipment: avalanche transceiver (beacon), shovel, and probe.

Swiss Freerider Avalanche:

In this case, the Swiss Freerider eluded the avalanche by escaping off to the skier’s right flank of the slide path, after being warned by his partner.

Both of these videos show how quickly and unexpectedly an avalanche can break out around you. Once this occurs, the only thing that will save you is the knowledge, preparation and training of both you and your partners. Attend an avalanche or snow safety course in your area. is an excellent source for finding courses available in your area, and they also feature an online tutorial. It is also extremely important to ‘Know Before You Go’ – Before venturing into the backcountry, be sure to check your local Avalanche Forecast. Visit for links to your local Avalanche Center. Bookmark them, and check them daily.

For those of you in the Salt Lake City area, check out these upcoming events and courses:
 Assistant Guide, Sean Zimmerman-Wall, conducting a Snow Safety Clinic Assistant Guide, Sean Zimmerman-Wall, conducting a Snow Safety Clinic

We will be offering our Snow Safety Clinics and Snow Study Workshops during the upcoming 2012 ski season in Patagonia. Both of these are included in our Backcountry Tour – we are working on creating a one-week version of this tour and also links to sign up for just the Snow Safety Clinic and/or Snow Study Workshop. Check back soon for updates!

Have a great winter, and be safe out there!

Please view our latest post for updated information on the status of the Bariloche Airport


Bariloche Airport
Bariloche Airport

Starting Monday, October 24, the Bariloche International Airport (BRC) will be closed for a period of 60 days for several repairs and improvements. The 60 million peso project is to include renovation of the runways, gates, and beacon systems. The work will be managed by the group Aeropuertos Argentina 2000 and will bring the airport up to the level of ‘Category A’, making it one of the most modern airports in the country of Argentina. Fernando Jantus de Estrada, the General Director of the Administración Nacional de Aviación Civil (ANAC) in Argentina reported that, in their current state, the runways at the Bariloche Airport would not last another year. For this reason, it has been decided that the repairs to the runway are absolutely necessary and must occur during the summer months.

Naturally, the idea of having the airport closed for two months has many local businesses and residents worried. The completion date has been guaranteed by Christmas 2011, and the ANAC has advised Aeropuertos Argentina 2000 that if the project is not completed by this date, they will be hit with major fines.

For tourists and other travelers visiting the region during this time, flights will be available into the nearby town of Esquel and will include a shuttle up to Bariloche -about a 4 hour drive. Click here to check out a previous post for a first hand account of this trip by one of our guests.

Sadly, the 2011 ski season in South America has come to an end. A few ski resorts are still open, including Cerro Catedral, La Hoya, and Cerro Castor. They will all be closing after this weekend, on October 10th. Now is your last chance to ski in Argentina this year!

Cerro CatedralLa HoyaCerro Castor




It was both a challenging and rewarding ski season for all of us. We have returned to Salt Lake City, Utah, to prepare for the upcoming ski season in the Wasatch Range. Justin will be guiding heliskiing with Wasatch Powderbird Guides, and Sean will be ski patrolling at Snowbird Ski & Summer Resort. We have just started receiving our first real snow storms of the winter. It’s snowing up in the Cottonwood Canyons at the moment, and they are looking to receive one to two feet (30-60 cm) up there between now and Saturday. Here’s hoping!

Check out the latest photo of the patrol shack on top of Snowbird:



Snow on Hidden Peak at Snowbird
Snow on Hidden Peak at Snowbird