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Ambush In The Andes, Day 4: Mystery Booze and the Chilean Army

The 2008 South American Photo Challenge

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The laws of physics have an appendix somewhere with a few key additions. That’s why there’s such thing as drinking to make the sky blue. But what if it’s already blue? And what if an entire group spends the night at a bar full of Chilean resort employees drinking beer, cheap tequila, and an indigenous mystery booze? The short answer is that the bonds of meteorology are broken; and the weather incurs a sudden, unwelcome intrusion, like the stranger thrusting drinks in my face. This intrusion comes in a delicate tulip of a glass. Classy. Yet when it hits my lips I’m sure I’ve poisoned myself. It tastes like nail polish remover, soured by acid, and sweetened by Pixie stick.

Drinking to make the blue sky blue-er doesn’t happen. We wake up to a storm. The wind screams through the valley, driving snow into the windows like the confetti the waiters threw at our impromptu birthday party last night. Communication on the mountain snarls.

We notice it when we caught up with photographer Gene Dwarkin and his teammate Josh Van Jura. Van Jura had set himself up 100 yards up hill, waiting to ski through for a shot. But we’re 10 feet from Dwarkin and we can’t hear each other. Shooting action shots in this milieu was proving to be

too white, too loud, and too logistically difficult to fulfill

. But then an opportunity presented itself. There, at the top of the next chair ride, was the

Chilean army

, on another military exercise. This one could have been called “how to tear your ACLs and surrender.” Nevertheless,

they were skiing pretty well.

considering they were on 25 year-old ski mountaineering equipment.

“I said hello and asked to take their photos,” said Dwarkin. “We started shooting and I asked if we could ski with them. I was skiing down the hill

shooting Van Jura ski behind them

. I know how I’d shoot something like this, the right shutter speed and the right aperture. I had an idea as to what I was

going to get

but you never really know when you spin the dials.”

Then the military started crashing. A lot. “They were fired up to ski with us so

they started skiing harder

,” said Dwarkin, who had to stop a fallen solider from sliding all the way down the run.

“These guys had to have detachable knees,” said Van Jura. “There’s no way these guys fell like that and didn’t tear their ACLs.”

— — — —

The 2008 South American Photo Challenge, held at Chile’s Ski Portillo, is an invite-only, five-day event to determine who can shoot the best photography in five categories: air, powder, big mountain line, ski culture, and creative angle. The photo/athlete teams are Grant Gunderson shooting Pep Fujas, Adam Clark shooting Eric Roner, Steve Lloyd shooting Jason West, Jordan Manley shooting Chad Sayers, and Gene Dwarkin shooting Josh Van Jura. The winning shots will be published in the February issue of

Skiing magazine. In the meantime, check

for daily updates.