By James Jofre

It’s mid August and there’s no snow in North America. In theory, Argentina should be the place to be, but due to the lack of snow there were no face shots to be had. The go-ahead for the trip was given anyway, setting the stage for this story: three riders snowboarding far from home, a filmer, a photographer, and yours truly, the guide.

Buenos Aires, The Hot Spot
The crew flew into Buenos Aires. Jason McAlister, Josh Dirksen, and Chris Engelsman, photo-dude Kevin Zacher, and filmer Jess Gibson were eager to shred some good pow at the Las Leñas and Chapelco ski resorts. After a quick bit of sleep, it was time to go party. The group visited the Buenos Aires News Disco and Rivera Este Bar the first night. The scene included Chris sporting a blonde bush-like ‘do, Jason with his gringo giveaway blue eyes, Josh-who could’ve easily been mistaken for Argentinean until the first “hola” spurted from his mouth, Kevin towering above us all at six foot two, and Jess looking like the sixth member of the Backstreet Boys. Surely no one would trust a crew who looked like this. Well, that’s what I assumed until I strolled out onto the patio and saw fifteen girls trying to come on to them.

Las Leñas, The Manager’s Revenge Backfires
Eager to shower and eat some food, we walked into The Aries Hotel. The receptionist smiled at me knowingly before she started to talk. Remember last year’s “South America Disco Inferno,” TWS March 2000 issue? The Argentinean culture is complex, composed of European emotion, American drive, and a deep passion for their own patriotism. The hotel manager was very upset last year after hearing Brian Savard’s wallet and other personal belongings had vanished without a trace, and that the incident would be published as part of the story. This year we were greeted by the very same manager! He recognized us right away and within seconds we had no reservations. Apparently the hotel had been overbooked.

It was 11:00 p.m. and we needed a place to crash. Finally, Juan from the Acuario Hotel came to the rescue. This was an omen: the snow gods had meant for us to stay at the Acuario in the first place-the lifts are a two-minute walk from the hotel door and the disco is only a two-minute crawl in the other direction. We woke up in Las Leñas to a couple inches of new snow and headed for the hills thinking about Alejandra, the receptionist. Her smile alone was enough to make us want to return next season, only to be one of the 1,000 broken hearts who step through the doors of the Hotel Acuario!

Where’s the snow at?
Our first destination was the top of Marte’s Chair, one of the scariest chairs you could ever ride. Much to our disappointment, the snow that had fallen the night before was not enough to land those 45-foot cornices we’d been scoping from the hotel rooms. Instead we scouted around and headed to the other side of the Marte area, famous for its steep chutes. Las Leñas always gets dry powder snow. The base alone is above 6,500 feet. For the 2000 season, avalanches were a big problem, turning the backcountry into an even more hazardous zone-each tower of the Marte chairlift is protected by massive 70,000-pound concrete and steel avalanche breakers. This made going out back a bit questionable! At Las Leñas resort you must sign a liability release in order to be able to venture into these areas. Finally, we found some steep terrain with good windlips and drops for our first warm-up run. Chris had noticed a few handrails close to the hotel that we wanted to hit. They became our only option after we realized there wasn’t enough new snow for any good landings. Kevin and Jess muttered about where the hell all the snow I’d promised them was.

Patagonia, San Martín de los Andes, Finally In Heaven
San Martín de los Andes is a village twelve miles from the Chapelco resort. This area of Argentina is spectacular-green rolling hills, Lakar Lake beside the vilge, Swiss-style chalets, and massive snowcapped peaks in the background. San Martín de los Andes is widely regarded as the “Adventure Tourism” capital of Argentina. In the summer, activities range from whitewater rafting to mountain biking. In the winter, what we hoped to find was epic snow, clear skies, good terrain, and a resort to ourselves.We checked into Patagonia Plaza Hotel-complete with an indoor heated pool and a huge fireplace in the lobby-but best of all, each bedroom had its own Jacuzzi. Oh boy, we were really roughing it now.

Chapelco, A Matter Of Scale
I got the report from the mountain-snowing hard. We had a 25-minute drive from San Martín de los Andes to Chapelco Mountain. The wait felt agonizing. Kevin and Jess still wondered if this time there would actually be snow. Several inches of fresh lay over a firm baseError! Bookmark not defined.-it was all good. At least that’s what we thought until we got to the lodge. We couldn’t see a damn thing-whiteout conditions. This may have deterred the average snowboarder, but not these guys. What they saw before them was a huge forest of lengas (an indigenous tree of the Argentinean Patagonia); Chapelco has a lot of these trees. It’s a great place to ride with plenty of space and practically no other souls for miles!

The quad chair drops you at the summit where huge bowls open up on the opposite side of the mountains, offering a backcountry-like experience right off the lift. Chapelco is a good-size resort with great terrain. It’s a jibber’s paradise with natural windlips and a mixture of many open powder bowls. We got off the chair and headed for the forest. Kevin and Jess’ quest for powder was over. We were finally shredding in Argentina, face shots, taking speed runs, and having lots of fun. Soon we’d forgotten the purpose of the trip-filming and shooting seemed boring. This run had a boadercross feel to it-hang on or fall off. Jess wore his heavy filming backpack, yet he still managed to leave the rest of us behind, eating his dust.

