by Dan Caruso. Photos: Fredfoto (October 30, 1997) “You should have been here two weeks ago,” was my response to the competitors who asked about the snow conditions at Valle Las Lenas, Argentina prior to the South American Extreme Contest. Just ten days before, the few gringos had enjoyed one of the finest powder days ever. But since then, conditions had changed drastically.
The most influential factor here in the rocky, treeless Andes is the wind. Gusts of more than 60 mph continually scour the steep slopes of Las Lenas. ‘Placa’ is the term they use to describe wind-affected snow. Some aspects become soft and buffed like a white pool table while others get harder and scarier than a woodpecker’s lips.
The key to maintaining control while still riding fluidly (which, of course, is the how one scores highly in an extreme contest) seems to be reading the patterns in the ‘placa’. For example, a rider comes off an air, accelerating after sticking the landing and looks for a spot to throw a turn and scrub some speed. If the rider sets his edge into soft windbuff, then he’ll leave a rooster tail and ride off in style; but if he tries to arc one on the white ice, then he’ll spin out, lose control, and be out of the running.
Day one of the SA Extremes took place on a run named Las Vegas, on September 15,1997. Accessed by a short traverse from the Marte chairlift, Las Vegas drops about 2200 vertical feet at an average pitch of 40 degrees. Initially, the consensus was that the venue was neither steep, nor rad enough for the contest. On closer inspection some seriously exposed lines were scoped.
>Jason Troth of Crested Butte, Colorado, lead the field after day one with 55.25 points, earned by riding smooth and fast, taking a dangerous line and sticking his mandatory air. Gareth Van Dyke (no relation to Dick), also from Crested Butte, scored 53.5 and had the line of the day as he sneaked into an 80 foot straight shot and came carving out, exposing himself to an ominous 600 foot cliff below. Dan Coffey, of Girdwood, AK, took third and Serge Cornillat, of Chamonix, France, finished fourth.
After a weather day caused by the nukin’ 70 mph winds, day two began under sunny, calm skies on the mother of all lift-accessed terrain: a 5000 foot face known as Eduardo’s. North-facing terrain in South America is the same as South-facing terrain in North America; getting sun all day in the springtime, and getting frozen in the morning and mushed out by the afternoon. Eduardo’s faces North and the starting order on day was critical for snow quality. Early bibs got firm, re-frozen wind-slab conditions, and late bibs get sloppy, wet conditions. Those in the middle-of-the-pack bib got carvable spring corn.
Ken Perkins, another entrant from Crested Butte, earned the highest score on day two with a long, smooth run which included a huge cornice drop and many clean cliff jumps. Serge the Frenchman, who has ridden Las Lenas everyday for the past few summers, took the line of the day and came in a close second. But it’s Gareth who scored well enough to gain the overall lead after two days of competition.
Sans Nome (French for ‘without a name’ or ‘no name’) is the venue for day three of the SA Extremes. This steep cirque is about a 20 minute traverse from the ski area boundary and proved to be idea terrain for extreme freeriding. Serge’s knowledge experience in this area paid off as he ripped the line of the day and scored 58.7. Olivier Ferreyrolles, another Frenchman riding out of Verbier, scored well on day three, with 57.6. But it wasn’t enough to earn him a spot on the podium.
With the competition behind us, another week of freeriding the epic terrain of the Andes and boogying down until 6 am awaited. There is a cure for the summertime blues, and it’s all about snowboarding in South America in September.