Bariloche’s newest adventure race, the Dos Valles-Challhuaco Autumn Duathlon, is scheduled for this coming Sunday, May 5, 2013. Organized by Club Andino Bariloche‘s adventure race subcommittee, this event combines mountain biking and trail running for a unique competition in the beautiful mountain forests of San Carlos de Bariloche.
The race will begin at the Club de Campo Dos Valles, where competitors will start their mountain bike ascent of the 4×4 access road to Refugio Neumeyer in the Challhuaco Valley. Racers will then leave their bikes at the refugio and begin their ascent of Cerro Challhuaco on foot. After reaching the summit of Cerro Challhuaco (2088 meters/6850 feet), runners will then make their descent, returning to Refugio Neumeyer to reach the finish line.
Mountain Bike distance and vertical gain/loss = 14 kilometers/8.7 miles, 390 meters/1280 feet
Trail Run/Walk distance and vertical gain/loss = 8 kilometers/5 miles, 750 meters/2460 feet
It has been one year since Refugio Agostino Rocca was built on Paso de Las Nubes near Bariloche. This newest addition to the Club Andino Bariloche (CAB) hut system is their most modern mountain refuge to date, and the CAB is hosting a party to celebrate its first anniversary this weekend, April 27-28, 2013. The party will kick off with a live band and locally handcrafted beer by Gilbert Cerveza Artesanal de Montaña. The cost to join in the celebration is 130 pesos for CAB members/160 pesos for non-members and includes dinner, a night at the refugio, and breakfast the following morning. Tickets can be purchased by calling the Club Andino Bariloche central office in Bariloche: 294-154378444.
For more information about the construction of Refugio Agostino Rocca, read our previous post from when it was first built, and watch this video of its construction and dedication last year:
Que fuerza! Gracias a todos que trabajaron y apoyaron en este proyecto!
Our head guide has been enjoying winter in the northern hemisphere, guiding helicopter skiing with Wasatch Powderbird Guides. This year marks Powderbird’s 40th season of heliskiing in Utah’s Wasatch Range. The Wasatch Range is known for its excellent snow quality, earning Utah the title of ‘The Greatest Snow on Earth’. This is the place to be to experience what locals call “over-the-head blower” (ultra low-density powder snow so deep that it flies over your head as you ski it). Powderbird was recently recognized by Ski Magazine for being the most easily accessed heliski operation in the world, featuring two locations within 1/2-hour of Salt Lake International Airport. Their unique heliport facility is located in Little Cottonwood Canyon, between Snowbird Ski & Summer Resort and Alta Ski Area. They also have a new clubhouse and on-mountain helipad at Canyons Resort in Park City, Utah.
This historic 40th anniversary season has been great so far, and we are just now getting into what are typically the best months for skiing in Utah, February & March. Seats can be purchased for single-day or multi-day heliski adventures, and Private Group and Charter Helicopters are also available. Visit their Rates page to get more information on heliski options, dates and pricing.
In addition to their Utah heliski program, Powderbird also offers heliskiing in several international locations: Greenland, Chile, Argentina, Turkey, Japan, and Canada. The Argentina heliski program is featured on our website on our Heliskiing page. We are currently organizing groups for heliskiing in Chile and Argentina this summer (Austral winter). Please contact us for more information, or visit our Reservations page to book your trip today!
Club Andino Bariloche is putting on a Glacier Travel & Ice Climbing Course January 18-26, 2013 with the support of their sponsors, Rupal Mountain Gear and Black Diamond Argentina. This exciting 8-day course will be held on Bariloche’s famous local volcano, Cerro Tronador, and will be taught by our friends, UIAGM guides Lucas Jacobson and Pablo Pontoriero. Students and Instructors will stay at Refugio Meiling on Cerro Tronador for the duration of the course. After learning and practicing the necessary skills, the course will culminate in an attempt on the Argentine Summit (Pico Argentino) of the volcano.
In order to create a safe and efficient learning environment, an instructor to student ratio of 1:4 will be maintained throughout the course. Prerequisites: 16 years of age minimum, basic experience in mountain trekking, and a high level of physical fitness. The cost for the course, including group gear, certificate, insurance, and a post-course asado, is $1800 ARS/$367 USD for CAB members or $2340 ARS/$478 USD for non-members. Transportation, food and nightly stays in Refugio Meiling are not included in the cost of the course. Club Andino Bariloche members in good standing receive 3 free nights per month at any CAB-run refugio.
For complete details about the course, including a full itinerary and gear list, visit Club Andino Bariloche’s home page, and click on ‘Cursos’ to find the ‘Curso de Tránsito Glaciar y Escalada en Hielo’. The CAB main office can also be reached by e-mail or telephone: email@example.com or +54 (0294) 442-2266.
