August 23, 2012

Chile – Argentina Part Dos: Skiing and Backcountry Hotsprings in Chillan

A beautiful morning hike to a beautiful spot.

The search for better snow brought us south to Nevados de Chillan, Chile.  Bound eventually for Bariloche, we found ourselves making a mid-way stop deep in volcanic mountains.  A warm welcome at the end of a poorly maintained dirt road  reminded us of our own mountain town. 

Words and Photos: Randy Evans

Matt Evans slashing a wind buffed turn at Chillan.

At the base of the road leading to the resort, scattered housing and random businesses formed something of a local town.  The comforting thought of a warm shower led us to a small hostel located at the end of the pavement, where the valley road turned into washboards and pot holes.  Though the hostel was cold, the people were warm, and the food was filling.

We temporarily got on the internet to check in with the real world.  We learned that the Freeride World Tour competition in Arpa, the Chilean Freeskiing Championships and the original reason for our trip down south, had been cancelled.  Though this was disappointing news, it opened up an unplanned week out of the trip that needed to be filled.  At dinner we impatiently discussed options to complete our trip.  A few bottles of wine helped us into bed and temporarily masked our eagerness to carve up the slopes the following morning.

Chillan has immense backcountry possibilities.

The ski area was complimented by natural volcanic hot springs, which ran adjacent to the treeless ski slopes, not a bad reward after a hard day of skiing.   After exchanging some broken Spanish and 25,000 Chilean pesos ($52 USD), we loaded the WW2 era ski lift and headed for the top. There we found ice encrusted trails, carve-able groomers, and incredible potential. Unfortunately the snow conditions were not ideal, and there were only a few isolated aspects with decent, wind-buffed snow.  Though the snow was firm, and the rocks grabbed at our edges, the mountain’s endless supply of huge wind-lips and rocky half pipe-like gullies still made for a great day.

Once back in town we sniffed out an American owned bar/discotheque, where the beer was decent and cheap. Here we drank and through animated conversation with the local’s caught wind of a mythical sounding river that flowed hot out of the volcano and down the backside of the mountain.  This sounded too good to pass up.  When most hadn’t even finished dinner around midnight, we made our way back to the hostel, the repetitive “bump-ba-dump-bump” reggaeton music just beginning in the background.

The mythical river proves its righteousness.

We got up early the next morning, checked in with ski patrol, and started up the volcano. A 900 meter hike over the ski area and a 300 meter decent through gnarly lines and past volcanic vents brought us to a stream of hot tub like pools, a backcountry experience truly unique to this part of the world.

We lounged in the pools, scoping epic lines that funneled into equally epic booter spots, a filmer’s paradise.   We could only imagine the day when we could return, when the snow would be ideal, and the terrain could be skied to it’s true potential.  With the sun on the horizon, we hiked out, skied passed the snowcats, loaded the van, cracked the seal on a box of wine, and headed south toward Bariloche and Argentina.

The van heads further south.


We patiently wait for the next installment, Bariloche, from Randy, Matt, and Mitch.  They left the northern hemisphere for the a trip to Chile and Argentina to get some of the southern hemisphere winter.  Click here to read the first installment from Farellones.  Stay tuned.

About the Author

2. Will Dujardin
Will Dujardin is our content editor at West Elk Project. He competes in big mountain competitions and coaches the Crested Butte Mountain Sports Team. Skiing is his life and he likes to mix it with other fun things like DH mountain biking and traveling.