I finally figured out which line to get into to check in with Customs.
After I spent 30 minutes trying to figure out where to go to pick up my luggage. I was low energy due to the long travel, but excited to start my Chilean adventure.
It was finally my turn to go talk to the Customs officer. He was perched in a glass box the size of a cubicle. He asked me something in Spanish, which I didn’t understand, so I handed him my passpost.
I told him, “No, hablo Espanol.”
He looked at my passport said something in Spanish, handed me a small receipt, that was written in Spanish, then looked away.
I said, “Can I go?”
He motioned to the exit and nodded in agreement.
So I walked out towards the exit.
Immediately the pace of life picked up. Transportation vendors were looking at me trying to sell me luxury taxi rides somewhere.
I went up to the desk of a bus company called Turbus. I recognized this as one of the big bus brands from my googling.
I pulled out my phone and opened Google Translate and asked to buy a bus ticket to Terminal Alameda Santiago. She sold me the ticket and told me where to find the bus, which I didn’t understand because Spanish.
Then I walked out the doors of the airport.
Selling tourists various forms of transportation is big business at the Santiago airport. I was immediately bombarded by guys trying to sell me transport and trying to help me carry my big ass ski bag.
I was an obvious target because I looked like a gringo and was laden with tons of tourist luggage.
And these guys pitching me transport services, which were not cheap, could all speak English. Which was smart.
But I kept saying no and looked for the bus. It wasn’t too hard to find the Turbus because they’re buses are painted green. They are obvious.
It was a short ride to Terminal Alameda. I got out of the bus and it was a bit overwhelming.
There were a lot of different bus companies to choose from. This is why I didn’t buy a ticket ahead of time, because I knew I could just get one once I got to the terminal.
Instead of hoping on a bus, I looked for a bathroom or bano. I couldn’t believe it but they charge for the public bathroom. There was a line at the cashier to pay for the bathroom, then you go through a turnstile to get in.
I’d never paid to go to the bathroom before, but there’s a first time for everything I guess. It doesn’t cost much, less than a $1 USD. Then I it was a pain in the ass trying to get my long ski bag through the turnstile.
The bathroom wasn’t that clean, but it was manageable. And they had large trashcans in every stall. I guess that they sewer system didn’t accept the toilet paper and you were supposed to throw your toilet paper in the trash. That’s how it was the last time I visited Mexico.
I got outta the bathroom as quick as I could.
Instead of comparing the prices, options, and departure times of the different bus companies, I just went back to Turbus and ask for a ticket on the next bus to Chillan, which I was told was departing in about 15 minutes.
When we were boarding the bus to Chillan, I was told I had to pay for my luggage, because it was so big. It’s always difficult in these situations because I don’t speak the language, there is a line of people waiting behind me, I don’t know the currency, and I couldn’t tell how much I was paying and if I was getting ripped of.
I ended up paying more than half the cost of the bus ticket, just so I could load my ski bag. Whatever.
The large bus has 2 levels and I was on the top level. I was seated next to a quite man, about my age on the bus.
As we started to head south out of Santiago, I got my first views of Chile and in the distance the Andes.
The first thing I noticed is that the mountains are huge. The way I know that mountains are huge, is if they look huge, and you know you are a long distance away.
The dry mountains were the tallest I’d ever seen.
On the long slow ride to Chillan, I got to know my seat neighbor Oscar. He lived in Chillan and spoke a little English, which was more that I spoke of Spanish. We mostly communicated through Google Translate on our phones.
I informed him this was my first time in South America and that I was excited to be in Chile because of my love of mountains and wine.
During our trip, Oscar realized that I was not going to make my connection to the bus that would take me from the city of Chillan, to the ski mountain 1 1/2 hours away. Oscar was such a nice dude that he started calling around and arrange a private transport that the hotel I was staying at recommended, to get me to the mountain.
Not only that, once we got to Chillan, he spoke to the driver and informed him that I wanted to go to the grocery store and buy some Chilean wine. We hopped in the small van, went around the corner to the grocery store and Oscar helped me buy 4 bottles of wine, while the driver waited outside.
Oscar was the man and I gave him $20 just for helping me out.
When I tried to checkout of the grocery store, the clerk asked me for my passport. I was shocked. Why the heck would I have to show my passport, just to buy wine?