Here comes the snow! The National Weather Service (NWS) has issued a Winter Storm Watch for the Wasatch and western Uinta Mountains in northern Utah from Friday, November 9, until Sunday, November 11. The text for this Winter Storm Watch includes, “SNOW ACCUMULATIONS: 1 TO 2 FEET…LOCALLY 3 FEET IN THE WASATCH RANGE.” The NWS Cottonwood Canyons Forecast is on par with these estimations, forecasting 16-30″ of snow between Friday afternoon and Sunday evening with the added note, “GREATER AMOUNTS OF SNOW POSSIBLE IN THE COTTONWOODS IF THE FLOW ALOFT CAN REMAIN NORTHWEST LONGER OVER THE WEEKEND.”
We have been looking at the latest model forecast runs, and, at this point, it looks like frontal passage will occur early Friday morning, bringing about large amounts of heavy snow (starting out around 14% SWE), strong South-Southwest winds (50 knots/~60 mph at 10,000 feet) and much colder temperatures (down to -10° C/14° F at 10,000 feet by Friday night).
After the initial blast of frontal passage plastering the peaks with snow, the strongest part of the storm looks to be passing through the Wasatch Range late Friday night/early Saturday morning, with even colder temperatures, large amounts of available moisture, and enhanced jetstream dynamics (see image at right). Snow densities should get down to our typical 4-6% SWE (blower) at this time. We will have to wait and see if Northwest flow develops and stays in place long enough over the weekend to be a major player. For those who do not know, Northwest flow is highly favorable for the Cottonwood Canyons (particularly Little Cottonwood Canyon), because of their perpendicular orientation to such a flow direction, which brings about enhanced orographic lifting. At this time of year, lake-effect snow is certainly not out of the question, and could be a wonderful addition to this storm, particularly for the Cottonwoods, should Northwest flow develop and remain in place for a prolonged period of time. It is fairly uncertain at this point, but it looks like we may get what we want Saturday night into Sunday, with winds backing off, becoming more Westerly as the bulk of the storm energy moves out of the region. Here’s hoping…
We will continue to monitor this storm as it develops and moves into Utah, and we will most certainly be up in the mountains, sampling its offerings as the snow piles up.
November 8 AM Update: We are already feeling the pre-frontal wind in the Salt Lake Valley, and the forecast is still on track for the most part. Snowfall may begin a bit earlier on Thursday night, as the speed of the incoming cold front appears to have picked up slightly. After the cold front impacts the area, the majority of the storm energy looks to push further south and east, taking most of the jetstream dynamics with it. Hopefully, the Wasatch will still be in a good position for more snowfall under these dynamic upper air conditions. After the cold front pushes through on Friday, unstable air will remain over the area into Sunday, bringing chances for continued snow showers. The odds are looking better, at this point, for lake-effect snow becoming a player for the Cottonwood Canyons on Saturday night and into Sunday evening. There is some slight disagreement in the models on the timing of things in this storm, and there are some major disagreements on what the wind is expected to do over the weekend. If conditions are favorable, and winds shift Northwest, bringing bands of lake-effect moisture into the conditionally unstable post-frontal environment, the Cottonwood Canyons could be looking at steady showers of low-density powder snow over the weekend. Look for zonal flow to return to the area for the first half of next week, followed by another low pressure system moving in for the second half. There should be another strong low pressure trough moving into the mountain states next weekend, and cold temps should remain until ridging and warmer temps return in the following mid-week.
November 8 PM Update: The National Weather Service has upgraded the Winter Storm Watch to a Winter Storm Warning.
November 9 AM Update: Precipitation began at about 1 am last night in Little Cottonwood Canyon with a hail/graupel mix. Frontal passage actually occurred a few hours later, at 6 am, with intense graupel fall and high winds (80 mph gusts at ridgetop). The first few inches of snow are starting to pile up at Alta and Snowbird, and we are looking at PI rates of 1″/hr into the evening. Look for PI rates to dissipate slightly as the winds die down in the late evening. Things are looking pretty promising for lake-effect snow developing Saturday night and lasting most of the day Sunday. Low-density snowfall should begin tonight and last through the weekend, as temperatures drop and winds calm, particularly if Northwest flow develops and remains in place for an extended period of time. Translation: Deep blankets of blower pow Sunday morning.
