We have just wrapped up our 2011 Backcountry Tour, after venturing south to Esquel and El Bolson. The 280 km/175 mile drive down to Esquel took us about three and a half hours in our new ride, a Volkswagen Amarok Turbo Diesel truck. Moments after arriving, we were skiing the huge alpine bowls of La Hoya. Conditions were variable, since the resort had been hammered by the infamous Patagonian wind. Most of the slopes in the upper elevation terrain were comprised of stout wind slabs and sastrugi, making the skiing rather challenging. Nonetheless, we were able to find the good wind-buffed snow in some protected couloirs on the leeward side of the cordillera. If it’s out there, we’ll find it. After the first day of skiing, we had developed a game plan for the next day and decided to spend the evening relaxing in town.
Our accommodations at Plaza Esquel were quite luxurious and our room had plenty of space for our mountain of gear. Settling into the mellow vibe of the town was easy, and we discovered a few great places to eat and drink. One thing is for sure of Argentina, the cuisine is as impressive as the natural surroundings. We dined on milanesas and hamburguesas completas, coupled with the quintessential Argentine beer, Quilmes Cristal. Now that we had replenished the thousands of calories we burned during the day, we headed back to the hotel to relax in the spa. Our weary bodies had taken a beating on this journey and it felt great to just chill out and reflect on the trip thus far.
The following morning, we loaded up the truck and headed back to La Hoya. We decided to return to the zone we had skied the day before and found equally good conditions. The sun also made an appearance, and we were treated to 360 degree views of the surrounding mountains. The wind continued to blow, making it difficult to stand up straight on the ridge lines. Dropping into the steep, south-east facing slopes, the snow was fast and somewhat powdery. A labyrinth of rock pinnacles and towering buttresses made for some very exciting skiing. For the remainder of the day we continued to lap the chair and found endless opportunities for shredding. The mountain scene at La Hoya is very distinct and much slower that what we are used too. It was nice to take our time and really enjoy the beauty of the grand landscape. After a full day of exploring, we returned to Esquel for a few local brews and some empanadas.
On Monday we said goodbye to Esquel and headed north to El Bolson. A torrent of wind, sleet and snow made the drive quite interesting. Arriving in El Bolson, we put our skins on our skis and headed up through the forest to a plateau at 1500 m/4900 ft. The skin up was very peaceful, and the fresh coat of 20 cm/8 in of snow filled our hearts with delight. It was a nice change from the wind slabs and sastrugi we had encountered previously. The top of the plateau was completely devoid of trees and the wind swept across the landscape like La Escoba de Dios, or The Broom of God. Cresting the horizon to the top of the plateau we stood in the shadows of massive glaciated peaks.
Our jaws dropped at the sight of these giant sentinels of snow and ice. Leaning into the wind, we snapped some photos and tried to suspend our disbelief long enough to prepare ourselves for the descent. Skiing off the plateau, the snow was quite wind-pressed near the top, but quickly changed over to fluffy powder once we reached the forest. It was sublime skiing through the perfectly spaced trees, and we could hardly contain our excitement. Reaching the bottom we opted to make another lap before heading back to San Carlos de Bariloche.
This ski tour of Northern Patagonia has been more than amazing and we have made a great deal of new friends and connections throughout the region. Our cultural experiences have been unbelievable and we can’t wait to return to this wonderful place next year. Chau for now, thanks for tuning in and sharing the adventure with us. We hope you can join us in the future for the trip of a lifetime.
Check out our Vimeo video interview of PatagoniaSkiTours.com Owner & Head Guide, Justin Lozier, from La Hoya ski area: