Los(t) Gringos – Adventures in South America PART 1

September 8th, 2010

Every tour needs a van.

Will Jackways, Roland Morley Brown, Nick Gregory and our media entourage look a little nervous as we made burgers and knocked back some bourbons in the airline private lounge before boarding LAN Airlines business class flight bound for Santiago Chile.

For 3-weeks we are launching attacks on the resorts of the Andes Mountains from the 7-million strong city of Santiago. We aim towards all those infamous resorts across Chile and Argentina. On the hit list: Valle Nevado , El Colorado , La Parva , Portillo , Nevado De Chillan all in Chile and Las Lenas , Cerra Catedral in Argentina.

Snowboarders have come a long way in 20 years. Check out the seat number for Mr Nick Gregory. You don’t get that evry often.


Landing in a city of 7 million is intense. The sheer number of people (most who don’t speak English) is overwhelming. The smog, pollution and the ghetto’s on the road side as we speed towards the city centre combine to blow the back of our jetlagged brain. It’s been a 24 hours since I got out of bed in Sydney and we grapple to come to terms with our new reality.

It’s 20 degrees outside and unseasonably warm (don’t think of taking of your shirt or drinking beer on the streets Both illegal), but huge 5000 metre peaks tower above the city covered in snow luring us with some kind of respite from this intense megalopolis. The next biggest city in Chile is only 500,000 people and I didn’t really know what to expect of his city, although we find ourselves in familiar surrounds in the Provedencia region that could be any city in North America with its Starbucks and McDonalds. But the street vendors, drab dress, constant sea of black hair and Latin stares keep us Gringos firmly in our new South American reality.

The city of Santiago has a cool little area called Bella Vista. nearly every wall has interesting street art like this cheesy looking Amigo.

A happy looking Santiago police dude guards the national capitol building. Photo: Nick Gregory.

Oh yes Santiago has a standing wave and it will kick your arse, as it did to our Gringo arses.

Roland Morley Brown. Photo Johnny McCormack.

The streets of Santiago are full of interesting characters. This guy was playing a bench saw. Photo: Nick Gregory.

Santiago has this epic skate park. There were hudreds of kids there on this Saturday – and not a scooter in site! Photo: Nick Gregory

Valle Nevado, El Colorado & La Parva

Just 40km drive from the city through a dry arid landscape full of cacti imaginary cowboys and Indians and what seem to be 5000 switchbacks we arrive at Farellones. This is the gateway town to the 3 main resorts just outside of Santiago, it’s about an hours drive and it’s been about 55minutes since we’ve seen a tree.

The peaks are huge here and the resorts start at an elevation of 2400m – that’s the same as the peak of Mt Kosciusko and higher than the top of Treble Cone in NZ. From the carpark the terrain kind of seems smallish, but the illusion spell is shattered once you jump on a lift and go up and up and up for 20 minutes.

The top lift at Valle Nevado is 3670m and is one of the most spectacular scenes I have ever seen in my 15 years of travelling the globe snowboarding. It’s a freeriders paradise from here. Bowls and Bowls of wide open terrain, cliffs, windlips and if you’re up for it – backcountry hikes lead you to lines that make dreams come true. Towering escarpments of red rock hide chutes and lines that are heaven on earth.

The view down a chute at La Parva resort. The 20-30cms of pow in there was shredded soon after at high speed.

Roland Morley Brown spring shredding at El Colorado resort.

Cacti litter the landscape on the road up to the resorts outside of Santiago.

Will Jackways and Roland Morley-Brown stoked on the 20cm powder day ahead at the spectacular resort of Valle Nevado.

Ride the Volcano’s

6-hours south from Santiago on a one road and we arrived at a town called Chillan. Rural Chile is the Chile I had imagined. A cross between Mexico and the post-communist vibes you find in East Europe in countries like Romania and Bulgaria. Dirty roads, buildings abandoned from the recent 8.8 Earthquake litter the roadsides. People are just sifting around the streets (Will Jackways fits right in here), everyone is walking people everywhere, old-aged men loiter against every corner signpost and roadside fence. It’s like one big all-ages day rave.

Walking people continue to pass as we head up to a range of Volcanic mountains 1 hour outside of Chillan. Here lives the breathing mountain Nevado De Chillan (formerly known as Termas De Chillan). It’s now a “Resort Spa” including a casino. The air reeks of eggs from the thermals that vent from hundreds of holes around the mountain.

The terrain on the mountain is huge and the trees and pillow lines at the bottom remind everyone in the crew of riding in Japan. Although the size of the vertical and accessible backcountry terrain is not Japanese at all. Its absolutely huge and there’s hardly a soul to cross tracks with except for Travis Rice and crew who are out with Scotty Lago and Jake Blauvelt filming Travis’ new movie Flight. They here for a 6 weeks equipped with 20 strong team including 2 choppers filmers that film filmers and enough equipment to fill a hotel room. We stick to the good ‘ol chairlift and boot pack as the “A-team” buzz around in metal birds.

Above the top chairs the Volcanic peak rises another 1000 odd metres – the terrain is snowmobile heaven. The meandering platue rises slowly with bulging windlips and perfect jumps spots. If only we had a snowmobile! The walk is always farther than we thought, jump spots that look like 4-foot hips turn into 100 foot monsters on closer inspection. WE have to adjust the scales in our mind but we find the goods.

Photo: Johnny McCormack

Roland Morley Brown getting a fun drop at Nevado De Chillan. Photo: Johnny McCormack.

Next with Los(t) Gringos – The Chilean Coast and Argentina. Stay tuned.