Chilean Taxes and Payments
Turns out, the store needed to see my passport to make sure that I wasn’t a Chilean citizen. Chilean’s have to pay a 19% tax on just about everything, but foreigners don’t have to pay the tax.
The same thing happened when I would pay for my hotel rooms. If I was a foreigner, I didn’t have to pay the tax.
Kind of a weird setup, but I was glad not to have to pay the excessive tax.
Another thing I noticed is that prices almost always worked out better for me if I paid on my Visa credit card. This was partly because I wasn’t good at quickly converting amounts of pesos to dollars, even though I had an app on my phone that would do it. And partly because I don’t know why, it just worked out better.
Even with the 3% foreign transaction fee (tax) that Visa put on every transaction, it was usually cheaper for me to pay with my card.
Nevados de Chillan
By the time I got into my hotel room at it had been 28 hours of non-stop traveling. I was shot. I had purchased 4 bottles of Chillan wine at the market and wanted to drink. I opened the only bottle I bought that had a screw top, a Pinot Noir, and drank the whole bottle.
Interesting thing about Chile, for me living in the East Coast of the USA, is that they are the same timezone even though Chile is on the West Coast of South America. Even though my trip was long, I didn’t have that jet lag from crossing time zones.
It had rained a bit the night I got there, but the next day was spring like and the sun was out. I got on my gear and headed out to the chair lift.
The mountain Nevado de Chillan has somewhere between 2,300 -3,000 vertical feet of skiing. The bottom part of the mountain is low elevation, below 6,000ft. It takes a while to ride the antiquated lift system to get to the top of the mountian.
The lift that takes you to the top is a rickety old 2 seater chair. As you go the mountain just opens up and the views are wide. Most of the terrain that you actually want to ski is above treeline.
I was impressed with the vastness of the terrain. You’re basically skiing on an active volcano and the sides of 2 dormant volcanoes.
As you can see, once your up there, it’s all alpine terrain, no trees.
I knew I’d made the right decision to travel far south of Santiago, in search of snow. Nevados de Chillan had full coverage and I had 9 days of skiing there.
I was hoping I’d catch a day or two of fresh snow. Looking around the open terrain, I couldn’t help but to compare Nevados to Kirkwood. I compare every place I ski to Kirkwood because that’s my home mountain where I have a lifetime ski pass. It’s unfair to compare other ski resorts to Kirkwood, because Kirkwood is just that good, but I can’t help myself.
Nevados de Chillan – A Skier’s Perspective
Nevados is an active volcano. The volcanic rock made me feel right at home, because that’s what Kirkwood is. Except Kirkwood is not active, it’s dormant.
The terrain at Nevados is wide open. You can ski just about anywhere. The terrain is not that steep. There are a few steep looking lines that are outside of the ski resort, but I couldn’t figure out how to get there. The stuff in-bounds is nice, but not challenging. Nothing on the level of a Kirkwood. You don’t have to worry about skiing off a run an possibly find yourself stuck above a cliff.
These mountains are almost always windy, which is not unusual. The lifts often have to shut down because of wind. It’s not bad because there is a decent t-bar system that can keep operating during the high winds, while accessing most of the mountain.
These mountains are volcanoes and they’re beautiful. They are not the big crazy Andes mountains of my dreams. The are not big jagged peaks. The mountains outside of Santiago are like that.
The volcanoes of Nevados de Chillan are much lower in elevation. The base of the ski area starts at under 6,000 ft. above sea level. The ski resort tops out somewhere around 8,000 ft, but you can keep hiking higher, if the conditions permit.
There is a shit ton of terrain at Nevados.
I was interested to understand how the ski patrol approaches snow safety. If there was a large snowfall, the mountain would be very interesting.
Would ski patrol close all parts of the mountain, then only open the sections that had be bombed and inspected? Looking at the mountain, it seemed that if they got a large snowfall, vast sections of the inbounds terrain was possible to avalanche.
Looking at the ski patrol, I was guessing that they didn’t have the man power or the resources, to approach snow safety in the comprehensive way that North American ski resorts do.
How much are you on your own, in terms of staying out of avalanches inbounds, when there is a big snow?
These are questions I wondered on my first day skiing in Nevados de Chillan, Chile. I had 9 days of skiing to find out.
I never got those questions answered.
A Bad Weather Window
The very first night I spent at Nevados de Chillan it rained. The next day, my first day skiing, it was overcast and warm and the snow was springy and soft.
