Words by Anna Segal

Photos by Erik Seo & Anna Segal

It seems like South America is fast becoming the new hotspot to ski in the Southern Hemisphere and it’s not rocket science to figure out why. Ridiculously steep terrain, masses of snow, cheap accommodation, cheaper wine... the list goes on. But I was drawn to it by the unpredictability it offered. Everybody’s trip turns out differently and this is how mine went...

I’d organized the trip with photographer Erik Seo and Chile was our destination of choice. We arrived in Santiago at midday and spent the afternoon checking out the local widelife. We met cheerleader chick, who chose to perform in the middle of a busy intersection, crazy purple and his one man band, a clown who thought he was a florist, and death man - I was too scared to get a picture of that guy though.

photos: Erik Seo

The next day was up to Portillo, a mountain three hours north of Santiago on the border of Argentina. We found a few points of interest on the way up, including this semi trailer which was inconveniently having a nap across the highway.

photo: Erik Seo

A little further ahead we caught sight of the road up to the resort. Luckily I don’t get car sick.

photo: Erik Seo

The hotel Portillo is a lush establishment.... But we were staying in the dorm rooms. This was fine with me, as we were still fed three course meals and were allowed to use the hot tub, gym and internet.

photo: Anna Segal

We adopted a little Kiwi ski-bum, Chris. He came up for the day, but stayed for the week. He lived in our room and we fed him bread rolls and butter we had stolen from dinner. Chris and I spent a few days exploring the mountain together. It was the middle of spring and although the snow wasn’t fresh, it had transformed to perfect corn. I had never experienced this kind of smooth riding slush. It’s probably the second best thing to freshies.

photo: Erik Seo

Portillo has some of the steepest in-bound terrain I’ve ever seen. To deal with the avalanche risk this creates, the mountain has installed these crazy looking contraptions called drag lifts. They don’t have pylons so they are not so easily destroyed by avalanches and less expensive to repair. They’re an attachment of five pomas to a rope, attached to a cable. 

photo: Erik Seo

After a few days exploring we ventured from the resort and found an abandoned tunnel. This was the site of jump attempt #1. I was imagining a sunset shot with a rustic tunnel framed by the majestic Andes mountains. We set to work on my first block built booter. Two days later and we had a jump. A HUGE one. It was spectacular from a distance but a closer look showed the too steep in-run to massive stepdown was in reality a pile of shit. I gave it a try anyway, but sunk shin deep into mashed potato snow and projectile flipped down the whole landing. After some deep soul searching I knew I had to bid our masterpiece good-bye.

I was devastated that I’d lost two days of my trip to building a useless jump. So the next day was spent just freeskiing. My friend Hilly from Australia guides in Portillo and was kind enough to give me a tour. We stopped at Tito Bob’s, the place to be seen for lunch. He seemed to know everyone there and led me to sit at a table of high-rollers and ski bunnies.

“What do you do?” I asked.

“Oh I’m just the CEO of Heineken International...” hah, no big deal.

It’s funny that I could be sweating my guts out building a jump one day, then drinking red wine over a long lunch with high society the next.

photo: Anna Segal

South America then dished up another surprise. On my last day at Portillo I was given the chance to do a morning of heli- skiing. I had never been in a heli before and thought I would be senile by the time I could afford it.

photo: Anna Segal

Our guide Frank picked out the perfect terrain and we skied wide open turns on natural rollers with corn snow as smooth as butter.

Hilly and I with Mt Acongagua (the highest peak outside of the Himalaya’s) in the background. photo: Anna Segal

The second half of the day I had work to do. Erik and I had to finish jump attempt #2 and get some shots before the sun went down and it was time to leave for Santiago.

photo: Erik Seo

Saying ciao to all our new friends was hard, but the hardest goodbye was my buddy Mutley, aka Mr Scrufflesworth, aka Muchillero (apparently this means backpacker or something in Spanish). Mutley had turned up on the steps of the hotel, in the middle of a blizzard, ten years ago and has been the hotel’s pet ever since. I hardly ever saw Mutley move, but when he did it hurt me just watching.

photo: Erik Seo

We had planned to go to Las Lenas in Argentina after Portillo. Las Lenas is the Mecca of big mountain riding in South America so I had been looking forward to skiing there for months. But apparently plans don’t count for much in Argentina and days before we were supposed to leave for Las Lenas we received word that we would no longer be able to get tickets and accommodation there. After a moment of swearing and freaking out we contacted Mark Lasseter from http://www.southamericaski.com. This guy knows South America like the back of his hand and is super connected. If you are planning a trip down south, I definitely recommend that you hit this website up. In less than a few hours Mark had organized a new destination and hooked up accommodation and tickets.

Next stop was Farallones, the small town at the bottom of the three valleys; El Colorado, Valle Nevado and La Parva, which are a quick one hour trip out of Santiago. The town is a pretty traditional and not too Westernized given how close it is to the ski resorts. There are three shops there, which don’t seem to sell anything in particular and there isn't much there othetr than a bunch of llama farmers.

These llamas were kept in our neighbor’s tiny backyard, which I guess is why he had to walk them everyday. photo: Erik Seo

We conveniently arrived on the 18th, Chilean national liberation day and the biggest party of the year. In South America Chileans have a reputation for being conservative and straight down the line, but on the night of the 18th they definitely challenged this stereotype. The place to be was the Farallones Elementary school. By the time we arrived the whole town was wasted and dancing with hankercheives to a traditional Chilean band. Erik had three drinks instead of one that night, with the consequences showing below.

The best terrain of the Three Valleys is found on Santa Teresa, an area in between El Colorado and Valle Nevado. There are endless possibilities of lines and it is an easy traverse from either resort. Only catch is that there is no lift service to the area so you either have to hitch out or do it baller style and hire a car and a driver. We chose the second option.

photo: Anna Segal

There’s a pretty big freeski scene in El Colorado and Valle Nevado. The features in their parks weren’t huge, but they were super fun. There’s also sick stuff to jib everywhere! We met heaps of new friends over there who came along on our little missions of mischief.

New friend Laos from France. photo: Anna Segal

The sunsets over the three valleys are out of control. Without fail, every evening was welcomed with a multi colored sky.

View from our hostel window. photo: Anna Segal

photo: Erik Seo

To the naive tourist, these sunsets are an exotic gift from nature, however I learned that they have a scummy underbelly. It is the smog and pollution spewed into the air from nearby Santiago that is their true cause.

The man behind the camera, admiring the mystical smog. photo: Anna Segal

Smog aside, photographers are suckers for sunsets so we set up a shoot to capture the amazing display of human bi-product and nature working together.

photo: Anna Segal

Usually people say that ‘time flies when you’re having fun’ or ‘before I knew it the trip had come to an end,’ but traveling in South America is not so cliched. I can easily say that Chile has been my most fun trip to date, but it felt like we were there for over a month rather than two weeks. Anyone who is curious about skiing down south, I definitely recommend that you put Chile on the top of your list. There is so much to take in and learn and a trip there is far more than just skiing.