By Kip Garre
Published: December 9, 2010
Thousands of curious gentoo penguins waddle about awkwardly at Port Lockroy, a British base on the southern end of Weincke Island, Antarctica. Once they hop into the sea they loose their awkwardness and porpoise through the water. The seals are similar. Their clumsiness on shore is lost when they slide into the sea and get all serpentine.
It’s beautiful and one of the reasons people travel so far south through some of the roughest waters in the world to see the place. In November and December, when the sun only dips below the horizon for a short time, you get hours of golden light that put the mountains on display. The mountains are why we’ve been drawn to the southern continent of Antarctica.
Doug Stoup has been adventuring to the Antarctic Peninsula for years now, close to 20 trips. When he first turned me on to the ski opportunities in Antarctica I was overwhelmed by the potential and couldn't wait to ski there. And thanks to Doug, I am sitting in the Lynnex Hotel in Ushuaia, Argentina, enjoying solid ground and an early morning latte. I am packed and ready to head back to Lake Tahoe after an amazing 20 days of cruising the Antarctic Peninsula hunting for the best skiing.
This was my third trip to the Peninsula and this one was unique because we were traveling on the Australis sailing yacht, a 75-foot, 12-passenger boat. Although it would provide a more challenging crossing through the Drake Passage, the Australis would allow us mobility and time to find the best skiing on the Peninsula.
For this trip Doug had invited Kris Erickson and myself to guide a group of six international skiers. (Sidenote: The Australis is the same boat Chris Davenport used last year to make his movie, “Australis: A ski Odyssey.” If you haven't seen it, you should check it out.)
We set off from Ushuaia on the afternoon of November 15th for Porto Williams, where we would clear Chilean customs and then continue out the Beagle Channel to the Atlantic Ocean. We enjoyed wine and celebrated the start of our adventure while our captain, Roger Wallis, laughed as we continually asked about seasickness and ocean swell. Soon, we would all disappear into our berths.
The first night on the Drake I slept well and woke excited about some coffee. The boat has a Bialetti Italian coffee maker on board, but before the coffee was brewed my stomach started churning. Big swells were swallowing up—then burping out—the boat. I headed back to my room wouldn't leave my bunk for the next two days.
The short take on sea sickness: It sucks! Curled into fetal position for too long to remember, not being able to sleep, moaning like a whimp. Like the worst hangover you have ever had, except it doesn't go away for 30 or 40 hours. Lesson: I am not nearly as tough as I thought.
On the afternoon of the 18th we arrived in the South Shetland Islands and went to shore to stretch our legs and check out the elephant seals and penguins. The moans of the seals and solid ground helped us all feel normal again. But we were there to ski, so we boarded the ship and headed around the corner to the other side of Livingston Island. Here we found a good ramp for our first ski outing. From there we cruised south to the Antarctic Peninsula and a sheltered cove on Enterprise Island. Our first views of the massive terrain in the Gerlach Straight confirmed why we were there.
Our location put us in position to explore a high concentration of mountains. And over the next two weeks, we would ski on Weincke Island, Emma Island, Brabant Island, Ronge Island, DeLaite Island, Lion Island, Lemaire Island, Livingston Island and the mainland of Antarctica.
Once we landed on DeLaite Island and fought through the first intimidating landing of our trip, we became more confident about where we could get ashore. DeLaite peak rises 600 meters straight from the sea and the whole Island is comprised of this one peak; classic Antarctic skiing.
The Sex Troll on Noble Peak had been skied and named by Doug and Kris ten years earlier, but I'm still not sure how it got its name. Endless daylight allowed us to land on Weincke Island at 6 p.m. for this 1,000 meter classic. I'll never forget calling Australis at 9:15 to make our dinner reservations and ask for a pick up. But the best quality skiing came on the last day on Brabant Island. Mellow ramps of boot top powder was how we finished up. Clear skies, wildlife and amazing landscape. It's all about location, right?
The newest Powder quotes Greg Von Doersten thusly: "Antarctica has a very powerful way of drawing you into its beauty and grace." So far I haven't discovered a place so wild, unique and stunning with so much amazing skiing. I can't wait to go back.