Taking on the South

With everyone jealous of all the fresh powder happening down South, we checked in with a few folks who’ll make you even more jealous, and closer than ever to planning your next South American skiing adventure. By Leslie Hittmeier
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Oona Skari went down to South America on a whim to visit her good friend, Eugénie Micolon. The 22-year-olds from Chamonix, France were on a mission to prove they could execute a backcountry skiing trip on their own and these young women definitely proved they could, and then some. Check out this fun interview with Skari on how their journey unfolded and what they’ve learned about the skiing in the South.

LH: How many days of skiing have you got in? And where?

OS: When we arrived in Ushuaia, Argentina, the rest of the country had no snow. But according to locals, they had some of the best winter conditions in years. It had dumped for three weeks nonstop before our arrival. And when we set foot in Ushuaia, we found perfect conditions: sun, no wind, cold temps, and a low avalanche danger. We decided to only ski the backcountry and managed 10 days of fresh, untouched powder.

LH: What is the skiing culture like down there? How is it different than Cham or the U.S.?

OS: While planning our trip we had trouble finding information on Ushuaia. Every Google search resulted in advertisements for French shampoo or various penguin excursions available in the area. So we had no solid plans and really hoped we’d run into some local backcountry skiers that could give us some beta. The only certainty we had was that Ushuaia was the only place in all of South America to have snow. The first day, we decided to go to Glaciar Martial, an old ski resort that has been closed for the past two years. There was this breathtaking cirque of mountains covered in fresh snow with not a gust of wind. We went up to the Col Martial and reached the highest peak of the cirque with an incredible view of the ocean and endless summits. By far, one of the best days of our lives.

LH: What’s the “pow day” culture like? What was the energy like when it started to dump last week?

OS: The skiing culture here is very different from Chamonix because practically nobody backcountry skis. Those who do are over-motivated mountaineers who wake up at 4 a.m. to get a couple ski runs in before starting their workday at 10 a.m. (the sun rises late in the winter). It´s very difficult to find the appropriate backcountry gear in Patagonia. Already a dozen people had asked us if we were selling our skis when we leave. (Tip: Bring your old backcountry gear to sell if you ever make a trip here.)

LH: What about the terrain you’ve been skiing? Has it been mostly on-area, backcountry, or a little of both?

OS: We had Glaciar Martial to ourselves for a whole week and could pick every single line. Squealing with happiness became part of our daily routine. The snow is so light and dry that you catch yourself dreaming you´re a true freerider. We had the chance to meet Sebastian Beltrame, of “guias del sur,” an incredible skier who offered us his tiny house in the woods, at the base of Glaciar Martial. It was a unique experience we will never forget. He described all the different couloirs and summits we could do, and we quickly realized we would have to come back and stay an entire season.

All the skiing where we were is right above the sea, so you never go above 1,500 meters (around 5,000 feet). There´s skiing for every ability level, from 20-degree moderates to 60-degree couloirs, and it’s all very easily accessible. You could go on for days from one cirque to another without seeing anyone. What we absolutely love about Ushuaia is that you can spend the entire day in the most remote mountains and be back in time for a cerveza negra (beer) at the Dublin by 9 p.m.

LH: where are you staying? How do you get around?

OS: We stayed most of the time in the Cruz Del Sur hostel, which has a great atmosphere right in the center of Ushuaia. It felt like home by the end of our trip. But we also had the chance to stay with Seba in his cabin. Seba is a local Patagonian ski guide who knows the mountains of Ushuaia like his backyard. We stayed with him two nights and shared great moments in the mountains discovering his secret spots. Facundo Ureta, one of Seba´s good friends, also hosted us for a night in his hut in the Ollum Valley, 20 minutes away from Ushuaia. One night, we all made homemade gnocchi, the perfect fuel for the Cinco Hermanos summit we did the next day.

LH: Is it expensive?

OS: We saved a lot avoiding the resorts, and the food and hostels are similar to any European ski town.

LH: How long are you going to be there?

OS: We left Ushuaia and decided to hit Bariloche after hearing about the massive snowstorm. We plan on staying in the Refugio Frey hut for a bit depending on the conditions and explore Cerro Lopez and Cerro Goye.

LH: What is your favorite (and least favorite) part about skiing in South America so far?

OS: Our favorite part about Ushuaia: The fact that we would wake up every morning, hop out of the car and ski any line we wanted without fearing someone would ride it first. Ushuaia is a treasure for backcountry skiing. Our least favorite: There´s nothing not to like other than the fact that it´s very hard to find backcountry gear.

LH: What have you learned?

OS: This experience was totally new for us. We are both in our early 20s and have always skied with experienced guys or guides who took the lead and made most of the decisions. Tired of feeling like sheep, we decided to go on this Patagonian ski trip to challenge ourselves to make those decisions and be in the backcountry on our own. In 12 days, we learned so much by confronting each other and debating whether or not we would ski a certain line. All in all, we’ve had the time of our lives, met incredibly generous people, and intend on going back to explore much more.

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