Epic Dream Trip Snow Skiing In Chile – With Terrible Weather, Part 2

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.

Chaos.

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.

Terminal Alameda in Santiago de Chile

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.

Green double decker Turbus in Chile

My bus for a 6 hour drive to Chillan.

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.

Nevados de Chillan ski resort

Starting from the bottom of Nevados de Chillan ski resort

skiing in Chile

View from the top of Nevados de Chillan

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.

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.

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.

Epic Dream Trip Snow Skiing In Chile – With Terrible Weather

I remember being a teenager and reading in ski magazines about how you can ski in South America in the summertime.  Well, it’s summertime where I live, in Durham, North Carolina, USA, but in South America, it’s winter.

The seasons are flipped.

In North America in August it’s the middle of summer, in South America, the middle of winter.

My birthday is in August and I always thought it would be cool to snow ski in August in South America.

Not only that, but once I moved to Lake Tahoe, in California, I caught the wine bug.  I’ve traveled the vineyards and worked in the wine business for 10 years.

So a exotic land with huge Andes mountain, the opposite seasons, and lots of vineyards in Chile and Argentina, that a powerful recipe for me.

My 40th Birthday

I’m very close with my Mom’s brother.  He’s always been the favorite Uncle.  Uncle Rob.  Uncle Rob was the first person to visit me when I moved to Lake Tahoe after college, when I didn’t know anyone east of the Mississippi.

Uncle Rob came out to ski and he brought his old friend and business partner Jim Allen, the founder and winemaker of Sequoia Grove vineyards in Rutherford, Napa Valley, California.  Uncle Rob and Jim Allen introduced me to Napa Cab, and I got hooked and that changed the entire trajectory of my life.

Anyway, Uncle Rob asked me what I was going to do for my 40th birthday.  He asked if I wanted to travel anywhere.  He said he’d buy me a plane ticket.

I told him how I always wanted to go to South America to go snow skiing.  I had dreams of skiing powder on my birthday, August 4th.

Uncle Rob offered to buy my plane ticket.

I thought, holy shit!  This might actually happen.  It’s hard to think something is really going to happen, when you’ve been thinking about it for 25 years or so, and not thinking it was very realistic.

That was sometime early in 2019 and even though I thought I had a chance to go down to South America, I put it in the back of my mind and just went about my business.

Then the summer came.

I started to think more about what I was going to do for my birthday.  Next thing I knew it was July.  I tried to reach my Uncle and ask if he was going to be able to buy my ticket.  If he wasn’t, I’d probably just go to the beach in North Carolina for a few days.

Problem was Uncle Robert was traveling to England.  He went to watch the Wimbledon tennis tournament.  I couldn’t get a hold of him while he was over there.  I finally spoke to Uncle Rob when he got back. My birthday was only a couple weeks away.

He said it’s amazing how much champagne the spectators drink at Wimbledon.  Apparently you can walk in with your own champagne bottles.  He said you can hear the spectators popping corks right there inside the stadium.  And he said he was going to buy the plane ticket to Santiago, Chile.

My plane ticket was for a departure to Santiago de Chile on August 22nd.

Holy shit, I thought, I’m actually going.

Then I flew out to the middle of nowhere to my sister’s house on the Fall River in south eastern Idaho and hung out with her family for a week.

While I was in Idaho, I needed to start planning my Chile trip.  I’d never been of the North American continent.  I’m not a savvy international traveler.  I don’t speak Spanish.  And I hadn’t done any research on Chile. And I was going solo.

I knew the Andes where there and they have a lot of vineyards.

One of the most interesting facts I learned is, even though Chile is on the west coast of South America, Santiago, and I’m guessing most if not all of the country, is in the same time zone as the East Coast of the US.  I live on the east coast in Durham, North Carolina.  So that meant no jet lag.

Growing up reading ski magazines, I’d hear about this ski resort in Chile called Portillo.  It’s the most famous ski resort in Chile and it has a large yellow hotel that is surrounded by tall mountains.

