El Chaltén

How Good It Can Be: Grassroots Lines in Southern Patagonia

Jolted by the umpteenth pothole, searing maté scalded my tongue and pooled on my Gore-Tex sleeves. I sat sandwiched in the back of an old Toyota Hilux between a half-dozen skis and a dog that looked far less anxious than me. As our crew passed around the local caffeinated brew, staring out of foggy windows at the cerulean-hued granite spires above the unplowed road to Lago del Desierto, Blink 182 and Twenty One Pilots looped through the speakers.

I was pretty nervous about looking like a gringo Gumby. It was my first day skiing south of the equator and I was with a crew of three Argentinian IFMGA guides who happened to hold numerous climbing, trail-running and skiing speed records in El Chaltén, the Argentinian mountain hub deep in the heart of Patagonia. Back home I’m a quick, efficient touring partner. Here, I was carrying too much camera gear, not enough water and an entry-level Spanish vocabulary—the heavy accent in these parts notwithstanding.

Thankfully, these guys weren’t a judgmental cohort. They’d already taught me words for “powder” and “crust,” and it didn’t take them long to chastise me about moving the straw in the maté gourd. They were professional educators, and much like their bootpacks, the learning curve here was steep and quick. Efficiency matters in the Andes. I burned my tongue again, cursed, and passed the gourd back to the front as we fishtailed around a sharp bend. They laughed. Dawn was approaching. It was nearly 10:00 a.m…

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