Words: Justin Cafiero
Photos: Jeff Brockmeyer
Killing time in the airport parking lot, Ozzy Henning cracks a massive ollie over a concrete divider. Brady Lem and our photographer, Jeff Brockmeyer, are figuring out how their bags ended up in Chicago when we connected through Houston. Victor Daviet is handling business, acting as the translator of the group, working out the details of our ride up to Valle Nevado, where we plan to meet up with local legend and snowboarding powerhouse Manuel Diaz. It may sound like the trip was off to a rough start, but that's relative. Things can always be worse. Our filmer, Colin D. Watt, could have been charged $6,000 for taking a snooze in an empty business class seat on the flight over, but he wasn't. You've got to think positive.
Valle Nevado resort is nestled atop 55 switchback turns, 9,000 feet above sea level in the Tres Valles region of the Chilean Andes. To say it's a well-known snowboarding destination would be a vast understatement; an almost innumerable amount of video parts and catalog shoots have taken place here. It's one giant playground, full of natural features—windlips, cornices, gullies, and more. Plus, it's got direct access to some of the best heliboarding zones in South America. Upon conquering the treacherous access road, snow begins to fall, blanketing the area with fresh powder, ripe for ripping. We crash hard, tired from traveling, with anticipation for the upcoming pow day.
The resort has everything you need, which is definitely a good thing—you don't want to drive that road every day. Each morning starts with a mission to the hefty breakfast buffet; we're boning up on our Spanish in the process, which the locals appreciate. After we raid the panini station, we're set for lunch, too. Now the hard part: deciding where to head first. Everyone has ideas. Luckily we've got a local to show us around. We meet up with Manuel, gear up, and head out. After ripping down to what quickly becomes our favorite lift of the trip, the Candonga Poma, we begin to poke around the mountain. Manny's got windlips on the brain, and it's obvious why: This place delivers in spades. Almost every hit we come to has a story.
This place is seriously fun, with accessible terrain features everywhere you look. The crew is getting their legs warmed up on Diablada, which can easily be hot-lapped via surface lift. We end up staying for a few hours, getting barreled and finding natural hips. But Manny is stoked to show us more of the mountain, so we head off to the Tres Puntas lift. This Poma quickly rallies us to 12,000 feet, boasting access to steeper terrain, incredible views of the resort, and even the city of Santiago on this particularly clear day. We opt to stick to some fun cornices—the type that dot the landscape of Valle Nevado. Manuel is charging, flipping and spinning off everything with an endless amount of energy. Victor and Ozzy are doubling up, linking turns and slashes together.
"Man, Bobby [Meeks] is going to be bummed," Brady says, laughing. Thanks to the baggage snafu we encountered yesterday, he's rocking a US Ski Team jacket and brand-new, incredibly stiff boots. But he's thankful for the rental shop—they really hooked him up. The lost luggage miraculously shows up a couple days later. His feet and his sponsors are hyped.
After a full day ripping above 10,000 feet, the crew is beat. But a hot tub provides a glimmering beacon of hope. It's snowing again at this point, and the crew is decked out in robes, so we make a break for it. A couple cannonball entries and spilled beverages later, we're soaking hard, making friends with some locals. We even meet a few other snowboarders from the US. At this moment in time, D. Watt points out that the hot tub is round, the perfect shape for some whirlpool action. We convince most of the tub's occupants to participate. The wallflowers are soon sucked into the fray, as the entire crew is now running in a clockwise direction, creating a powerful hot tub vortex. Some are stoked. Others, not so much.
The next few days are filled with similar scenes. Relentlessly ripping powder laps until the run is tracked into oblivion. Hot tub sessions and sneaky beers with the locals. Breakfast buffet raids, which keep us fueled until our dinner reservations in the evenings. Pisco sours and après. An immeasurable amount of times up and down the Candonga. Running the humidifiers in our rooms all day every day to battle the effects of the elevation. Wine tastings in the evenings. Late-night missions to the Tres Puntas bar for more piscolas and beers. Repeat. It's a good way to spend a week.
Now that the pow's gone, we set our sights on the park. Freshly groomed takeoffs and landings match the perfect weather. The park is laid out with two lanes—one with a few warm-up rails and a rainbow box, leading into a large jump line, and another with more creative rail features, a mellow wallride, and a smaller jump line. The crew immediately gravitates to the bigger jumps. While warming up, Ozzy sends a smooth line with Brady on follow-cam duty. It's rad to watch Victor and Manuel rip the park as well. Seeing these dudes—better known for pointing gnarly Alaskan spines—so comfortable in a park reminds you why they get paid to snowboard. Manuel is throwing huge, poked-out front threes, while Victor is tweaking crails off the knuckles.
Somewhere between the park in the afternoon and the bar that night, it becomes apparent: This place can't be beat. Track down a copy of Follow Me Around to see what's possible at Valle Nevado. The terrain is top notch, the locals friendly, the food distinctive, and the culture unique. Though Chile may seem out of reach without a dedicated travel budget, it's worth a bit of planning and saving to make it happen. Valle Nevado is the type of place you can spend one week or an entire winter. Once you figure out a ticket, the only question is how much time you've got.