Last month I got in a van with three friends and drove 1,362 miles from Santiago to Punta Arenas in search of perfect corn snow from the peaks of active volcanoes. Here is a travelogue detailing our experience.
Pete Stone, Jack Klim, Dan Klim, Chris Martin
Our first stop was Valle Nevada, a ski resort just outside of Santiago offering lift access to glaciated peaks up to 17,000’. Getting back in tune with one another and feeling our ski legs under us after a long summer of rock climbing and backpacking, La Parva Peak was our first objective. To our delight, and unlike lift access terrain in the States, we were tugged just shy of La Parva basin making the push to 13,500’ relatively a breeze. This made for an amazing warm-up lap, through the north couloirs from the peak, to the base area for a warm sunny Après. The Après were strong on this trip and would be respected the entire road trip.
La Nina weather patterns left northern Chile dry and well below average snow temperatures. Word spread of the solid snow accumulation happening in southern Chile, so we ventured down south towards the biobio region. In the car we sipped yerba mate as we studied the horizon and watched each peak took form.
Our van, aka Mystery Machine
Our first stop was Valle Nevada, a ski resort just outside of Santiago offering lift access to glaciated peaks up to 17,000’. Getting back in tune with one another and feeling our ski legs under us after a long summer of rock climbing and backpacking, La Parva Peak was our first objective. To our delight, and unlike lift access terrain in the States, we were tugged just shy of La Parva basin making the push to 13,500’ relatively a breeze. This made for an amazing warm up lap, through the north couloirs from the peak, to the base area for a warm sunny Après. The Après were strong on this trip and would be respected the entire road trip.
Location: Bio Bio Region, Chile
We arrived below Vulcan Antuco late into the night. The following morning was cold with frozen conditions on the ascent, an ideal condition for a warming spring snowpack. After reaching the summit crater, the temperatures began to rise, and the snow softened lending the most perfect corn snow any of us had ever experienced - hero turns all the way back to the snow line above Lake Antuco.
Dan Klim enjoying a sunny day of corn harvesting above lake Antuco
Location: Araucania region, Chile Elevation: 9400’
We drove through the night and finally arrived at the parking lot of Vulcan Lonquimay where we were able to get some much-needed sleep. We woke the next day to a breakfast of champions. Due to a slow start that day, we missed our window for the corn harvest – the snow was frozen and ski conditions too risky. We headed back to the van.
On the edge of Vulcan Lonquimays’ caldera
With the stunning North face of Vulcan Llaima on our right, we found ourselves perched before a spectacular ski descent which we enjoyed the rest of the afternoon.
Location: Melipeuco, Araucania, Chile Elevation: 10,253’
Another drive through the night had us skiing corn from the peak of Vulcan Llaima (the one we spotted from the summit of Lonquimay) the following day. Being enveloped in a summit on Lonquimay inspired further exploration into the unknown backcountry volcanic terrain.
From the summit of vulcan Llaima, we descended and remembered the previous day’s icy ski slopes of vulcan Lonquimay looming in the distance (largest vulcan, front right).
Location: Panguipulli, Los Rios Region, Chile Elevation: 9,380’
Dan Klim creating his mark upon Vulcan Villarica in perfect corn condition. Vulcan Llaima in the distance
Back in the van, we continued south, crossing into Argentia directly below Vulcan Lanin. Lanin didn't have enough snow so we pushed deeper into Patagonia and stopped in Bariloche, a ski town on a lake below the Andes.
Our span of bluebird weather came to a halt, snow expectations across the region forced us to hunker down and wait out severe Patagonian winds. We headed to Refugio Frey outside of Bariloche and enjoyed fresh powder from the ridge off of Cerro Cathedral into a neighboring basin. We got to Refugio just before nightfall and were greeted with a warm bowl of goulash.
After a swift 12 hours of driving we arrived in El Chalten, where a thriving mountain climbing community exists independently from adventure tourism.
Fitz Roy Massif & our basecamp at Lago de los Tres
La Punta Velluda
Location: Cerro Fitz Roy Range Elevation: 6,440’
This glaciated peak is nestled below the Fitz Roy Massif. We skied the mountain on the southeast side via the east ridge, it was a technical ascent on rock, snow, and ice but well worth the soft powder descent.
Our success in the mountains has everything to do with our shared respect for something we like to call “deep time” - recognition for what’s been here long before us and will remain long after we’re gone.that the mountains have been here long before us and will remain long after we’re gone.
A huge thank to the American Alpine Club for choosing us to support their mission in helping mountaineers achieve their goals via their Live Your Dream Grant.
Chris Martin & Peter Stone skiing the SE face of La Punta Velluda in optimal conditions
The ski tour concluded and we were homeward bound, reflecting on the days passed, exhausted and grateful to have fulfilled our volcano ski tour dream.
Dan Klim - @dankphoto
Pete Stone - @petey_stone
Jack Klim - @jacksreel