November 9 PM Update: Things are unfolding beautifully, in terms of snowfall, for the Wasatch Range at the moment. The Collins plot at Alta is currently registering 14″ of new snow/1.64″ of water in the past 17 hours (11-12% Average SWE). Look for precipitation totals to continue rising with lower-density snow (4-5% SWE) as temps drop overnight and winds veer to the Northwest, bringing bands of lake-effect snow into the Wasatch Range. The best chance for lake-effect snow in the Cottonwood Canyons looks to be Saturday night/Sunday morning, just as we called it in our original post on Wednesday. It feels good for that early prediction to now be backed up by the good people at the University of Utah Atmospheric Sciences Department.
November 10 AM Update: It dumped all night, bringing the storm total to 23″ and counting at the Collins plot. The Snowbird SnowCam is showing over 16″ (I think we’re seeing some settlement in the layer of snow that came in during frontal passage). Look for ideal lake-effect snow conditions to begin this afternoon, covering most Salt Lake Valley neighborhoods, and dropping blower snow in the Cottonwood Canyons.
November 10 PM Update: Lake-effect snow was in full effect today, followed by a short-lived break in the valley that led to a period of greenhousing. Watch this beautiful lake-effect animation from the University of Utah’s Mountain Meteorology Group. Things were just fine up in the mountains, however, as the snow has continued piling up throughout the day. Lake-effect snow started up again around 8:30 pm, turning the fire hose back towards the Cottonwood Canyons. Expect this snow to continue and intensify during the late night and early morning hours. Considering 30″ have already fallen and another 10″ is certainly possible overnight and into tomorrow morning, this storm is looking to be a 40-incher by Sunday night. The storm is expected to lift Sunday afternoon/evening, as a short-wave ridge builds in.
There has already been some avalanche activity in the Alta/Brighton periphery at the heads of Big and Little Cottonwood Canyons. If there is enough snow to ski or snowboard, there is enough to avalanche. 30-40″ of new snow falling at the precipitation rates we have seen during this storm is certainly a reason for caution. KNOW BEFORE YOU GO! Visit the Utah Avalanche Center website and read the current avalanche advisory. Check out the Newest Avalanche Content (formerly known as Current Observations) for great local info on conditions and avalanche reports. Have fun, and stay safe out there!
November 11 AM Update: Lake-effect snow continues dumping low-density (blower) snow in the Wasatch Range! 12″ at Alta overnight! That brings our storm total to 42″ thus far. Watch for lake-effect snow to continue into the afternoon hours and begin tapering off in the evening. Accumulation totals today shouldn’t be anything enormous, like we have seen in this storm previously, but the Cottonwood Canyons will likely pick up another 4-6″ by the time the storm moves out of the region this evening. A short-wave ridge will be building in overnight, and tomorrow should be a beautiful bluebird powder morning. Be wary of widespread avalanching with daytime heating tomorrow!
November 11 PM Update (final): Winter Storm Brutus made its departure from the Wasatch Range late this afternoon, leaving 52 inches of immaculate powder snow in its wake. What a wonderful storm! The skiing has been absolutely incredible everywhere, from the Cottonwood Canyons to the foothills below. Winter has arrived! Let us not forget to use caution when venturing into the mountains in search of the great white wave. Read our 2012-2013 Ski Season PSA on Snow & Avalanche Safety, and be safe out there!
It’s that time of year again! The leaves are falling from the trees in the valleys, and there is snow in the peaks. Winter is returning to the Northern Hemisphere! As we start preparing our ski and snowboard gear for the upcoming season, let us not forget to also prepare ourselves for the greatest danger we face in the mountains: avalanches. It is always a good idea to refresh our minds and sharpen our skills every year.
Here is an excellent video from High Fives Foundation to get you stoked for the 2012-2013 ski season and to remind us all of the great dangers we face when venturing into avalanche terrain and what we can do to prepare ourselves.
So, as you are pulling your winter gear out from storage, ensure that your avalanche safety equipment is in good working order. Put fresh batteries in your beacon, and test its send & receive functions and range. Deploy your probe, and assemble your shovel to check them for damage. Deploy your airbag unit, and fill/refill your canister(s) to make sure it is ready when you need it. If you are lacking any equipment, now is a great time to stock up before the winter hits.
It is also extremely important to ‘Know Before You Go’ – Before venturing into the backcountry, be sure to check your local Avalanche Forecast. Visit Avalanche.org for links to your local Avalanche Center. Bookmark them, and check them daily.
For those of you in the Salt Lake City area, the Utah Avalanche Center is putting on the 4th annual Utah Snow & Avalanche Workshop (USAW) this weekend, Saturday, November 3, at the South Towne Expo Center in Sandy. Tickets are $26 if purchased in advance or $30 at the door. This event is the best way to get ready for the ski season, learning the latest advancements in snow safety, checking out the latest equipment, and mingling with fellow backcountry skiing and snowboarding enthusiasts. Our guides attend every year, so say hello to them if you happen to see them in attendance.
