Words: 686 Women's Program Manager, Mary Walsh
Summer is in full swing in July: hot days spent surfing, evenings grilling and chilling with friends, weekend camping trips, hikes on forested trails. The sunny season has plenty to love about it, but even when enjoying all the spoils of summertime, we still daydream of fresh snow and all-day resort laps. In pursuit of the best of both worlds, Beyond the Boundaries Women’s Snowboard Camp partners with Steep-N-Deep Powder Tours every year on a summer snowboarding adventure in Chile.
The week-long trip has been a staple in the BTBounds calendar for the past four years, offering a unique dip into winter in the middle of July. Even in the midst of winter, Chile’s climate is moderate. In Santiago, Chile’s capital and the first stop on a shred mission to the county, it’s normal to walk around in a t-shirt or light long sleeve while the mountains that line the perimeter of the city are blanketed in snow. Go a little further to the coast and wintertime surfing requires only a 3/2 wetsuit. No hood or booties needed.
Chile is an incredible country, and while it feels so far away from the US and Canada, it’s strikingly easy to get to. Take an overnight flight from the US and you arrive early morning in Santiago. For most of the summer, Chile is on the same time zone as NYC, so jet lag is practically non-existent. The food is delicious, the mountains are beautiful, dinner is always late, music and art abound, and locals are stoked to let you try to improve your Spanish. Oh, and every restaurant and bar has their own slightly different take on the pisco sour, a lemony drink made with the country’s most ubiquitous spirit, so it’s worth it to sample a few of them (plus the pisco sour is one of the best après drinks there is). The annual BTBounds x SND Tours trip centers around snowboarding as a way to experience just some of the magic of the country.
The week started off on Monday with a walking tour of Santiago. Ian Gil, the founder of Steep-N-Deep, grew up in Chile and has been guiding snowboard trips there for over a decade. His knowledge of not only the terrain and snowpack but the history and culture of Chile is deep and informative. That night, the crew was treated to their first traditional Chilean dinner. In Chile, eating dinner at 10 pm is considered early and restaurants are packed with patrons until well after midnight, even on weekdays. Every meal is a celebration of food, friends, and family, which is a wonderful way to close out each day of a snowboard trip.
On Tuesday, the crew headed to Farellones, the mountain town hub for the resorts on our itinerary: El Colorado, La Parva, Valle Nevado. As the crow flies, the distance from Santiago to the mountains is short, but in order to make your way into the rugged peaks of the Andes, you drive up a precariously exciting cliffside road that is made up only of hairpin turns as it winds uphill. It’s really nuts. In under two hours and over forty turns, we laced up our boots at El Colorado. It was bluebird and warm out—conditions were perfect for reacquainting ourselves with our snowboards.
The trails of El Colorado wrap 360 degrees around the peak the resort is situated on. In addition to all-above tree line riding, El Colorado offers sweeping views of The Andes, bathed in hazy blues like an ocean of mountains. El Colorado is also home to the locals’ favorite park. We spun laps around the entire mountain, turning down steep trails and cruising windy cat tracks. The snow at El Colorado was soft and fast; it was a perfect day. One of the additionally unique things about snowboarding in South America is the many surface lifts. Because everything is above the tree line, pomas are used in case of weather and wind. The crew of women adapted quickly to the t-bars, even though there can be a learning curve for getting used to them. First try on the poma and everyone made it up to the top! Big shout out to the crew for trusting us to navigate the surface lifts—they can for sure be a bear at first, but get easier quickly!
At the end of the day, we were treated to golden hour runs. El Colorado is open until 5pm and sunset, even in winter, is pretty late in Chile. As yellows and oranges swept across the sky, we made turns, only heading down when the lifts finally shut down for the day.
Our home for the week was Refugio Uno (also known as Casa Corona due to a generous partnership with the infamous beverage company that kept a mini-fridge stocked with Coronas and fresh limes our entire stay). Refugio Uno was one of the very first buildings constructed in Farellones and so has one of the prime spots in the town, perched high on the mountainside with a stunning, panoramic view that stretches from the snowy mountains to the right, all the way to Santiago on the left. The lodge sleeps about ten people and has a dedicated staff that takes care of everything while you’re there. (Big thanks to Macarena, the fantastic host!) It’s a cozy, mountain respite and boasts a wraparound stone patio as well as a second-floor balcony that are perfect spots to watch fiery Chilean sunsets while enjoying a glass of local red wine. Oh, there’s also a heated outdoor pool and a fire pit with lots of seating. When we arrived, filled with excitement from the day at El Colorado, but ready to kick off our boots and relax, we immediately realized that we were in the best place possible to enjoy ourselves. Even more, Refugio Uno has its own talented chef who created insane four-course meals every evening and hearty breakfasts every morning. The homemade granola was so delicious that a few of the BTBounds ladies learned how to make it in the kitchen one night so they could try to replicate the recipe back home.
