Words by Ryan DunfeePhotos by Ben Girardee
The past week has seen tremendous improvement on my outlook on my current situation. Despite the continuing tales, photos, and video footage coming from epic day after epic day at Cerro Catedral, I now have reason to smile on a consistent basis, despite the taunting peaks behind the South America Snow Sessions compound, with all their untracked possibilities. Long time coach Garrett Russell arrived this past Thursday, with his sin mop hair and permanently affixed sunglasses, and has been enlightening campers and new staff alike on the ways of the world through his primary teaching mechanism, the Garrett Russell Experience. I am also now in the very enviable position, as Director of Sustainability, of directing Mark Abma to build a compost bin while I perform the other seven jobs I barely get paid for at SASS. Mark is down here on behalf of his winter sports sustainability foundation 1 Step, and it turns out that professional skiers, who often slaved in summer construction jobs to fund their fledging careers, are also extremely capable craftsmen. Mark and James Heim spent this past sunny weekend building a compost bin entirely out of materials found around the compound, choosing a Gilligan’s Island motif for their craftsmanship by layering bamboo to seal the slots of the shipping pallets that serve as walls. Between that and down days spent hacking apart dead bamboo and recycled plastic bottles with Michelle Parker to build walls for an eventual greenhouse, the skiers at SASS are in full sustainability mode, and the courtyard between our office now looks like Bill Nye’s garage, with all sorts of weird devices piling up, all made from recycled materials.
But that’s not to say that I haven’t been missing anything on the hill. The entire session, clients and coaches have been in full-blown slay mode: lapping Laguna’s chute and cliff-stuffed faces, bootpacking straight up couloirs to nab steep descents down the Tage chutes, eating lunch on the chairlift, not stopping until the last Argentinean turns off the lift at five and heads in for a mate or more likely, the free Fernet and Cokes at the base area. Chris Coulter has made more than a few of the snowboarders shit themselves on technical ascents, giving the crew a real taste of the pro shred lifestyle.
South America Snow Sessions is not your average Monster-and-air bag program; this place is meant for those who really want to discover what it means to shred real terrain that requires educated decision making about routes and run-outs, serious commitment to send bigger features, and never asking if you have to hike again, because you will. But the level of our clients has been so high that James Heim quietly told me that he was thankful for today’s day off between sessions. Squaw local Peter Wentz has been attacking hike after hike up Nubes to drop bigger and bigger cliffs, and Boulder local lil’ Henry Allen has pushed his confidence level high enough to guinea pig a Laguna kicker with a 70-foot lawndart that, had he not landed on the shins of his boots and exploded, would have made Julian Carr proud.
It’s nice to know that, despite my stellar salesmanship skills that have helped me convince twenty-plus people to come shred with us despite never having been to the program, SASS has lived up to the hype. The country is gorgeous, the logistics manage to pass our clients’ first-world standards despite the third-world reality down here, the coaches are humble friends and shred partners to the clients, college students are cramming in a semesters’ worth of credits in a month despite skiing nearly every single day for eight non-stop hours, and the experience really is one of being in an extended family. And goddamn, the meat is so good that it melts the sarcastic smirk off my face whenever I taste it; I think it’s even kept me from needing to release the fumes on BroBomb. I think it is safe to say that customs will have to work very hard to locate the picadas that will be duct taped to my stomach on the flight home.