Words by Ryan Dunfee Photos courtesy of South American Snow Sessions ( Skylar Holgate, Thomas Tikos-Kadij, Scott Ferguson)
The resort got dry. Just like my two trips to Colorado this winter, a high-pressure ridge set up shop in the Southern Andes in the beginning of August and dry, cloudless days with brilliant sunshine but no new accumulation replaced the morning-snow, afternoon-sun Disneyland pattern we were blessed with during the first session in July that provided untracked blower turn followed by faceshot for two weeks straight. Despite the stellar base the resort was boasting at the end of Session 1, the gorgeous bluebird days did nothing but initially disappoint the new, 75-strong crew who showed up for the Session 2.
But no day is ever a letdown at SASS. With the collective shred ingenuity of a hundred Robinson Crusoe’s and enough guiding experience to pinpoint a six-foot drift of Utah blower off the back of some unnamed Minnesotan trashpile of a resort, the South America Snow Sessions crew will always find the goods. And so while some non-believers headed to the SASS park to fill the time sliding boxes and listening to their headphones on the lift ride up, two groups of more adventurous campers, guides, and coaches set off into the great Catedral unknown, determined to find the oasis.
Both groups got out of the bus in the bluebird morning and headed up into the rocky, icy, windswept frontside of Cerro Catedral. One group, overnight packs stuffed with food, skins, and sleeping bags, headed to the Nubes lift and up and over the backside of the resort, heading down to the Emilio Frey hut for a three-day mission to hike the near-vertical couloirs surrounding the hut. The second group, fifteen deep, headed up the Amancay gondola, headed to the far side of the La Laguna wall, determined to find the goods on a 3,500 foot line off the corner of the Tage chutes only skied once before in SASS history and known simply as “Staff Party.” With James Heim, Michelle Parker, snowboard coach Nat Gogh, and newly-arrived guide Lel Tone in tow, the bootpack got set and the group shed layers as they made their way to the corner of the ridge, giant condors buzzing the group as they rode the day’s sun-driven thermals up the face.
After collecting the group, taking a few clients’ new Facebook pictures in front of the spectacular view of Nahuel Huapi lake, and scarfing down a few Alfajores to get the blood sugar back up, the group dropped in the first high alpine bowl and to their surprise, found themselves maching through knee-deep powder that had found its way onto the leeward aspect. Hoots and hollers came from everyone from Shelby Simpson, a recent Stratton Mountain School snowboard grad, to Tony Maruca, a newly-ripping Manhattanite skier who teaches squash to struggling Harlem youth, to Martin Wainstein, who was able to sneak away from building SASS’s biodiesel processor to rip the best run of his life. As the group dropped from the bowl through the following pillow section that led into branch-less, perfectly-spaced trees, the group’s elation could be seen and felt at every drop, slash, and straight-line as the group finished out through the surprisingly forgiving bamboo forest and down to the road to the Frey hut. As the group unclicked to cross creeks and hike back into the resort, pounds, high-fives and hoots popped up between campers and coaches, everyone having taken one of the best runs of the trip on a day that started with few expectations.
Two days later, a different exhausted, sun-burnt group rolled back into the resort from the Frey hut, consisting of campers Harry Sherman, Emma Lande, photography intern Scott Ferguson, and guides Skylar Holgate and Trevor Elliasen. The crew hiked 15,0000 vertical feet in the course of three days, with the final day consisting of two 3,500 foot hikes with full camping packs, pushing the group to the limit of functional exhaustion. Even Freeski World Tour athlete Emma Lande, who has been on a physical mission since this past fall, couldn’t lift her head above her dinner plate the next day. But while the glossy expressions on the group’s faces might not have revealed much about what went on off the back of the resort for three days, the photos didn’t lie. Their mission was epic. Here at South America Snow Sessions, you will find a level you didn’t know before. And at least for this season, I will be here, crying at the base with my slowly healing broken ankle, wondering why I decided to ski Tuckerman’s in the rain.