We scoped a good log and Kevin stopped. He had something in mind and the shovels came out. We built a jump for the takeoff and Jason wowed 30 or so local riders who were watching the filming. The Chapelco kids got involved and started helping us out by keeping the landing area clear of any unexpected newcomers to the scene. After the shooting was finished, they asked us if they could hit the log. Yuyo, a local instructor, busted out a backflip, and Kevin’s camera came back out for some local snaps. These guys ruled. By about 5:00 p.m., and the lifts were already closed. We started heading toward the base lodge, about 30 riders deep, cruising down empty runs. It was still snowing as we left the mountain, and more snow was expected throughout the next few days. We crossed our fingers.

White Glory
The following day, ten inches of fresh snow had fallen overnight, and still it dumped, adding to the fifteen inches from the last dump-just enough to make it epic. We spent the day dropping into what would normally be groomed runs and found untracked freshies. Again the hill was not crowded. Days like this are what make our friends at home very jealous. Not only did we get to ride powder, but we also found exactly what we were looking for-a nice roll with a fresh landing. A kicker was built in a matter of minutes.In order to build a five-foot-wide kicker to powder heaven in “Pradera del Puma,” the happening spot of Chapelco Mountain, all you need is good snow coverage, some helpful shovelers, and the sun. After an hour of hard work the kicker was finished and the crew began to grow.

Jorge Belardi, an Argentinean Burton rider, sessioned with us and turned out to be a very nice, quiet guy. He didn’t understand the meaning of the words “slow down” and got bigger air than anyone else. Belardi also pulled switch 360 tailgrabs with some very smooth landings. The 75-foot landing area was plenty for the 720 backside rodeos Jason kept throwing, one after another, all of which he’d mastered to the point that it made us all feel sick with jealousy. Chris showcased perfect switch 540s and switch backside 720s. Josh also had an amazing time while launching clean frontside 540 tailgrabs. Error! Bookmark not defined.We had accomplished everything we’d set out to do on the trip-Kevin and Jess no longer wondered about missing snow!

Snow in Argentina exists and definitely quenched our thirst for good riding during the Northern Hemisphere’s summertime. Unfortunately, we had to leave Chapelco, and officially ended our search for the Holy Grail. We’d found it, conquered it, but we couldn’t take it home-just the memories of the good times!

We would like to say thanks to the staff at Chapelco Resort, who treated us like old friends. I highly recommend visiting Chapelco, where you will find an organized, clean, friendly mountain with good snow and terrain.

Special thanks to: SouthernE.com for the travel setup with helpful tips from Andy a.k.a. Yolanda, Scott, and David. In Buenos Aires, Holiday Inn Express, Puerto Madero: reserva@holiday.com.ar. In Las Leñas, Acuario and Piscis Hotel. Christian from Knowledge Productions for the Ballantine’s Open. In San Martín de los Andes and Chapelco, Patagonia Plaza Hotel: patagoniaplaza@smandes.com.ar. Communication at the base of Chapelco provided by Telefonica/Unifon. Chapelco Resort: www.chapelco.com.ar. Aerolineas Argentinas: www.aeroargentinas.com. Or for more info on Argentina, check with the Secretary of Tourism on the Web at www.sectur.gov.ar.

Translated and edited by Whistlerite Jorge Alvarez from the famous Maxx Fish Nightclub and the infamous Toadhall Studios, and by Nicola Morris, British expatriate and Whistlerite wanna-be. Thank you very much, Jorge.eos Jason kept throwing, one after another, all of which he’d mastered to the point that it made us all feel sick with jealousy. Chris showcased perfect switch 540s and switch backside 720s. Josh also had an amazing time while launching clean frontside 540 tailgrabs. Error! Bookmark not defined.We had accomplished everything we’d set out to do on the trip-Kevin and Jess no longer wondered about missing snow!

Snow in Argentina exists and definitely quenched our thirst for good riding during the Northern Hemisphere’s summertime. Unfortunately, we had to leave Chapelco, and officially ended our search for the Holy Grail. We’d found it, conquered it, but we couldn’t take it home-just the memories of the good times!

We would like to say thanks to the staff at Chapelco Resort, who treated us like old friends. I highly recommend visiting Chapelco, where you will find an organized, clean, friendly mountain with good snow and terrain.

Special thanks to: SouthernE.com for the travel setup with helpful tips from Andy a.k.a. Yolanda, Scott, and David. In Buenos Aires, Holiday Inn Express, Puerto Madero: reserva@holiday.com.ar. In Las Leñas, Acuario and Piscis Hotel. Christian from Knowledge Productions for the Ballantine’s Open. In San Martín de los Andes and Chapelco, Patagonia Plaza Hotel: patagoniaplaza@smandes.com.ar. Communication at the base of Chapelco provided by Telefonica/Unifon. Chapelco Resort: www.chapelco.com.ar. Aerolineas Argentinas: www.aeroargentinas.com. Or for more info on Argentina, check with the Secretary of Tourism on the Web at www.sectur.gov.ar.

Translated and edited by Whistlerite Jorge Alvarez from the famous Maxx Fish Nightclub and the infamous Toadhall Studios, and by Nicola Morris, British expatriate and Whistlerite wanna-be. Thank you very much, Jorge.