TRAVEL BLOG – Chile & Argentina Snowboarding – Part 3

September 20th, 2010

Two of our crew take a break from hiking the backcountry of Argentinean resort Catedral Alta Patagonia. The town of Bariloche is on the valley floor in the distance. Photo: Johnny McCormack

Sep 8 – Sept 11, 2010 | Words Russell Holt

Argentina: Bariloche & Buenos Aires

The 3 week tour continues as we arrive in Baricloche, Argentina’s most famous ski resort town. We are totally wrecked from an all night party in Santiago that lead straight into a two-stop flight to Bariloche via Buenos Aires. Exhausted but excited we are now in Patagonia and the resort of Catedral Alta Patagonia was having an incredible spring boasting over a 2-metre snowpack.

Bariloche – The Hub Of Patagonia

Surprisingly Bariloche is a huge resort city and bustling with activity, nightlife and thousands of visitors that use it for a base of Patagonian adventures. The town itself is quite similar to Queenstown, NZ: it sits on the edge of a picturesque lake at the foot of a spectacular mountain range (The Andes). It’s a thriving tourist destination filled with log homes, restaurants and hotels that accommodate for the huge amount of tourists who flock here from Brazil Chile and Buenos Aires.

The town sits on the eastern edge of the Andes Mountain range and is part of the Patagonia region that stretches far south and east into Chile. From the town mountain peaks stretch as far as the eye can see in one direction, while in the other flat plains of tundra and uninhabited landscape stretches north and to the east coast of Argentina and the Atlantic Ocean.

The Ski Resort – Catedral Alta Patagonia

From the city its a 40 minute bus ride along the lakefront past luxurious lodges and reasonably priced “Cabanas” (Cabins) until you reach the base of the ski resort and in the mountain range known as Cerro Catedral (Translating to: Cathedral) known for its church spire-like peaks overlooking the resort and city.

Catedral Alta Patagonia and has 38 lifts (counting every small little poma and carpet ride, which they have plenty) including a vernacular and a 4 person gondola that whips up to the east side of the resort dropping passengers out below the towering cone shaped rocky peaks. From any vantage point high on the mountain you get sweeping views across the beautiful lakes and tundra plains of Patagonia.

Cat tracks that wind their way down the mountain at the Catedral Alta Patagonia make for a long and fun run home at the end of the day. Photo: Johnny McCormack

Burton team rider Nick Gregory lugging the camera bag home down the long cat track stops for a rest and grab a moment of perspective – riding Patagonia! Photo: Johnny McCormack

Catedral Alta Patagonia Snow and Terrain

The vertical drop is an impressive 1100 metres (1000m – 2100m), which is a lot larger than what we had experienced in Chile where you get less vertical but higher altitude. Here in Catedral Alta Patagonia we find more vertical at a lower elevation and a wetter snowpack, which was over 2m deep this spring (mid-September).

The resort has a huge area of ski-able terrain that’s mostly made up of two huge bowls that will keep any skier or snowboarder busy for weeks. Big open bowls and natural halfpipes, groomed runs and cat-track for beginners make up the upper half of the mountain. While the trees on the lower half of the mountain are amazing for skiing and riding. Huge straight trunks make up a well-spaced forest that covers the entire width of the mountain. We missed any large powder days, but we could imagine with its consistent pitch it would absolutely go off on a big powder day with pillows, bumps and cat tracks littered under the canopy.

There is a small terrain park on the mountain for the freestylers and over 10kms of cat tracks for beginners that pass the many stylish on mountain restaurants and bars that all boast to-die-for views.

Our trip to Bariloche was in Mid September and the snow was in a melt-freeze daily cycle. The snow behind Roland Morley Brown and Will Jackways from NZ is actually 30cm deep corn and rides nearly as good as fresh powder. Photo: Johnny McCormack

Backcountry Skiing and boarding at Catedral Alta Patagonia

For those into the backcountry and getting out of bounds the resort has an official out of bounds Poma that dog legs up into the backcountry and gives access to many chutes, mini-bowls and advanced terrain amoungst the red stone peaks. A short traverse and hike from one of the main chairs gives access to this Poma and terrain which is un patrolled.

With the spring melt-freeze cycle during the day while we were there in September the whole mountain was great riding including the backcountry and off-piste as the Patagonian sun quickly turned the snow into soft corn.

We enjoyed many fun sessions in the spring corn snow overlooking the town of Bariloche and the lake in the distance. Ripping lines, building jumps and exploring the side-country. Enduring the leg-pain of the endless homerun back to the base at the end of the day could be our only complaint, if you could call that a complaint.

