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Chilean Powder
What I Did on My Summer Vacation
25 OCT 2000

After 30 hours in the air and four connections, I found myself on a wild cab ride through the city of Santiago, Chile. And after a heart-stopping bus trip up narrow mountain roads, we arrived in the resort town of Farallones. The first thing I did when I got there was flush the toilet. Since it's in the Southern Hemisphere, the swirl should go backwards and as far as I could tell, the can operated normally.

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Just 30 miles from the bustling metropolis of Santiago, Farallones is really chill. Our hotel manager Pao (who drove the hotel van through deep snow on twisty, sketchy roads and no matter how hectic the situation, he came through) suggested we go to La Parva Ski Resort, and so we did.

American ex-pat Jason, an escapee from Southern California who works the rental shop in the winter and spends his summers surfing the Chilean coast, hooked me up with the biggest board he had in the shop...a 167 Rossignol with a corncob on the top and some wicked digs in the bottom. It being the best thing he had, I took the big corn board with holes in the bottom and dubbed it "Cornholio."

There had been a big dump the night before so I was surprised that hardly anyone was on the mountain. Almost all of the resorts in Chile are above treeline so the ski areas are massive, open and exposed. I took a few minutes to scan the incredible view — as far north and south as you could see, 12,000-foot peaks pierced the sky and to the west, a great brown cloud covered Santiago. I bee-lined for the bowls. Most of the time I found excellent turns on largely untouched snow. In some places, what looked like tempting windblown turned out to conceal nasty, sharp volcanic rocks. Needless to say, I put a few more holes in Cornholio.

That night it dumped, and the next morning it was still dumping. In fact, it was a total whiteout. Strangely, some of the folks at the hotel were actually bummed. "Too much snow," they said. I soon enough found out what they meant.

"We practiced our Spanish with the employees and listened to their heavy metal tapes including, 'Ee-ron Mai-deen' and 'Cee-proos Heel.'"

In Chile, a massive dump means all the lifts have to be dug out by hand. So, rather than dig and re-dig with each snowfall, they close everything down. The quad was closed and the only lifts running were two Poma lifts. Fortunately, the upper Poma accessed some of the same excellent terrain as the quad, so I braved the crotch-crushing device as it dragged me to the top — it was totally worth it.

I was one of the only boarders on the hill that day and was rewarded with massive, untouched powder, top to bottom, on almost every single run. After six hours of riding blind in the relentless storm, I retired to the lodge, exhausted, wet and giddy, where my brother Jim and I hung out by the fire and sipped brews with the handful of others that had braved the storm. We practiced our Spanish with the employees and listened to their heavy metal tapes including, "Ee-ron Mai-deen" and "Cee-proos Heel."

The next day, after 36 hours of continuous snowfall, we woke to blue skies. It was exactly what we had hoped for — in fact, I could hardly sit through breakfast. The thought of all that untouched powder was making me crazy.

After our van got stuck in a snowbank, we finally got to La Parva and the quad wasn't even running. I started to flip out! Untouched powder, skies and no lifts? I realized later that Chileans have a very laid back attitude — there is so much powder, and so much terrain, that everyone will get untouched lines all day, why rush?

The quad belched diesel fumes and rattled to life. I made a fool of myself with an old-fashioned "Yee-Haw!" and jumped aboard. As we rode the lift, the first boarders of the day cut their signatures into the fields of untouched powder. Clipping in at the top, I launched myself toward the fall line to find knee-deep powder — untouched and unmolested. There were literally only about 30 other folks on the entire mountain!

As morning proceeded into afternoon, Jim and I ripped it up and I started to notice that my face felt hot, almost chapped. I was going to chalk it up to windburn because I was using SPF 20, however, I looked at my bro and saw that he was turning beet red. At 11,000 feet, we were getting burned to a crisp. Apparently, the Southern Hemisphere has less ozone than the North. I'd almost call it "radiation burn" rather than "sunburn." Jim got the full force of it and turned into a friggin tomato. Aside from the massive UV dosage, we had a brilliant afternoon and that evening we headed back to Santiago, satisfied, exhausted and crispy.

All in all, this was what we had hoped to find in Chile — epic snow, clear skies, massive mountains and a resort all to ourselves. You really couldn't ask for any better.

Peter Mitchell, Correspondent

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