I figured I’d go there.  It turns out Portillo is expensive.  But they have these 2 lodges, next to the main hotel, that have shared rooms, that are much cheaper than getting a regular room in the main hotel.

I figured I’d stay in the cheap lodge.  I didn’t care about luxury bullshit.  I wanted to ski big mountains and steep terrain.

Portillo is also great in terms of logistics.  The hotel is only 1.5-2 hour bus ride out of Santiago.  They even have a bus that can pick you up at the airport.

So it seemed pretty easy.  Fly to Santiago, pick up the bus to the hotel.  Ski for the week, take hotel bus back to Santiago and fly home.

Just one problem.

Portillo didn’t have any snow.  It was mid-August, which as far as I can tell is equal to February in North America.  The Andes were experiencing a drought and Portillo had 2 runs open.

This is famous Portillo.  In August famous world class skiers come to Portillo and hold steep ski camps.  But this year they didn’t have snow and many of those skiers cancelled their trips.

I confirmed this by searching on social media, and particularly Instagram, for photos of Portillo.  Yup they didn’t have snow.

And that’s a Pro Tip.  If you want to know current weather conditions for somewhere, do some searches on social media, and you’ll get a pretty good idea.

No Snow In The Andes

What the fuck?

I didn’t know what to do.  I’ve spent a lot of time in the mountains.  I understand droughts and low snow years.  Timing is huge and you just can’t plan perfect weather.

My main goal for traveling to South America and Chile in the summer was to go snow skiing.  I’m sure it would have been nice to tour Chile and do sightseeing, but that’s not the cool shit I’ve dreamed about since I was a kid.

I dream about adventure and skiing big mountains.

I reached out to my childhood friend Adam.  Adam lived in South America after college and has traveled the continent extensively.  Adam put me in touch with his friend, Ian who runs a snowboard tour company in Chile.

I got super lucky with Adam making that connection.  Ian turned out to be a great source of information.  When I told him my situation, he said to go south to Nevados de Chillan or El Coralco.

The southern Andes had snow.

That’s where I’d have to go, to the snow.  Problem was I didn’t know anything about how to operate on my own in Chile.

Planning Transportation in Chile

Nevados de Chillan is a 6 hour drive south of Santiago.  The mountain doesn’t have it’s own convenient bus that will pick me up at the airport in Santiago.

So I started research how to get down there.  It wasn’t easy because most of the websites for things like buses and trains and hotels were in Spanish, and I don’t speak Spanish.

My family was a bit concerned about me going on a solo ski trip to Chile because I didn’t do any planning, I hadn’t traveled much internationally, I was going solo, I didn’t speak Spanish, and I was going skiing.

The skiing part was hard on my Mom and my sister due to my previous experience dying in an avalanche in the Sierra Nevada.  I’m a very conservative guy when I’m traveling in the mountains, and that avalanche was a rare occurrence, but it did happen, so I can understand that my Mom and sister would be unreasonably worried about this.

I decided that I’d go to the ski resort Nevados de Chillan.  It had snow and it looked big.

Now that I’d made that decision, I had to figure out how to get down there.

There were 3 options to get to the mountain from Santiago, which was 6-8 hours of travel away.  I could fly into Concepcion and take a private transport to the mountain, which was 2.5 hour drive from Concepcion.  Or I could take a bus to Chillan, and then another hour long bus ride to the mountain.  Or I could take a train to Chillan, and then another hour long bus ride to the mountain.

The plane was out because I wouldn’t see Chile, it was super expensive, and it seemed like it would not save any time.  So what was the point?  No plane.

I wanted to take the train because I thought I’d see the country and I like trains.  The problem with the train was, it only had 2 trips to Chillan the day I was arriving. One in the morning, which I wasn’t going to make in time, another at 5:30 pm, which required me to wait around Santiago all day.

