"Why? Why, why, why do I do this???" —Jackson Hole climber and author Chuck Pratt
Drew Tabke: So you've had a long, interesting, and uniquely torturous relationship with skiing in the Andes of Chile and Argentina. You and I have shared many successful and not-so-successful adventures over the last several years. How many times have you been down to South America with your skis?
Griffin Post: Somewhere around 10 trips since my first time in 2009—a couple summers I went down more than once.
So tell me about the very first time. Was it love at first sight?
It started when a friend from Argentina called me up and told me that Movistar, one of the main Argentinean cell phone providers, was looking for an American ski athlete to shoot a television commercial. It sounded like there'd be some heli skiing in Patagonia and good pay. It seemed like a no-brainer, so I told him I was in and booked my ticket to Buenos Aires. I didn't even look at a map, I just figured it would be a quick trip, like from Denver to skiing in the Rockies or something. So he picks me up at the airport and we get on the road and I'm like, "So how long will it take us to get there?" And my friend says, "Oh, it'll take us between 25 and 30 hours." I'm thinking, "Oh my God."
How did the drive go?
Well about 12 hours into that trip we got robbed. They stole the most expensive bag I had—computers, cameras, everything—which at the time was probably like a quarter of my personal wealth. And from there it just kinda went downhill.
Downhill from getting robbed?
We didn't start skiing for two weeks or so. At one point I was learning to weld and I just remember welding and thinking, like, "What the hell am I doing here?" The filming gig worked out eventually, barely. We shot a few days with the heli, after kicking off a huge avalanche on the very first day. We also found what looked like a wall of Alaska-style spines that turned out just to be white ice. And I guess from there on I had sort of set the tone for my trips to South America.
OK, so you're off to an epic start. Where did you go from there?
Well after all that went down, I headed to La Parva for the first-ever Chilean Freeskiing Championship. My friend Drew Stoecklein and I got there early and were staying at a house that Rodrigo Medina, La Parva's director of marketing at that time, shared with Jorge Sapunar, director of La Parva's ski school.
The house was fairly… um…Well let's say there were some parts of the house where you could see straight through the walls and outside to the snow. No hot water. I don't think we had any wood for the fire. So we'd be coming home from the bars at night, collecting bamboo from the ski areas, just basically salvaging whatever burnable wood we could find to try to heat the house before taking an ice-cold shower in the morning. It was great.
The following year you went back for the next edition of the freeskiing competition, and afterward, you and I climbed and skied Cerro El Plomo, a big peak behind La Parva. Remember that?
Yeah, that capped off that year's trip. It was like a 16- or 18-hour slog, 10,000 feet of climbing, up to a nearly 18,000 foot summit. With Marker Dukes. We both ended up getting altitude sickness from going up in a day what most people do in three, I was throwing up all the next day from exhaustion and the effects of altitude. But in hindsight, it pretty much turned out to be a typical day in Chile.
So on a suffering-related subject, you're into skrafting. A pioneering practitioner of the sport, one could say. (For readers who don't know, skrafting combines river rafting with ski touring, made extremely difficult by having to time-manage conditions on a just-melted-out river with good snow conditions on surrounding mountains.) You've made skrafting expeditions to the Arctic Nation Park and down the Middle Fork of the Salmon River through the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness. Perhaps the most challenging, conditions dependent, tricky way to try and go skiing. Recently you said you want to take this style to the Andes. Are you out of your mind?
I feel there are so many variables in Chile as it is, that you might as well just add a bunch more! No, but seriously, there are some big reservoirs high in the Andes that guard some really good ski terrain, and endless potential rivers in Patagonia. If I have learned anything at all, I would never want to try a trip like this in Chile. But I've been reading a lot about how your brain remembers the good times and forgets about the bad really quickly. And I almost have no, I mean, my brain forgets the bad times so quickly that I just remember the good times. And I think that's particularly true in Chile. And for skrafting, yeah, so many things can go wrong, but until you try it you don't really know.
You like good coffee, right? Tell us about Nescafé.
One of the lessons that's been hardest to accept is that Chile is a Nescafé culture. It's really hard to get a good cup of coffee down there. Now I try every year to bring down several pounds of proper coffee and a French press. I think if you can control just one thing in your day while traveling, it's your coffee in the morning.
So that's all you've learned regarding Chile in general?
Remember that time you and I ate sushi in Los Andes during the freeskiing competition at Ski Arpa?
Oh yes. I mean, we weren't that far from the coast, maybe an hour, hour and a half. It didn't seem like that bad of an idea. And we split that platter piece for piece. And somehow I ended up throwing up all night, and you were fine. It seems like that's how it goes for me in Chile, like there's some alternate version of Murphy's Law, where the group is typically fine but if something can go wrong, it’s going to go wrong for Griffin.
So jumping ahead to the present day, you just returned home to Jackson Hole from an expedition with a team of athletes from The North Face Chile. How was that?
Well, I can't say much about it yet other than it was a remote peak in Chilean Patagonia. The access included a boat up a fjord and climbing through vertical jungle and flowing waterfalls with 80-pound backpacks. We ultimately arrived at snowline and were tent bound for a week. I've never seen so much rain in my entire life; it was like someone was standing outside of the tents 24 hours a day spraying us with a garden hose. It cleared as we were leaving.
Sounds rugged. Did you attain new levels of despair and suffering?
Well, I would just say that I set my suffering threshold as high as I possibly could before we went in. It wasn't that I wasn't prepared to suffer that much, I just didn't have an appropriate comparison to prepare myself.
Was it worse suffering than you were used to? Or just new types of suffering?
It was new types of suffering that were worse. I mean, I had a full-on nightmare [about it] the other night. I haven't had a nightmare that intense since I was like 10 or 11, and I woke up and I fully had to like pull up the window shade and stare outside and really like gather my bearing and I didn't sleep the rest of the night really.
So why do you keep going to South America if your trips seem to consistently hand out such abusive experiences?
For all the bad times, the adventure just outweighs them all. It’s not like other trips you go on where the skiing is just the focus. If you're traveling on your own in Chile—not just taking the airport shuttle to the four-star resort and speaking English the whole time—but exploring real Chile, the entire trip is an adventure. Which is an amazing and also entirely unique experience. A lot of times things go bad, but when everything comes together? Like the trip you and I went on last year, where you're skiing amazing couloirs in perfect conditions, it’s so completely worth it. And even when it doesn't go like that you meet these truly amazing local people. And these people are on the exact same page and doing it for the same reasons you are, and that makes it such a special place. That's the whole reason that I keep going back, regardless of how poorly I time the snow, how much food poisoning I get, or how much stuff gets stolen from me. It’s still an amazing experience where the positives outweigh the negatives. At least in my long-term memory.
Editors note: At the time of publication, Griffin had booked another flight to Chile, motivated by reports of good snow in the Central Andes.