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!