Editor’s note: Our intrepid guest blogger Jordan White made his way down to South America after our Denali extravaganza. He promised a few trip reports, here is the first. Looks good Jordan! Lou
Still groggy from my flight the day before (and the previous nights festivities), I hop in the shotgun position of the small Suzuki Jimny. We drive through the projects of Los Andes, Chile, a small town one and a half hours north of Santiago by bus. We make our way out of town and onto a dirt road built on a dry stream bed. A few minutes later we come to an automatic gate, the remote lets us through.
Arriving in front of the house, out walks Toni Sponar. Tony is an interesting fellow — 76 years old and still kicking to say the least. Rumor has it that Toni often out skis just about anyone on the mountain. Over to the hotel and we meet up with our cat driver for the day, Mauro. We leave Toni behind with the Jimny and hop in the truck with Mauro. Anton takes the wheel as we leave town.
Driving out of town towards the ski area is quite a bit different than most people from the Norte America would be used to. The turn is an obscure side street winding through vineyards. No elaborate signs, and you’d better be driving something more than a Prius (unless they start making those in a 4×4 version). Eventually the road turns to dirt. We stop for a moment while Anton puts the truck in four wheel drive. The road gets rougher as we head up, but nothing a Sube couldn’t handle.
We snake our way into the mountains up and across…up and across, winding up the hill’s switchbacks until we finally come to a gate in the middle of nowhere. Old hand bent metal reads “Ski Arpa.” You look around at the mountain cactus and wonder where is the snow, and where are the lifts? I know better as this place has a reputation I’ve known for a long time — a reputation of copious snow and great terrain. After another couple miles of switchbacks we pull into a gravel and rock parking lot in front of two bunkerized buildings.
Ol’ Toni bought this land in 1981 after building the Penitentes ski area in Argentina. He decided that he wanted his own place, and after consulting with the locals he chose this area that overlooks the Aconcagua Valley. I’ve only been here a day and already know it is a magical spot where you can feel the power of the Andes mountains reaching into your soul.
Virtually nowhere here would be a safe haven during a large avalanche cycle, therefore the refugio is buried into the hillside with the windows facing down hill to the west. The views are killer, but you have to wonder what it’s like when an avalanche shoots over your head during morning coffee.
Ski Arpa is a bit of a hybrid ski operation with half of its 5,000 acres (think bigger than Vail) devoted to cat skiing and the other half devoted to ski touring. The measure of today will be catskiing.
Please check here tomorrow for part two — we access the goods and enjoy the exotic life of South American ski guides.
Jordan White is a strong alpinist who finished skiing all 54 Colorado 14,000 foot peaks in 2009. He guides, tends bar, and lives the all-around perfect life in Aspen.