So I went with the bus option.  Chile has a bus culture.  Chile is the longest nation in the world and to move folks around in a reasonably priced manner, a bus industry developed.  Once I landed at the airport in Santiago, I’d need to get myself to the Terminal Alameda Santiago.  At the bus terminal there are many different bus companies and lots of routes, every day, down to Chillan.

There were so many options, that I didn’t even try to buy a ticket ahead of time.  I’d just arrive at the terminal and pick the bus that was leaving the soonest.

Once I got to Chillan, there was another bus that would take me to the ski mountain.

I’d also decided to stay at the Hotel Nevados, which is at the bottom of the ski resort.  The stay included the room, 3 meals a day, and lift tickets.  It was the expensive option, but the easiest one considering I wasn’t renting a car and had limited options due to mobility.

Catching a Plane to Santiago

I got confirmation of the hotel stay a few hours before I was headed to the Raleigh Durham airport.

I was at the airport with 3 pieces of luggage.  My ski bag, my ski boots, and my large red ski/climbing backpack.

Ski gear for Chile

I would learn very quickly, that traveling with my large 195 centimeter long ski bag, in a country where I didn’t have a car and didn’t speak the language, would be a huge pain in the ass.

I was surprised that American Airlines didn’t charge me for checking my ski bag.  I thought it was a mistake, because when I fly in the states, I always have to pay for checking my luggage.

The airlines make a lot of money charging for this.

I later found out, on international flights to many South American countries on American Airlines, you get to check 2 bags for free.  I recommend checking with the airline before you fly to see what the checked bag policy is.

I didn’t check my ski boot bag because you never check your ski boots going to a ski destination.  If you ski boots get lost, you are screwed.  Boots are the most important part of your gear.  You can rent skis, but you can’t rent custom fitted ski boots. Never check them on the way to your destination.

I did check the boots on the way back home, which was nice.

My Uncle Was Sick

While I was waiting to board the plain in RDU, I called my Uncle to say Thanks for the plane ticket again.  He didn’t answer so I left a voice message.

My Aunt called me shortly after.  Aunt Carmen said that Uncle Rob had just had open heart surgery the week before and he was in the hospital recovering.  He didn’t tell me because he didn’t want me to cancel my trip.

He didn’t tell anyone about his surgery and he wouldn’t let anyone see him, except my Aunt, in the hospital.  He’s a very private guy.

My Aunt told me not to worry and that my Uncle wanted me to have fun.

I started getting nervous.

It was a short flight from RDU to Miami.

Once in Miami, I found out that the flight was delayed.  It was supposed to leave at 10:30 pm, instead it would leave at 11:30pm.

I tried to get a little bit of work done on the computer while I waited.

Finally the plane arrived and we got boarded.  I am impressed with these big ass planes that do the longer flights.  This thing was huge and decently comfortable.  I didn’t have one of the nice seats, just one in the main cabin, but I was comfortable enough.

The flight took 7 hours to Santiago.

I was sitting next to this nice woman from the States that spoke English and Spanish.  Since the flight was a redeye flight, after they served dinner all the lights went out.

The woman I was sitting next to offered me a melatonin pill to help me sleep.  I usually don’t like to take any pills, especially to help sleep.  But melatonin is pretty benign.  Your body naturally makes melatonin to help you sleep.  It’s not a hard core drug like Ambien.

So I took her up on the offer.  The melatonin started working quickly.  And it worked.  I passed out for 4-5 hours of the flight.

I actually liked it.  I recommend trying a melatonin if you are on a redeye flight.  It worked so well that I decided to take a melatonin on the flight back home to the states.

When we landed in Santiago, I thought, “Oh shit, here we go.”

I got of the plane and saw a bathroom.  I went in and washed off a bit.

Then I looked around and couldn’t figure out where the customs office to check my passport was.

It sucks not being able to read or speak Spanish, in a Spanish speaking country.

The End…..

Definitely not the end of the story, but 2,300 words, this is long for a blog post.  So I’ll break this up into 2 parts.