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Ski Termas de Chillan

Listed under Skiing in Biobío, Chile.

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Photo by flickr user blmurch
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Although my legs fall asleep, my back aches, and I get fidgety, riding the Don Otto, South America’s longest and oldest chairlift, accesses one of Chile’s finest day tours. This rickety two-seater that Dopplemeyer made Termas de Chillan take their name off is equipped with individual safety bars and lethargically ascends riders 2200 vertical feet at 100 feet per minute. The ride gives you ample time to apply the sunscreen, eat the breakfast you wrapped in a napkin, and do all the necessary tuning adjustments. In fact the slowness of the Don Otto is a blessing in disguise for us powder sluts as its sloth-like speed results in less skier/snowboarder traffic during the course of the day. But for this epic Andean tour 1 ride is enough and crossing tracks is never an issue.

Directly in front of the off-ramp a backcountry gate leads out to a multitude of off piste adventures. Here is the spot to skin up, split the board, or strap the gear to your pack. Head up alongside the entertaining Pirigallo cornice until you reach a bench below Volcan Viejo, the southern most of 3 gigantic volcanoes rising above Termas de Chillan’s moonscape. After a short ramp down and another short climb one can take a variety of pitches on the west face of the Pirigallo gully before reaching the base of the Pirigallo/Aquas Calientes ridgeline. Backcountry fans can extend their tour with a 2-3 hour climb up Volcan Viejo and drop its south face into Aguas Calientes. Regardless a steep skin or direct boot pack awaits tourers in order to gain the rolling and triangulated crest of Aquas Calientes’ southern exposure.

Options now abound. One can do quick 45-minute yo-yos on this face, or continue further to the peak where Pirigallo, Aguas Calientes and Valle Hermoso all join and descend all sorts of goodness along Aguas Calientes’ east facing wall. Another alluring alternative is to descend all the way to the river and soak in hot springs, although this adds a lengthy retreat back to the Aguas Calientes/Pirigallo ridgeline. At the base of this ridgeline one can bail and ride out the Pirigallo gulley or retrace the skin track or boot pack already set in and up to the peak where the 3 valleys meet. A 360 degree vista presents the perfectly conical Antuco Volcano to the South, the expanse of Termas de Chillan’s and Shangri-la’s lava flows spread out to the North, the volcanoes: Nevado, Nuevo, and Viejo dominate the East, while the Pacific Ocean’s horizon curves around the globe to the West.

Valle Hermoso’s terrain spans an enormous horseshoe offering southern, western and northern exposures and a mosaic of topographical features. From the summit it is a 2800 vertical foot playground to the hot pools. From snaking, steep couloirs to wide-open bowls, noses, and gullies, Hermoso is a backcountry paradise providing challenges for all levels.

From the hot pools, an obvious landmark down valley and the easiest exit back to the ski center, climb out of the valley to a ridge just below a huge steam vent and the source of Termas’ famous hot water. The last pitch gets late sun before heading into a forest of bamboo and coigue trees. The tour ends just above the water slide and riders must cross the bridge and jump the fence to wind up in the upper parking lot.

Written by  Dave Johnson.

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