September 21, 2012

South America Part 3: Bariloche and Refugio Frey


The third and final installment of Randy and Matt Evans’ trip to Chile and Argentina with their dad, local ski patroller Mitch Evans. In this segment, the boys make it to Bariloche for some spring skiing and a trip to Refugio Frey.  Words by Randy Evans. 

Crossing the border from Chile to Argentina was anything but brief. After a scenic drive traversing the Andes, we were forced to repeatedly visit each country’s border patrol office in order to get all the paperwork necessary to continue on.  The Argentines finally let us in, but not before disposing of all our fruits and vegetables. We persisted into the night, speeding through Argentina’s most wild and uninhabited landscapes.

We arrived in Bariloche well after dark with no premeditated plan for a place to stay.  We drove aimlessly into town and stumbled upon a modest hostel on a side street where the owners were happy to take us in.  We enjoyed wine and an asado with a collection of guests from around the world (asado is the Latin American term for having a BBQ).

Mitch Evans getting to the top of the skin.

The next morning we awoke to the smell of rain soaked concrete, and headed up to Cerro Catedral with hopes of quickly finding the snowline. As it turned out, the rain persisted nearly half way up the ski area.  We spent the day on the upper-most lifts, entertaining ourselves by flipping wind-lips and buzzing over the bushes and rocks that lined the trails.  Needless to say, we knew we had to do better.

With rumors of new snow, we skied the resort for one more day. In the morning there was some fun turns, but the weather warmed quickly and we were left to ski the slush patches. We decided some good skiing was well overdue.  With high hopes for high snow, we prepared to head into the backcountry the following morning.

Our destination, Refugio Frey, is a high alpine hut off of the backside of Cerro Catedral stocked with all the food and wine necessary to cap an epic day of cirque skiing and skinning.  Starting in the parking lot at the base of the ski area, we bungeed our sleeping bags and ski gear to our side-country packs and headed out through the mud.

The approach had a mellow incline, and the well-maintained trail made the hiking easy.  Three hours later we crested the final willow-covered hill, and skinned to the front of the hut. We went inside, peeled off our wet gear and wasted no time in introducing ourselves to the two NorCal girls at the dinner table.  We tried to carry on our conversation but we were easily distracted by the incredible terrain visible from the refugio’s large windows.  We ate, drank, and discussed which couloir we were going to ski first.

Randy and Matt at the top of the bootpack.

We awoke early, wasted little time on a breakfast of dulce de leche and white bread, and started touring across the frozen lake and up the steep walls of the cirque basin.  It didn’t take long to find that the skiing here was the real deal.  Our first run was down a 500-meter couloir, which did not go as smoothly as intended.  Due to its plain visibility from the hut, everyone who visits Frey wants to ski it. As it turned out this narrow couloir, which we attempted to straight-line, was virtually a mogul field. The flat light did not agree with our goggle lenses, vertigo was inevitable but we made it out OK.

Our next run up was the best of the three we took that day, a tiny finger chute at the top of one of the basin walls. While our dad looked on, we started the boot pack to the top. This turned out to be more like climbing a soggy ladder, the steepest either of us had ever climbed.  The descent was steep and technical, and the snow was ideal.  We got to the bottom, our faces lit and filled with adrenaline, and immediately strained our necks in search of the next skiable line.  We got one final ski in, a rolling run from a hanging basin that all three of us enjoyed. The hike was easy, and the view off the back of the ridge was incredible.  A perfect way to end our first Andean refugio experience.

Matt taking in the epic Patagonia.

The boys have since made it safe and sound back to the US.  Randy is back at MSU-Bozeman while Matt just started his senior year at the Crested Butte Community School.  Mitch is stoked for another year living in paradise.  Special thanks to Laure Vailly for the cover photo of Refugio Frey.

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.