Deep in the Andes

Four Chilean skiers explore the steeper aspects in their homeland

This story originally published on September 10, 2014. Above is the video from the trip just released by The North Face. It’s in Spanish and it’s 14 minutes long, but it’s sweet to see this kind of footage coming out of South America, showcasing local skiers.

This summer the world watched as the planet’s top football nations faced off in the World Cup in memorable clashes across Brazil. For Chile, their solid defeat against former world champion Spain was a standout moment that spoke to country’s growing continental power. In other sports as well, Chile is rising higher on the global stage than is expected of a developing country with just 17 million people. Skiing, in particular, holds a place in the sporting future of the nation, thanks to the vast resources available in the Andes Mountains.

“With the mountains and snow we have available here, there is no reason for Chileans to envy anywhere else on earth,” says Santiago Fernández, The North Face Chile brand manager. “The mountains are waiting—all anyone needs to do is grab their gear and go.” That sentiment explains the impetus behind Deep Andes, an expedition undertaken by Chilean North Face athletes last July.

While Chile contains many modern ski resorts, these mainly lie to the western edge of the mountains. Meanwhile, the biggest mountains in the vast interior of the range near the border with Argentina remain very difficult to access. In order to expose these remote valleys and their enormous ski potential, a small team including local North Face athletes Sebastián Rojas, Vicente “Vicho” Sutil, and siblings Soledad and Cristóbal “Chopo” Diaz boarded two helicopters and flew 40 minutes east from Santiago into the mountains.

Arriving to the campsite just a few miles from the border with Argentina, the group arrived with all the gear necessary for four days of skiing and exploring. They set up camp at around 13,000 feet, with lines for the taking above and below the spectacular site. The helicopters flew away, leaving the team as diminutive specks amongst the towering giants of the central Andes, including 21,555-foot Volcán Tupungato. “On the flight in we passed valley after valley, and ridge after ridge,” recalled Rojas. “Arriving at camp, I had never felt so truly in the heart of the Andes.”

From the left, Cristóbal “Chopo” Diaz , Sebastián Rojas, Vicente “Vicho” Sutil, and Soledad Diaz. PHOTO: The North Face Chile
From the left, Cristóbal “Chopo” Diaz , Sebastián Rojas, Vicente “Vicho” Sutil, and Soledad Diaz. PHOTO: The North Face Chile

Over the next four days, the team climbed and skied many lines in the area between Olivares, Parraguirre, and Tupungato valleys, sharing expertise to accomplish the difficult goals before them, requiring contributions from everyone. “Their team work was amazing. Rojas with his alpinism experience and strength led most of the climbs, Vicho threw down creative new-school skiing, and Sole and Chopo showed the freeride and mountain experience they’ve gained from years of traveling and skiing around the world,” says Fernández. Relying on one another in the unforgiving area that they temporarily inhabited also allowed the athletes to push their personal boundaries. “Apart from just the skiing, we gained amazing mountain experience, too,” says Sole Diaz. “Watching snow conditions develop, judging terrain safety, following weather forecasting and observations—these are indispensable skills for big mountains here as well as anywhere in the world.”

After the week wrapped up, the helicopters returned to retrieve the team and return them to the safety of civilization. The Deep Andes mission showed the potential contained in the majestic, expansive mountains near the city. More complicated, however, is the theme of public access sans helicopter to such a place.

As it stands now, this region is only accessible via heli or several days of hiking. PHOTO: The North Face Chile
As it stands now, this region is only accessible via heli or several days of hiking. PHOTO: The North Face Chile

Many of the valleys that could potentially offer public access to the interior are closed because of mines and hydroelectric installations. So the only way to get to these mountain riches is via helicopter or several days of trekking. “It’s a tough situation with industry controlling many of the routes that would allow the public to get to these places that we were able to ski during Deep Andes,” says Chopo Diaz. “Hopefully this trip showed people what’s out there and plays a part in pushing for more recreational access to Chile’s incredible mountain resources.”

Cristóbal “Chopo” Diaz sends it in the Chilean backcountry. PHOTO: Jeremías Marinovic/The North Face Chile
Cristóbal “Chopo” Diaz sends it in the Chilean backcountry. PHOTO: Jeremías Marinovic/The North Face Chile