And so to Quetrupillán, where we park up on a disused ranch where the road disintegrates into a rutted track which becomes a forest path as we follow it up the valley until it finally disappears under the snow. As we clear the tree-line the summit still looks a ridiculously long way away, beyond 4 kilometres of undulating terrain. My legs are heavy from yesterday’s ascent and the sticky snow drags at our boards as we skin through bowls and over ridges, willing the summit closer. Finally it starts to look reachable, although we’re going to have to make a quick exit to get back to the van before dark. It’s a scramble to top out, admire the views of a cloud-topped Villarica to the west and soaring Volcán Lanín to the east, and put on our boards. But we enjoy a good fast run down through the soft snow of the wide upper slopes and then negotiate a tight tree run in the lenga forests before hiking out the 8 kilometres to the van and the last of our Chilean wine.
For the last part of our trip we crossed over into Argentina to Bariloche, to meet up with friends from a season in Fernie, B.C., to snowboard on our third continent together. We struck it lucky with a powder day at Cerro Catedral resort, spending the day hiking and getting first tracks in the sweet couloirs that the Laguna freeride area has to offer. The backside of this bowl also gives access via a steep face to Refugio Frey, a mountain refuge that makes a great base for touring. After a tricky downclimb into a gully, a long powder run between rocky outcrops took us whooping into the valley to join the walking access path to the refuge. Nestled in a valley of golden granite spires there are endless options for powder runs amongst the dramatic scenery and at the end of a tiring day of shredding the super-friendly guardian will cook you up a giant cheese-laden pizza to refuel.
The end of September heralded the arrival of spring and so the end of our trip, with just time for a few hikes in wind-whipped Patagonia amidst the sun, drizzle and rainbows of the new season. And so back to Chamonix and… yes it’s winter again. So: three in a row; it must be time to go riding!
For anyone planning a ski touring trip to Chile, Frédéric Lena’s ‘Handbook of Ski Mountaineering in the Andes’ is an indispensable and interesting, albeit slightly impractical, guidebook. Topo maps are available from Trekking Chile for the main tourist areas including Pucón, Nevados de Chillan and Bariloche. On arrival at any of the national parks, the park rangers in both Chile and Argentina were found to be extremely friendly and helpful, although relatively few of them speak English.