Here’s to a good and safe ski season to us all. May it be deep and stable.
La Ruta de los Siete Lagos (The Seven Lakes Route) provides the perfect backdrop for an exciting week of skiing in Argentine Patagonia. Our journey starts with the arrival of a small contingent of skiers ready to experience the trip of a lifetime. Departing from San Carlos de Bariloche, we travel towards Villa La Angostura. This tiny enclave is situated on an isthmus of land located on the northeastern shores of Lago Nahuel Huapi and is home to Cerro Bayo. We arrive just before ten in the morning and are greeted by clearing skies and sunshine. The base village is composed of a few small shops, medical clinic, and the brand-new Telecabina Jean Pierre gondola. An anxious walk up the loading ramp leads us to our cabin and we ascend nearly 400 meters (1,320 feet) to the mid-mountain station. A brief chat with some local ski patrollers confirms that the skiing up high is in prime form. We load the next chair and make our way towards the summit. The lifts top out at 1710 meters (5,643 feet) and we go on foot to the true peak. Currently, the mountain is completing the second section of gondola, which will reach the very top of the mountain at an altitude of 1752 meters (5,781 feet). We posted a story about the their new gondolas earlier this year: Las Leñas and Cerro Bayo to start the 2012 ski season with major upgrades!
Along our walk to the top, we encounter another group of ski patrollers hauling a toboggan up the precipitous slope. Patagonia Ski Tours guide and Snowbird ski patroller, Sean Zimmerman-Wall, joins in and gives them an extra boost of manpower to complete the task. We arrive on the summit and are astounded by the view. Lain out before us are the Andes. In every direction peaks pierce the sky and their gleaming white faces stir excitement from deep within our souls. From our perch we catch a glimpse of Volcan Puyehue along the western horizon. Just over a year ago, this giant erupted and covered the surrounding area in 70 cm of ash. However, the only artifact left over from then is a slight dusting on the exposed slopes. The town and the community pulled together to clean up the town, and the region is as vibrant as ever.
Continuing on our jaunt, we spy some pristine south facing slopes with our names on them. Traversing nearly two kilometers of ridgeline, we make it to the summit of our chosen run. Dropping in one at a time, we are pleased to find excellent skiing conditions and stable snow. We share a few high fives and then continue on a skin out of the valley and back to the resort. Although it is late in the day, we are treated to one last run down to the gondola. The conditions are chalky and we find some small chutes and rock bands to spice things up during the descent. It was an unexpectedly good day of exploring Cerro Bayo and its myriad of backcountry opportunities. Our next objective was to head into town to find something to replenish our weary bodies while we recounted the day’s activities. We located a small restaurant in center of town and enjoyed a delicious cut of Argentine steak and a regional bottle of Malbec wine. The remainder of the evening was comprised of relaxing and planning for our next stop, San Martin de Los Andes.
Awaking to grey skies, we decide to grab a quick breakfast and explore a little more of the town. Wandering down the street, we discover a small shop that rents bicycles and we stroll in to scope the fleet. Two wheels and a good set of brakes is all we really needed to cruise to the beach, so we hired a few of their steel chariots and headed for the water. The cruise down the old boulevards was relaxing and we stopped at a few historic monuments and small chapels along the way. The stone and wood architecture is unique to Patagonia and we revel in these relics from the past. Soon we arrive at the shores of the lake and take in the splendid view. Across the water, gigantic mountain faces peer through a shroud of misty clouds and reflect the morning light. Gazing upon the glassy surface of the water is very calming and we walk to the end of a small pier to reflect on the journey thus far. The blue-green water is pristine and the surrounding forests freshen the air. We soon pack up and return to town to begin our travels north.
Driving along the Ruta de Siete Lagos, we are amazed by the sheer beauty of the natural terrain. The road is in relatively good shape, and it winds its way through the hilly landscape crossing rivers and paralleling the lakes. It is quite stunning and we find it difficult to keep our eyes on the road. Every ten miles we pull off at a new attraction and take in the scenery. By mid afternoon we have put many kilometers behind us and decide to have lunch on the shores of Lago Espejo Grande. The clouds have all but disappeared and we are treated to enchanting views of the Andes. Perhaps the best part of this drive is the complete lack of other visitors. During the winter, this route is seldom used, and we have our own private Argentina.
