The Andes Backcountry: How Far will You Go?

Most Northern Hemisphere skiers suffering from the summer blues have dreams of making turns that go beyond the average ski resort. Intrepid backcountry skiers come to the Andes in July to conquer the endless white expanses outside of the lift lines or those lonely places resort maps call “fuera de pista”.

The skier’s rule of thumb in the Andes: If you are willing to hike an extra 20-30 minutes through the snow along rocky ridges, you’ll probably be the only person on the mountain. If you are willing to hike an extra 1-2 hours, you will definitely be alone.

Luckily, the ski resorts outside of Santiago offer a plethora of steep and deep chutes all within reach with a bit of effort. Whether you skin up or bootpack it, gnarly Andean backcountry is waiting on the other side of the mountain.

Portillo’s Super Chute

Most Endless Winter seekers will eventually ride Portillo, two hours north of Santiago. On both sides of the valley, rocky terrain demands expert skills, but there is one particular chute famous for both its steep pitch as well as its lengthiness: The Super C.

The approach heads straight up the mountain from the Roca Jack ski lift and is generally too steep and icy for turning back. Returning to the lift is not an option. Browsing YouTube videos reveals the chute’s popularity, but also its complex approach. The steep hour hike crosses a near vertical face dubbed by some, the “death step.” Taking sure steps is crucial to reaching the mouth of the Super C.  The Super C is quite an undertaking and will add plenty of black diamonds to your sleeve.

Once skiers gain the top of the chute, the south facing Super C is protected by deep canyon walls cutting towards the canyon road. Inside the chute, snow is usually soft and plentiful, especially following a storm. Skiers should enjoy the view from the top, and greet the highest mountain in the Andes, Aconcagua, from afar.

Next, let yourself go and allow gravity to take you down the Super C. By the end of the tour, skiers can connect to Portillo’s famous lift that traverses the international highway from Chile to Argentina. Ride the lift back to the hotel for a soak in the outdoor jacuzzi, even if you’re not staying in the hotel.

Freeriding La Parva Backcountry

Of Santiago’s three ski resorts, La Parva offers some of the steepest and most varied terrain. While Valle Nevado and Colorado both have their off piste territory, La Parva’s chutes are easily accessed, and simply exquisite.

Site of a freeride competition in 2009, the terrain is slowly making headlines in the world ski community. Approaching the resort on the windy road from Farellones ski town, riders can spot a cliff band north of the lodge with an obvious chute. The Chimney is but one of many options for steep freeriding in La Parva’s labyrinthine backcountry.

Access to the chutes begins from the top of Águilas ski lift. Skiers can hike or skin up the obvious slope on the west side of the lift house. Gaining the ridge, options are endless. Here skiers can continue upwards and hike the peak above the resort known as the Falsa Parva, or continue to Parva peak (3900m), also offering steep, untouched pitches.

One of the lesser ridden backcountry tours connects Falsa Parva to Camino Farellones Curve 17, far below the ski resorts. The tour is estimated at 17 kilometers and takes skiers over endless expanses of snow, varying in type and quality. It’s best to go with someone who knows the way, but from the top of Falsa Parva, skiers can see a grove of trees at the end of an obvious ridge below the town of Farellones. This tour usually takes skiers to the limit of the snow, depending on the season. Curva diecesiete, as it’s known among locals, is a great way to end the day.

Skiers should be aware that avalanches in the Andes are regular. Skiers should consult ski patrol before hiking, and common sense should always be used when approaching a steep mountainside. Beacons, helmets and other backcountry gear is essential in the Andean backcountry. Happy Turns!

Also published here: The Extreme Side: Skiing Santiago’s Backcountry