My second day of skiing, it was overcast, the temperature cooled a few degrees and the snow was hard. So skiing off trail was teeth chattering and not fun.
The third day it dumped rain all day.
I was bored trapped in the hotel and sat around and got drunk.
I was hoping it had snowed up at the top of the volcano.
I went out the next day and discovered it had not. The winds were ripping. The snow got bombed by the rain, then the screaming winds came and sucked a lot of moisture out of the snow and left this super weird, soft, untracked, kinda goopy, I-don’t-know-what-to-call-it snow behind.
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In an effort to keep the stoke alive on yet another rainy day, I'm posting this from yesterday. This is the closest I've come to skiing powder in Chile. The rain assaulted the snowpack, then the ripping winds dried it out a bit leaving and untracked surface of I-don't-know-what-to-call-it soft snow. I pole whacked the surface vigorously before descending. #keepthestokealive #chile #andes #sologringo
I woke up the next day at it was dumping rain again!
My hotel package included a lift ticket, so whether I used it or not I paid for it.
I was bored and it was 37 degrees farenheight and I figured it had to be snowing up top. I put on my gear and rode the chairlifts in the pouring rain for 25 minutes to the top of the mountain.
I looked around and could see that it was dumping rain to the very highest points of the volcano.
After the 2nd day of rain, the weather forecast for my last 3 days was for sun and higher temps.
This was good. At this point my best chance of decent skiing was for warm weather to soften the snow.
My first day skiing after the rain, was great because I was out of the hotel skiing. It wasn’t perfect because it just didn’t warm that much and the entire mountain was still covered in snow, but the snow was rock hard.
I stuck to skiing groomers.
My second to last day looked like it would be a nice warm spring day. When I got to the top of the mountain there were some high clouds and a light wind. This was keeping the snow cool and hard. I needed warm and soft.
I waited and waited. The clouds eventually went away and at 1pm I decided to give it a shot and hike off the back of the ski resort for the first time.
It felt great to put on my gear and hike up a mountain and workout a bit.
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I've been waiting to tour around this mountain like the anaconda waits until it's prey walks by unexpectedly. The sun was out, no clouds, surprisingly no wind. After 8 days I got to put on my skins and tour off the ski resort. It was mostly an exploratory trip because I don't know the terrain and I'm #sologringo . I waited til noon for the snow to soften, then started climbing out the backside. I didn't ski anything cool, but it was fun to tour around. I got an idea of the terrain for my last attempt tomorrow. By 2 pm the snow was still rock hard. This has been a difficult weather window. But I'm still impressed with the terrain. #NevadosdeChillan #Chile #backcountry
But the temp’s stayed cool. The snow never softened. At all.
I wanted to hike up the other, dormant volcano, lookers left of the ski resort. I hiked up to the ridge and got a good idea of how I could get out there, but it was so late in the day that I didn’t attempt to make the volcano.
I’d try on my last day, now that I had a decent idea of the terrain and how to get out there.
As I skied back to the resort, on untracked rock hard snow, my feet began to hurt from all the hard chattering of my skis sliding on the snow.
On my last day, the sun was out, it was beautiful, there was a slight wind, and instead of warming like it was supposed to, it cooled off.
The snow stayed rock hard.
I decided to just give up and not even think of an attempt to hike off the mountain, and just to cruise groomers and enjoy my last day skiing in Chile.
I’ve been in the mountains long enough to understand weather windows. Sometimes you get lucky and the weather works out and you think that were you are has the best skiing in the world.
Sometimes your at the best place to ski in the world and it doesn’t snow all winter.
Sometimes it’s in between.
Basically, for my epic ski trip to Chile for my 40th birthday, the skiing was terrible.
Actually it wasn’t that bad, skiing is only terrible if you get hurt. What I should say is the ski conditions were not great.
But in it’s entirety, the trip was awesome.
I really enjoyed Chile. I’d like to spend some time there with a rental car so I could move around easily. I’d like to get to a vineyard and I’d like to get into the big crazy parts of the Andes and ski some cool shit.
It was my first time off North America, first time in Chile, and first time in the Andes.
I got to do ski in the Andes in the summertime which I’ve dreamed about doing since I was a kid. It’s just another of the amazing things in life I’ve been able to experience that I never thought I would have the chance to.
For this I am forever grateful. And there is no way I could have pulled this epic trip off without a ton of help from my family and friends.
And this all just reinforces my believe that I am the luckiest guy in the world.