On Wednesday, we hit some more switchbacks on our way to Valle Nevado, a sprawling resort adjacent to El Colorado on rider’s left. The base of Valle, featuring a lodge, hotels, restaurants, and condos, is perched at the top of a diving board-thin strip of land the falls thousands of feet on either side. It’s a wild sight to behold, beautiful and so unique. The resort is home to some of the longest trails in the area and also has an expansive backside that funnels down to the longest surface lift in the country that takes you to Tres Puntas, the highest lift-access point in all of South America. It’s a heck of a ride up to the top of the poma, but the reward is great: a stunning view of the mountains all around and a long cat track ride back to the bottom. We spent the day exploring the trails, barely crossing our own tracks as Ian showed us around the resort. We rode until the lifts closed, again—always a good feeling. Valle is the launchpad for the region’s heliskiing, as well. While this wasn’t on our agenda, it’s definitely worth checking out as some of the country’s most infamous lines and terrain are just a short helicopter ride from the resort.
Our final resort to check out during the week was La Parva—a favorite on powder days. We didn’t receive any storms this trip, but La Parva’s trails are perfect on groomer days, too. The trails are long, winding, and offer plenty of steep sections. You can cruise at La Parva and we hit another beautiful, bluebird day while we were there, so we were stoked. Midseason, when the snowpack is deep, La Parva has unparalleled access to backcountry terrain. Short hikes off of trails yield bowls, chutes, and more. Even when we ride in bounds there, we bring our backcountry gear in our packs—beacon, probe, and shovel—in case the opportunity presents itself to head out of bounds. Because the mountain is all above tree line, the lines are practically endless—there are some wide-open snowfields that hold snow long after storms. Taking cues from the BTBounds weekend camps that are freestyle-focused, we utilized the great groomer conditions to hone our euro carves, trail tricks, and slashes. La Parva’s wide trails were perfect for this. We kicked up clouds of snow, got really surfy with laybacks and while grabbing low carves and etched lines down the trails again until 5pm, taking in more stunning views along the way.
On Friday night, after lapping El Colorado once more until the sun started to set, we headed down the mountains and back in Santiago. We packed our snowboard gear into our board bags and headed out to get dinner in the Providencia region of Santiago. It was after 10 when we set out to eat and all around us, outdoor restaurant seating lined the streets, filled with groups dining, drinking, and socializing. The weather was mild and by Chilean standards, it was early for dinner on a Friday, The city is full of eclectic dining, but we opted for a low key, traditional Chilean restaurant with meat, seafood, and of course, pebre, a condiment made of tomatoes, onions, and spices that is served with bread.
The next morning we headed to Valparaiso, a city on the coast just under two hours away from Santiago. No trip to Chile would be complete without trying some local carménère, so we stopped at a winery for a tasting on the way. By the time we arrived in Valpo, we grabbed some empanadas and completos (hot dogs loaded with avocado, mayonnaise and more) and set off into the city on foot. Valparaiso is a creative center, known for its plentiful street art that covers the buildings, walls, stairs, sidewalks, and any other exposed surface of the hilly metropolis. The artwork is stunning; there are political murals, art that spreads love and good vibes, commissioned work, and much more, big, small, and in between. Some of Chile’s most famous painters have pieces in Valpo and seeing their work in person is so cool.
On the final day, we journeyed further up the coast to Con Con, a town known for its surf breaks. Even in winter, surfing in Chile is not too cold. We linked up with Alan at Escuela Soul Surf, grabbed wetsuits and boards and got in the water. The waves were perfect, fun for those who had some experience surfing and ideal for everyone who was surfing for the first time. Big thanks to the surf instructors, too, who helped everyone catch a few waves!
Lots of turns in the mountains, a surf in the ocean, and lots of empanadas in between. A snowboarding trip to Chile is the perfect getaway from summer in the Northern Hemisphere, though it always goes by way too fast. Thank you to Ian Gil from Steep-N-Deep Tours for partnering with BTBounds every year to introduce crews of ripping women to The Andes! We’re already muy emocionado for the 2020 trip!