For the next couple hours we travel through lush forest that leads to more lakes and more mountains. The road eventually transitions from maintained tarmac to rutted gravel and dirt, but our capable vehicle handles it with ease. Before five, we have arrived in San Martin de Los Andes. This town is home to mountain climbers, skiers, cyclists, and sailors, and our weary posse is welcomed in with open arms. We check into a delightful European style A-frame cabin near the beach and unload our gear. The sun is still up and we take a quick walk down to the shores of Lago Lácar. Gentle waves lap the gravely beach and the harbored sailboats drift casually about the current. Hunger soon takes over and we head into town to pick up some vitals. A small corner butcher shop provides us with a couple kilos of delicious Milenesa. We rally back to the cabin and immediately fry them up along with some eggs. This traditional dish fills us up right, and we wash it down with some cold Quilmes beer. Our plan for the next day is to make the half-hour drive to Cerro Chapelco and ski the infamous Back Bowls. But for now, we pack our gear and head out to sample the town’s colorful nightlife. We encounter an authentic little pub and are welcomed by cold beer, live rock nacional (Argentine rock-n-roll), and surf movies on a big screen. Perfect end to a great day!
The next morning blooms bright with little wind and moderate temps. The region has been under high pressure, and snowfall has been at a minimum. However, that means excellent visibility and stable snow for exploring new terrain. We quickly eat breakfast in the lounge overlooking the lake and then head for the mountain. The drive up the dusty dirt camino gives us more incredible views of the surrounding valley and lakes. Before we know it, we are in the lot booting up for another day of shredding. Cerro Chapelco is a medium-sized resort by Andean standards, and it appears to be very well managed. The ticketing system is fully automated and it is somewhat reminiscent of a North American base village. Fortunately, the crowds are light and we board the gondola to head up to the slopes. Ascending to just under 1600 meters (5280 ft) in only five minutes, we are pleased to be sliding about the mid-mountain on perfect spring slush. The group gathers up and we take a double chair, followed by a POMA lift to the summit. At 1,980 meters (6,534 ft) we top out and assess the conditions. In the thin air, we can see for miles in every direction. To the northwest looms the towering summit cone of Volcan Lanín. Reaching up to 3,747 meters (12,293 ft.), Lanín is one of the tallest peaks in Patagonia.
The 360-degree view leads our eyes to the back bowls just to our east. Along the ridge there are multiple massive cornices. These passive giants are indicative of the prevailing winds, and we give them a wide berth as we cross to a safe drop-in point. Head Guide Justin Lozier lays out our objectives and planned exit route once we reach the bottom of the bowls. The snow looks perfectly smooth on the southeast face and we decide to try our hand at skiing it. Lozier drops in under our watchful eyes and the chatter from his ski tips tells us that we may need to reconsider our line selection. He stops under a small rock outcropping and radios back to the group that we will not be skiing this line today. “It’s got a fairly stout crust on it, and the skin out will be complicated by icy conditions,” he says. Despite our best efforts, it would not be worth going through hell if there is no heaven, so Justin finds a safe exit and boots back out to the ridge. The Back Bowls will have to wait for another day.
Back on the ridge we discuss Plan B, which is to traverse the mountain in search of softer snow. Along the way we happen upon a small mountain lodge surrounded by people. It appears that they have taken advantage of the beautiful weather and a small asado of steak and choripan is underway. Electronic music wafts across the crowd along with the smells of searing meat and we are drawn in like animals. In typical Argentine fashion, we join in on the scene and enjoy some local flavor. Skiers of all ages have gathered here under the warm sun of a late winter’s afternoon and the mood is elevated. We enjoy some fine food and before long, a small dance party ensues. It is amazing the mobility one can achieve in walk-mode in ski boots. The music pumps up and our spirits follow. Despite the snow conditions, we still found a way to have fun. We also discovered that it is possible to Moon Walk in AT bindings. After the detour, we click back in and head up the mountain once more. From the ridge we gaze out across the majestic landscape and simply enjoy being here. By now it is mid-afternoon and the West facing slopes have gathered enough sun to make them soft and edgeable. For the remainder of the day we carve turns through the slush and smile as we descend over this beautiful land. On the last run we are treated to a nearly five-kilometer (3.2 mile) descent from the summit to the parking lot, and our legs give out just as we reach the bottom. Packing up the car, we scope our lines from the day and get ready to rally back to Bariloche where more skiing awaits.