Will Jackways hiking the Catedral backcountry dwarfed by the cone shaped peaks that give the resort its name “Cathedral” in ehnglish.Photo: Johnny McCormack

The Bariloche Nightlife

Bariloche is filled with a vibrant nightlife in hundreds of bars and clubs that don’t get busy until around midnight and go till 6 or 7am. The highly spirited Argentinean people are always out in force and the clubs are filled with a mix of locals tourists and busloads of teenagers who make the pilgrimage to Bariloche for the Argentinean version of ‘schoolies’ every September. (Don’t worry it is a very mellow controlled version.) It’s easy to mingle and have fun with the ever-welcoming Argentineans who are always overzealous and outgoing, quite different to Chileans (who we found to be much more reserved). Its very easy to have a large night but remember if you want to snowboard or ski in the morning, be sure to go easy on the Fernet and Coke-a-Cola’s which flow like water.

Buenos Aires – Paris of South America

Get ready for dinner at midnight, bars till 5am and lazy breakfasts in Parisian-style café’s on cobblestone streets at lunchtime. Buenos Aires is on a totally different schedule.

The sun’s reflection on Buenos Aires shimmers into the air like a gold plated armour. The city packs 20 million people into the size of Sydney in dense urban living mostly roofed by metal. The sheer humanity can be overwhelming.

We had heard many descriptions of Buenos Aires before arriving; ‘the Paris of South America’, ‘the fashion capital of Argentina’, ‘Cosmopolitan Buenos Aires’. It was hard to imagine South America to be so refined, but over 3 days there on our way home we fell in love with the place. One word: incredible.

This city of 20 million is an expansive urban metropolis full of character, history, charm and that magnetic Latino spirit. The home of Tango, thriving art culture (both in galleries and on the streets), beautiful architecture and of course Maradona and his beloved Boca Juniors Football club; Buenos Aires the city overpowered us with culture, life and friendly encounters at every turn.

It would be easy to try and do too much in Buenos Aires and we found it rewarding to spend most of our time in the area known as Palermo. Bars restaurants, shops lay hidden around every street. Modest, but stylish the shops were refined and specialists (no KMart’s here!). The food was impeccable and we indulged in what the country is known for – Beef and red wine. Numerous Steak houses line Palermo along with a many social bars and clubs where locals prefer to dance Tango style than disco style.

We missed visiting the famous Boca Juniors game, one thing that is nearly worth flying the Pacific again to revisit, but a day spent roaming the streets of San Telmo an old and colourful part of the city was a treasure hunt for old antiques good coffee and Empanida stops (Empinidas are the Argetinean version of a meat pie in folded pastry form).

Overall I can honestly say that a stop in Buenos Aires is compulsory for anyone travelling to Argentina or Chile for a ski/snowboard holiday. You’ll experience the culture and spirit of Argentina and South America at full force, which is only felt in the ski towns in lighter shades.

Our trip is now complete – a 3-week adventure in South America and we all feel we have only scratched the surface.

Buenos Aires is a cultural hub of art and life. The streets live. Photo: Johnny McCormack

A good way to explore the streets of the Palermo district in Buenos Aires. Photo: Johnny McCormack

Tourista’s in the down town region of the city. Photo: Johnny McCormack

The Obelisk is the symbol of Buenos Aires. Standing at 67.5 metres and weighing in at 170 tonnes the 1936 monument commemorates the 400 year anniversary of the cities foundation. Photo: Johnny McCormack

The streets of San Telmo offer a antique bargain hunters dream. Incredible area to walk around and absorb the cities culture. Photo: Will Jackways.

At least the dogs of Buenos Aires are kept unlike Bariloche and Santiago in Chile. These dogs weren’t happy with our photographer. Photo: Johnny McCormack

Photo: Johnny McCormack

Photo: Johnny McCormack

Photo: Johnny McCormack

Photo: Johnny McCormack

Read Part 1 Chile & Argentina Travel Blog here.

Read Part 2 Chile & Argentina Travel Blog here.

Chile and Argentina have always been on the ‘hit-list’, the size of the Latino lure for any adventure seeking snowboarder is as huge as the Andes Mountain range that divides these two incredible countries and ticking off this box is one step closer to completing the dream list.

For our trip the good people at LAN Airlines helped us get to Santiago in style with a flight: Sydney – Auckland – Santiago. With great prices and great South American service, there’s no other way to start your South American adventure.