Stoked to post this properly inspiring travel story. Marion Shoote bailed from Chamonix last summer to chase winter down to Chile. She rented a campervan, rode some resorts where you could see parrots from the chairlifts (how cool is that!?) and then dusted off her splitboard and got involved in some serious volcano hiking and pow shredding. Oh and they got tailed on one climb by a pack of stray dogs. It’s an awesome article and probably about an 8 minute read so grab a cuppa, kick back and enjoy.
Words by Marion Shoote
The freezing wind casts ice crystals and curls of cloud across the slope as I battle to dig a bucket seat with my ice axe in the crusty snow. Looking down between my cramponed feet I can see the icy slope sweeping down to where our campervan is parked next to the clustered buildings of the resort 1600 metres below. At 2850 metres altitude, just below the summit of Volcán Antuco in the heart of Chile, we have reached a rocky impasse. On a sunny day with forgiving snow we could perhaps have ignored the exposure to climb around the subsidiary cone and reach the true summit, but today with the wind strengthening and the cloud rolling in, the weather is telling us to call it a day. As I gingerly turn around to begin the delicate process of putting together and donning my splitboard, and stashing skins, crampons, ice axe and poles without dropping anything into oblivion, I have time to admire the view. A lava flow of startlingly black rock tumbles from where we sit down to the river Laja, which it dammed during the last eruption of Antuco in 1853. The steely grey surface of the Laguna del Laja which now fills the valley is spread out below us, capturing a reflection of the monochrome mountains beyond.
We are spending 2 months in Chile, sacrificing a warm summer back home in Chamonix to explore the country’s volcanoes and mountains on our splitboards. Our rented campervan has meant we are able to reach the more remote of Chile’s many beautiful national parks and ski areas. It has proved to be a fun and economical style of ski-in / ski-out accommodation, earning us extra G.N.A.R. points for fry ups cooked in snowy resort car parks and only occasionally catching us out when all the doors are frozen shut in the morning.
Our first taste of South American riding was at El Colorado and Valle Nevado ski resorts near Santiago. Here we were pointed to Chile’s “little Alaska” by a friendly local, a steep face of chutes and powderfields above cliffs with some superb riding, where the Freeride World Tour qualifiers had been shredding the previous week. After a few days here, and then a stop in Santiago to stock up the van with the essentials of pasta, chocolate milk, satsumas and Chilean wine, our route took us south into Chile’s volcanic heartland. Our next stop was the El Morado National Monument reserve for some scenic but tamer touring amid high Andean peaks reaching up to 4500m. Then on to the remote Parc Nacional Altos de Lircay where on a high tour above a huge basalt plateau we were treated to an incredible display of striped white clouds above a deep blue sky, a panorama of Andean peaks and fields of soft powder where the only other tracks were those of a lone cougar.
Our desire to summit our first volcano took us to the Nevados de Chillán ski resort. While the resort is fun to ride (and who can complain when you can see parrots from the chairlift?!), its size and terrain, like other Chilean resorts, is limited and with day passes costing around 35,000 pesos (around £40) the novelty soon wears off. This is where having a splitboard really pays off, not only to avoid the high prices but also due to the incredible terrain that can be accessed outside the resort. Three volcanic summits, several areas of steam vents and fumaroles and the natural hot springs of Valle de Aguas Calientes are all within a day tour’s reach, not to mention some sweet untouched powder. We made the most of two blue-sky days to summit Volcán Chillán Viejo and shredded some awesome pow lines in resort and down to the Aguas Calientes. In this beautiful spot the hot-water tributaries rush between overhanging banks of layered snow and under precarious snow bridges, the rising steam catching the sunlight against a backdrop of snowy mountains. We lost no time in stripping off and scrambling down the steep snow banks, in the fetching combination of snowboard boots and underwear, for a dip.