The road home provides us with even greater views of Volcan Lanín, and we watch the sun set behind its massive flanks. Our arrival back in Bariloche after dark allows us to see the twinkling lights of the city and the moon casts its light on the towering peaks of the Andes. We are welcomed back home by a terrific meal of smoked trout, a local favorite. With full bellies and tired legs, we retire for the evening. Tomorrow we will ski the slopes of Cerro Catedral, one of the largest resorts in South America. Waking to overcast skies, we have a light breakfast and head for the hills. The winds of Patagonia are up and it has snowed a bit overnight. We decide to take our time reaching the summit of the mountain and let the snow settle out. From the ridge, we put on skins and make a plan to head towards Punta Nevada. The skin along the ridge is uneventful and we are treated to intermittent glimpses of the lake and the surrounding peaks. Far off to the west, we can barely see the glaciers of Monte Tronador, ‘The Thunderer’. Once we have reached our destination at over 2,100 meters (6,300 ft), we talk to some of the resort workers, and they inform us that the upper chairs will not run today due to increasing wind. That means that as long as we are willing to work for it, we have our own private powder-playground. For the next several hours we lap the Nubes zone and revel in fresh tracks and the buena onda.
Overall, the Lake District Ski Week was a great success and we enjoyed welcoming the new members of our mountain family. The camaraderie between guides and clients resembled old friendships and we learned to rely on each other and have fun in the mountains. We welcome you and your crew to join us for our next season of adventure here in the Andes. Visit our Reservations page to book your own adventure!
Heading south to Esquel, we think about the events that have led us here. We met with Alex Taran, founder of South American Beacon Project, over a month ago to discuss the possibility of bringing beacons to Argentina. Her non-profit is aimed at the proliferation of avalanche education and the development of a philanthropic policy towards providing life-saving equipment for mountain workers in the Andes.
In all, we have fourteen Ortovox avalanche transceivers (beacons) and countless hours of instruction to deliver to these great people. Arriving at our destination, the primary objective is finding the headquarters of La Hoya, a small ski hill located in central Patagonia. After driving through the pre-dawn darkness, we are a bit disheveled, but we are greeted with open arms and hot yerba maté. Diego Alonzo invites us into his office in the town’s center and we brief him on the specifics of our mission and what we hope to achieve over the weekend. The following hours include hiking through the resort’s terrain and observing the recent avalanche activity and snowpack structure. La Hoya has just been hit with a severe wind event accompanied by moderate precipitation, and certain slopes show evidence of significant avalanche activity. After some recon and digging, we are back in town preparing to meet with the mountain personnel of La Hoya. The conference commences around seven in the evening and we jump straight into teaching. Justin Lozier, lead guide at PatagoniaSkiTours.com, starts off the night with a quick intro and we familiarize ourselves with the locals. Our students range from lifties, to patrollers, to a few core citizens. All of them have experience in the backcountry and are eager to learn the techniques we have to offer. Videos and slideshows provide a necessary backdrop for education and our attitudes keep us all on the same page. Each person has their own set of experiences and skills to bring to the table, and we discuss the regional conditions and possibilities for improving safe travel in this extreme terrain.
The next day blooms bright and we load up the car to head to the mountain. A brisk wind overnight scoured some of the exposed slopes, but we are optimistic about finding good snow for instruction. La Hoya’s small contingent of ski patrollers (Pisteros) is responsible for a massive swath of dangerous terrain and the protection of nearly a dozen ski lifts. It is evident that the recent avalanches affected principal runs of the resort as we cruised towards a sizable debris field on the southwestern flank of the mountain. The winds of Patagonia rake the summits of La Hoya and load many of the eastern faces. There are cornices the size of Volkswagens dotting the ridge, and crowns predominate the landscape. We immediately dive into beacon rescue drills and get our hands and feet in the snow. A recent avalanche path provides the perfect training grounds for a realistic scenario. The ensuing searching, probing and shoveling takes on an authentic vibe. The pisteros quickly become proficient with their new beacons and we felt confident that they are equipped to train future rescuers.
Next, we head up into the alpine to dig snow profile pits and study stability. It is a windy afternoon and clouds stream over the ridgeline as we ascend the POMA lift. From the top we scout a good location and make our way around the Cordillera. Our profile reveals a structurally stable hard slab capped with a thin wind affected layer smeared with surface hoar feathers. Each pistero takes their turn conducting hand hardness tests and investigating crystal types. Overall, we are satisfied with our findings and interpret the results to indicate present stability and the future avalanche potential once the Santa Rosa storm arrives. It is now time to part ways and let the knowledge be passed on to others. The group mounts up and skis one last south face to the bottom before parting ways and wishing each other good luck. Delivering the information and resources to this group and enabling them to teach others lies at the heart of the South American Beacon Project, and we can’t wait to return next year to see the strides they have made.
