Words by Ryan Dunfee
Sunday, August 29th was the first day I was legitimately furious during this high-falutin’ journey of a summer that has constituted a working vacation. After a week of pounding snow that left 10-12 feet deposited at the top of Cerro Catedral, the sun finally cleared and after spending a rare Saturday night in bed before dawn, the crew swept to the mountain to tackle the now-open lifts and terrain. As I drove back from town in SASS’s burned-out, rear window-less Isuzu Rodeo filled to the brim with 11 bags of stinking plastic bottles recovered from clubs and restaurants around town after the weekend’s influx of night-lifers, I looked up to the left towards the mountain. Some asshole had made only one track down the far skier’s left face of Palmero. The winding cuts through neck-deep pow shimmered in the bluebird sun, as if God himself was in the shadows heeling over from laughter, a half-crushed bag of Megatubes by his side as my patience and temper finally wore out, giving in instead to screams of “Goddamn it!!” and fist-slams against the steering wheel for the last fifteen kilometers to the SASS compound. Doing good for the community was little comfort for a starved East Coaster sitting in front of the biggest cake he’d ever seen but without any silverware. (Remember? I broke my ankle before coming down here…)
The days that followed the Santa Rosa storm were so good that even the pros were astounded; after an epic season of heli skiing, first decents, and week after week of bottomless pow that would leave even the most hard core rippers jaded, James Heim couldn’t keep the smile off his face. When asked how their day went, client after client simply leveled their hand at shoulder level and shrugged. No matter how much venting I would be able to publicize, nothing would replace those missed days of blower; it was only more insulting that the next set of turns I would be making would probably be on some frozen landing strip of ice in New Hampshire around Thanksgiving.
A week later, the Argentine spring had set it in, with t-shirts at lake level the norm, afternoon asados in the sun, and hot laps ripping groomers and corn for the adult clients now in the thick of the VIP Session. I sit inside the warming classroom of Jardin No. 3, a primary school on the far side of town, whose animated directors have brought me by to check out their school. After nearly two months of collecting recycled plastic bottles and pounding nails to build a frame, it’s time to find an actual place to build these two hack-job greenhouses I’ve been building with the help of coaches and clients.
After showing me around the old greenhouse whose roof has collapsed due to falling ice and snow, the teachers and directors bring me into a tiny, window-less room for mate and talk. My understanding of the rapidly-spoken spanish starts to diminish as the afternoon sets in, until I notice a long pause in the conversation. “Is it a yes??” The director asks hopefully. It takes me a few seconds to realize we’re still talking about greenhouses and another couple to realize that I’m actually the one who’s supposed to be giving approval, I utter a startled “Si!” to the small group, who reach their hands in the sky in elation. The director takes a moment to explain. “We are very used to promises falling by the wayside here, so we always have to ask whether you’re serious or not.” The director explains the history of the government, the schools, and local municipality, and that after so much abuse and betrayal from the government, the schools are the one institution Argentines seem to put their faith in. She explains how their school is one where the parents invest themselves in the school, and excitedly talks about having a group of parents level the backyard in anticipation of the groundbreaking for the greenhouse.
After setting a date for groundbreaking and exchanging the customary kiss cheeks, Rachel Artz, half of the local Protect Our Winters office, and I walk off towards downtown. Rachel carries all her snowboard gear with her as we set off down the sidewalk, planning to make a few slushy runs in the afternoon. Argentine teenagers on their lunch break stare at us, one broke-off American walking block after block on crutches, his friend carrying a snowboard through the city streets. I feel strangely at peace with my whole crutch-laden experience down in South America, and even let that strange old smile back on my face.
Then the spiny peak of Cerro Catedral squeeks out from behind an apartment building, and the glimmer of a fresh bootpack winds it way out to the Tage chutes. That more-familiar thumping starts up again at the side of my neck, and my face begins to slowly redden with that anger-laden fury that gets me everytime I see the snow start to fall again down here. Here’s to spring, and to my mental health slowly recovering when I get back home, and to no pow-laden peaks in the distance to ruin my day.