After spending several days surfing on the coast, Chris Bezamat woke up in Portillo, 160 miles away in the Andes, to severely overcast skies and firm snowpack. The mountain had good coverage, but the light was flat and things looked grim. As the evening rolled around, flakes started to fall.
The next morning…
July 25: The light is still flat, but it’s snowing hard. Wind gusts are here and there, but for the most part the flakes are falling straight down with increasing quantity. Bombs go off all morning; there is at least two feet of fresh and it’s perfectly cold. We get a brief break in the storm at around 3:45 and things look good for tomorrow and many people are calling for blue bird.
July 26: Blue bird it is! Maybe six more inches fell on top of the previous day’s two feet and the mountain looks fantastic. Ski school instructors in their blue uniforms start to attack the slopes as we ride our first lift up. The lake run and Roca Jack lift are closed for the day, but there is plenty of powder to harvest. This could be our big day as clouds are forecasted for the next day.
After countless laps of knee- to waist-deep turns, we head up to Tio Bob’s for lunch and beers. Wisps of clouds start to blow in as we watch the ski patrol helicopter bring explosives to the ridge up above the famous Roca Jack lift. Cornices fall, bringing some slough down the faces, but no real avalanche activity happens.
July 27: We wake up to some high gray and milky skies, but decide to attempt the Super C couloir anyway. We take the Roca Jack early and begin to put in the boot pack straight up the face above it. The going is very slow since we are wallowing in waist-deep pow up a steep face. It’s 3,500 feet of boot-packing and as we finish the first third of the hike, the clouds part and the sun starts heating up the snow and put our safety into question. Big, Cinnabon-style roller balls start to fall as we finally reach the sketchy traverse that leads into the neighboring chute that will bring us to the top.
The traverse is really steep for about 10 feet and to fall means ping-ponging through rocks into a dead-end chute of death. Todd Ligare inches his way across successfully and the rest follow suit without incident. The final 1,000 feet of boot-packing was more like post-hole digging since you had to clear a trench through the lighter powder snow as you advance. I took the lead and instantly fell into a hole up to my armpits. Had my skis not been across my back, I would have disappeared. After four and half hours, we reach the saddle and have the small sandwiches we made at breakfast and cold beers.
The Super C is completely shaded and as we watch Ligare drop in first, we can see it’s cold, thigh-deep pow. We ski and shoot our way down the 5,000-foot sliver of love, but start to ski more and shoot less as we realize just how special this run is. Peaks abruptly come up out of the small valley below where you can see the Laguna del Inca and the road where Chile ends and Argentina begins. Portillo means “end of the path,” and if ever there was a pot of gold, it’s the Super C. We barely make it to the lift before close and finish an amazing journey down South. —Chris Bezamat