After our adventures in Esquel, we return to our home base in Bariloche and prepare ourselves for the next class. The Club Andino Bariloche has invited us to come and teach a group of ski instructors and students about avalanche terrain and rescue techniques. Our meeting takes place in C.A.B. Escuela de Ski at the base village of Cerro Catedral. This session is very important because it represents an opportunity to teach a younger demographic of skiers and riders. The average age of participants is thirteen and each student has been skiing in the Andes for their entire life. Cerro Catedral is one of the largest ski resorts in South America and subsequently has extreme terrain capable of producing devastating avalanches. Keeping in the spirit of the program, we start things off with an informal intro and make friends with the students. Justin’s fluidity with Castellano puts the kids at ease and gets them excited about learning. Thanks to the Utah Avalanche Center and master editor Butch Adams, we have a translated version of “Know Before You Go” to show to the class. They are intrigued by the stunning videography and music and immediately start asking questions. We interject with simple answers and you can tell they are genuinely interested in learning more. Concluding our work with the video and presentation, we head to the hill to get snowy.
Choosing a representative south-facing slope, which typically has the deepest and best quality snow, we set up a mock-avalanche scenario and start instructing. The beacons we have provided are Ortovox M2’s and are easy to use for an analog beacon. The kids quickly get into it and are knees in the snow searching. Their energy keeps us going and each time they find the “victim”, their faces light up with joy. After an hour or so of beacon drills, we dig a small pit and show them the basics of snowpack analysis. Our goal is to just get these kids thinking about snow, avalanches, and making good decisions in dangerous terrain. Overall, the students, and the two ski instructors Gerardo and Agustín, really enjoy the class. The session ends by mid-afternoon and we part ways. The C.A.B. were a delightful group to work with and it will be exciting to see how the education program develops in the coming years.
Although the weekend was a whirlwind of activity, we felt strong after finishing the final class. Every person we met along the way had a positive attitude and it was refreshing to feel that we were really becoming part of the mountain community down here. In the future, we will continue to put on these courses with the assistance of the South American Beacon Project and keep the “Buena Onda” flowing.
It is amazing how the universe lines things up sometimes. Literally hours after settling into our new accommodations in Bariloche, we receive an invite to join in on the first meeting of mountain professionals regarding the advancement of avalanche education in the area. Sponsored by SIAA (Servicio de Informacion de Avalanchas en Argentina), a small but dedicated organization aimed at building the mountain community and disseminating information to the public, the conference took place in the small enclave of San Martin de Los Andes.
Traveling along Ruta 40 to San Martin in the dark, we arrived just after dawn, the surrounding mountains reflecting the morning light. Views of Volcan Lanin on the northern horizon stimulate our imaginations and give glances of future descents. The town is perfectly situated on a lake featuring Fjord-like inlet. The wind picks up and white caps predominate the water’s surface. Walking to the local cinema, the venue for the conference, we stretch our legs and get ready for the day’s activites. SIAA is made up of several individuals who have spent the better part of their lives living and working in the mountains. Erik Sweet and Julian Carielo lead SIAA, along with a small group of forecasters and observers. Their goal is to create a network of small avalanche centers across Argentina and develop a professional community with a common focus. They have also formulated SnowProject, a web-based and observer driven platform intended on collecting and organizing information from the field. Through the use of SnowProject, any skier can gain an understanding of the backcountry avalanche conditions and use the data to make better decisions while traveling snow terrain.
The structure of the day’s class primarily revolved around getting everyone acquainted with each other and discussing tactics to improve the communication amongst guides, observers, forecasters, and patrollers. It was quite an honor to sit side by side with some very respected professionals. Represented in the conference attendees were the Nations of Argentina, Chile, and the United States. Each of us has our own brand of knowledge, but a desire to contribute to the future of this region is what has brought this meeting together. After introductions we head into the meat of the class. Julian leads off with a summation of avalanche accidents over the past five years in this area and the details of each situation. We then move into avalanche mechanics and the general nomenclature surrounding our professions. After a short break for yerba mate, we are back into the mix. An excitable gentleman named Chago Rodriquez takes the floor next. He is based out of Boise, Idaho, but has become an integral part of the local avalanche community and SnowProject. Engaging the class, Chago emphasized his high expectations of this community and how we should all shoulder the responsibility of the proliferation of education. Hearing the conversation reverberate throughout the group and getting everyone’s input was extremely encouraging. The passion for the mountains really shined through and it became evident that the potential for progress is as immense as the Andes. The day continued on after lunch with a spirited discourse regarding avalanche rescue. From gear to techniques, we shared opinions and stories on what works, and what doesn’t. Closing down the final session, Chago and Erik lead a discussion of avalanche accidents in North America from the 2011/2012 season. Lending some of his personal experience on the day of one fatality in particular, our Assistant Guide Sean Zimmerman-Wall spoke of decision-making and how his group was able to enjoy the powder safely. To be honest, Sean’s Castellano is getting pretty good, and he addressed the class professionally. Talking in detail about each incident, Chago aimed his comments at making us realize that accidents can and do happen to professionals, and that making critical decisions as guides is imperative
This experience was truly an honor and it was great to meet the professionals of the region. Our work with SIAA and SnowProject will continue throughout the rest of this winter and for many more to come.
