Skiing the Andes

It’s early September and I’m heading to Chile in South America to ski the Andes, direct from rock climbing in New Hampshire and I couldn’t be more stoked.  I arrive a few hours after my guests, who are waiting at our lodge at the head of the Maipo Valley for 6 days of big mountain skiing. 

Within an hour of my taxi ride out of the Santiago airport, I come across an accident on the road that looks bad. I see someone laying prone, vehicles stopped and lots of people standing around.  I jump out to see if I can help.  An elderly lady, Señora Rosa, is on her back not moving with blood oozing out of her forehead. There’s easily a half a liter already pooled on the pavement.  I fire through my duffel to find a first aid kit and apply heavy dressings and direct pressure to stop the bleeding.  Although I get by in Spanish generally, the entire scene was chaos.  I asked someone to call 911, hold pressure on the bleed and I checked out Señora Rosa from head to toe but hesitated to move her until the ambulance showed up 30 minutes later.  By that time she was still coherent but deteriorating and I realized I probably saved this woman’s life by stopping her bleed and being a trained first responder. Training matters. After helping lift her into the gurney, I left the scene in a daze, jet-lagged and sad that I’d probably never know the outcome of Señora Rosa. I think of her often. What a crazy start to the trip! Continuing up the Maipo Valley was sobering but my mood changed significantly when I took in the stunning scenery of huge snow-covered peaks rising to the sky and a raging river full of whitewater enthusiasts enjoying themselves.  A lone condor circled low and I knew this was going to be an amazing trip.

I arrive at our world-class lodge at the head of the Maipo Valley and enjoy a hearty welcome for my first visit. This trip has been on my bucket list for years and I’ve got four of my favorite people who have adventured the world with me for a week of heli-skiing in the Andes.  Powder South Heliski Guides is owned by a long time friend and guide who has been trying to get me down here for years. I can hardly wait to get out and experience their terrain and wonder what the heck I was waiting for.  It looks much like the San Juan Mountains on steroids, times three.

After moving into my spacious room I meet the other guide from France, the Operations Director from Mexico and our pilot from Santiago.  I’m the first woman guide they’ve ever had at Powder South and am greeted with nothing but respect, professionalism and very little ego. We talk, laugh at our language hiccups and I sense it’s going to be a fun week working with these guys.  Communication is a crucial aspect of heli-skiing. Prior concerns I had about language challenges were immediately put to ease.

My guests are thrilled with the luxury accommodations and hospitality of the lodge.  I’ve got two gals from my hometown of Ridgway in tow and a lovely couple from Jackson that I’ve skied within Antarctica over the past 3 seasons.  At a 4:1 ratio, it’s pretty unusual to only have one dude along with 4 women, especially for heli-skiing!  It’s a semi-private week with only one other group, composed more typically of all men.  They’re pretty stoked to see how much fun we are about to have as my group doesn’t hold back at all in that regard.

We are treated to an incredible week of seemingly endless vertical feet of skiing down open bowls and stunning couloirs.  Day one we muster over 25,000 feet of turns for our first day of the season.  Legs quivering and cheeks numb from smiling all day, we revel in one of the most spectacular places any of us have ever skied.  The terrain is too big for pictures to capture with most runs ranging from 4000 to 6500 vertical feet.  With early September rivaling spring in the Northern Hemisphere, we enjoy conditions ranging from corn on north aspects to boot top powder on the southerlies. We couldn’t be more stoked to make our first turns of the season together in such a remarkable part of the world.

I’ll be back next year for my first turns of the season in the Southern Hemisphere.  If there are any Chicks out there keen to do the same, let us know and we can put together a Chicks trip to make it happen.

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