Embrace the Elements: Chile Explorado

Words: Nick Russell
Photos: Andrew Miller

Optimism and acceptance are two valuable attitudes to have while traveling. With that mentality, every trip is a success as soon as you book your ticket.

Earlier this summer, I got the invite from Jeremy Jones to join him and Forrest Shearer on a trip down to Chile. The main purpose of the trip was to test out a freshly manufactured batch of Jones snowboards. Construction and performance are two qualities in a board that are not to be taken lightly, especially when used by Dr. Jones. He is constantly fine-tuning and improving on all of the current technologies available. As a samurai is one with his sword, a trustworthy connection to your snowboard is imperative. Aside from the field test, another goal of the trip for Jeremy was to shoot his video part for the new 32 movie, 2032. If anyone can put together a segment just a few weeks from the production deadline, it’s him.

Due to an unfortunate illness this past year, I had spent the majority of the winter in a hospital bed. A rare liver infection with an unknown cause struck me in early January with a powerful force. Sitting most of the season out on the sidelines, sights were set early on to go to South America when I recovered. The following is my take on a virgin excursion to the Andes. Fruition at it’s finest.

For me, the appeal of foot-powered freeriding is grand. Relying on your own strength to get you up mountains where no one else has been is profoundly rewarding. Jeremy and Forrest are two guys who have led the charge over the last decade to show the world the benefits of splitboarding, it was an honor to accompany them on a mid summer exploration for fresh tracks.

Also joining us was renowned surfboard shaper, Chris Christensen. Pointbreaks to powder is the thread that keeps people like Chris tied to Chile. The connection to surf and snow makes the Southern hemisphere a dream destination. Before we had arrived, Chris had already spent two weeks on the coast catching waves. On an empty stretch of highway on the drive from Punta de Lobos to Santiago, he was stopped by an impromptu shake down from alleged policemen. They took the emigration stub from his passport, a necessary document for foreigners when they leave the country. After taking care of business at the airport, he was just as hyped to get into the mountains as we were.

To capture the static moments, Andrew Miller was behind the lens. I’ve known Andrew for a long time, as I used to live at his house in Utah. He was one of the guys that first got me into splitboarding, something I will be forever thankful for. I’ve learned a great deal from Andrew over the years and it has been really cool to see him get the recognition he deserves. We haven’t gotten the chance to shoot much together over the last couple seasons, this reunion in the hills was long overdue.

Documenting the motion was Nick “Ninja” Kaliz. Quiet and collected, Ninja swiftly moves through the mountains with an absurdly heavy pack into the angles of his calculated shots. There are few in the world that can keep up with that crew due to all the various logistics, so one can be sure that those who can have a very special skill. Both Ninja and Andrew are true professionals and it was a pleasure to shoot with them.

It is known that conditions in the Andes can be quite fickle. The further south you go, the deeper you get into the heart of the extreme weather patterns of Patagonia. Roughly six hours south of Santiago is Nevados de Chillan, a world-class resort that we called home for the duration of the trip. Reminiscent of the fluctuating snow levels in the Northwest US, we arrived past midnight in a downpour. The forecast was calling for a big storm. Hopeful that the sounds of intense rain would slowly quiet down and transition to gentle snowflakes, the excitement was uncontainable. To our dismay, the first view from the room to the parking lot was not a Christmas morning white, but a sea of brown. As we ate breakfast, I couldn’t help but stare out the window at the precipitation falling from the sky. “If you look at it right, it kind of looks like snow,” Jones says with his Tahoe snowfall interpretation. He was right. The transformation was happening.

From a shooting standpoint, the first two weeks were tough. It was soon made clear that we were going to have to work hard to get shots. Andrew and Ninja had to be selective of when to bust the cameras out in the wet and windy conditions. Gale force winds were constantly shutting down the lifts. At night it sounded like the windows of my room were going to blow out. Yet after traveling 6,000 miles to the bottom of the world to find winter, we gave it our all. When Chile hands you lemons, you make pisco sours.

When the weather was too heavy to open the chairs, we had our own private foot accessed resort. Nevados de Chillan is one of the few places in South America with tree riding. This provided us with safer route options in the dumping white outs. The collective skills and knowledge of the crew made each session in the field a tactical strike. Embracing the elements, shots were lined up as per Mother Nature’s intentions.

Surfing inspires the type of riding that we do. From seeking out windlips and rollers on the mountain to the new board shapes that Chris has designed, it was only natural to take a couple days to explore the Chilean coast. The beauty of the landscape is overpowering. The lack of concrete commercialism and neon lights has left this part of the world untainted. It is the land before time. Forrest and Jones’ roots in surfing shined as they paddled out into the powerful Pacific currents. Along with a local legend by the name of Coco, the goofy footers took turns ripping the lefts and entering the elusive tube. The lineup is composed of a small community that shares a strong love for their home break. Initially weary of gringo visitors with cameras, we soon connected with the common passion for standing sideways. Coco graciously accommodated us at his farmhouse less than a kilometer from the beach. Family values are a staple in Chile, as a typical household has several generations living under the same roof. His mother and sister-in-law kept us full with some of the best food we had ever had in our lives. A BBQ with the local crew was the perfect cap to our long weekend, sharing cervesas and jamming into the wee hours of the night. Batteries recharged, it was time to head back into the mountains for more.

From a riding perspective, the trip was already all-time. We rode resort accessed pow every single day, making the most of each run. New boards were put through the ringer. Each night, the thermal hot springs and a polar plunge provided the perfect remedy for aching muscles. Even though we had captured a handful of picturesque moments, we were hopeful for a calm clearing to allow us to get a little deeper into the mountains and into our tents.

There was a lot riding on a small sunny weather window that was constantly evading us. As the crew’s return date approached, the forecast looked promising for a camping mission. Flights extended and packs loaded up, we ventured out in the morning darkness to an untouched zone. Fresh snow, cold temps and no wind, our patience had finally paid off.

I struggle to find the words to describe the surreal emotions felt those last few days. Here I am, a kid from the east coast, four months recovered from a near death illness and now riding lines in perfect conditions in Chile with two of the greats. At the bottom of each run, I would stare at our tracks and just laugh.

Muchos gracias to Goni, Nico, Rodrigo, Ruben, Coco and the entire crew at Nevados de Chillan for the hospitality. Bacan!

Viva Chile!