We have just reached the end of a rather snowy July in Patagonia, with ski resorts across the region reporting mid-mountain bases of 70-100 cm (28-40 inches) and snow depths of up to 135 cm (54 inches) in the peaks! Along with the end of this snowy month comes a bit of a lull in the winter weather. There is no need to worry, however, as August and September have been known to be the snowiest months of all, bringing about the famous Santa Rosa storm. We also appear to be in an El Niño year, which typically translates to a wet (snowy) winter in the southern hemisphere. The South American winter certainly came in like a lion this year, and we are hoping to see it continue well into the spring.
Hope alone will not bring us more of what we seek, deep white blankets of the fluffy stuff. We must attempt to understand and look for the ideal conditions in which white gold will fall from the sky, if for no other reason than to give us hope during long periods of high pressure or during a low snow year.
The current state of things in the atmosphere above the Patagonian region is as follows: a split jet stream flow with a cutoff low pressure system circulating off the central Pacific coast of Chile. This low pressure system will be parked over the area of Northern Patagonia for the next 4-5 days.
We may pick up a few inches of snow from this system, but it doesn’t look like it will be a big producer for us, as it is lacking in strong dynamics. This weather pattern looks to persist until the evening hours of Monday, August 6, at which point the jet stream will once again converge and push further north, bringing along with it more enhanced weather dynamics. It appears as though around this same time frame, we should be seeing a favorable West-Southwest flow carrying large amounts of moisture, accompanied by mid-atmospheric divergence and cold air advection, adding to the atmospheric instability. This system is looking like it will be coming in with strong winds and cold temperatures as the associated cold front crosses the region August 8-9.
Long story short, look for the next major winter storm to hit the Northern Patagonian region toward the end of the first week or early in the second week of August. The cold temperatures should attribute to the kind of low-density powder snow we love, but watch for strong winds (up to 40 knots, 74 km/h, 46 mph) transporting snow and creating dangerous wind slab conditions on the existing snow surface on higher elevation lee faces (East and Northeast). Hint: Be wary of cornices and the loaded slopes beneath them. Be sure to check your local avalanche advisory before venturing beyond ski resort boundaries (fuera de pista).
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While traveling from location to location, our electronics have to endure quite the beating. Having access to the Extreme Sleeve Laptop Case gives us added piece of mind that our equipment will be protected. It incorporates the same RPT materials as the kneepad, and keeps our laptops safe and secure. The form-fitting sleeve stands up to damaging impacts that could crack the screen or damage the casing. We feel confident chucking our computers into a pack before a long haul, and know that they will come out ok upon arrival.
More and more people are venturing beyond ski resort boundaries and into the backcountry every day, exposing themselves to avalanche hazard. Skier or snowboarder, expert or beginner, pro or amateur, no one is immune from this ever present danger. Our best defense against this lethal enemy is education. By educating yourselves and those in your party, you not only greatly increase your chances of survival while skiing and snowboarding wild snow, but you will also gain an understanding as to when it is best to travel in the backcountry or when it is best to just stay home. The video below is a prime example of what is lurking out there, beyond ski resort boundaries. It was taken from the popular Punta Princesa zone at Cerro Catedral.
Club Andino Bariloche (CAB) is currently leading the charge for avalanche safety in Patagonia, posting avalanche advisories by their subcomision de nivologia and hosting avalanche courses. They will be hosting their 2012 Avalanche Course (Curso de Avalancha) this coming weekend, July 19-22. The cost of this course is $400 ARS/$89 USD for CAB members and $520 ARS/$115 USD for non-members. See their site for details. If you plan on skiing or riding beyond ski resort boundaries or any area that is ‘fuera de pista’, read the CAB Avalanche Advisory before you go. Local ski patrollers are also an excellent resource for snow conditions and avalanche hazard.
July 16, 2012 update: The Club Andino Bariloche Curso de Avalancha has completely filled up! Due to such high demand, they will be offering another Avalanche Course August 23-26, 2012.
This season, we will be bringing South American Beacon Project to Patagonia to spread the word about avalanche safety, to educate the public in the use of avalanche transceivers (beacons), and donating beacons to local organizations, like the CAB. Contact us for more information.