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Ski the Nevado Chillan

Listed under Skiing in Biobío, Chile.

Photo of Ski the Nevado Chillan
Photo by flickr user gainan
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One of 3 volcanoes rising above the lifts of Termas de Chillan, Nevado Chillan is the furthest north and the most massive. With a glaciated West face and rolling snow dunes leading to its approach, Nevado Chillan provides many unique descents.

At 3900 meters (12800ft) and 360 degrees of opportunity, it is hard to keep from ogling at its presence, especially its’ southern exposure “moon dish”, while riding Termas de Chillan’s upper lifts. From the Las Trancas valley the iron-like Pyramid face beckons persistently to off piste enthusiasts.

The first time I skied Nevado was in 2003 with 4 friends from Montana. My buddy Wolf’s fritschi broke an hour into the approach, yet he refused to turn back and later be tortured listening to our snow tales. So with 1 ski strapped to his backpack he labored on, shifting between bootpacking and skinning on 1 ski. At the time we did not know the most efficient approach and continuously gained and lost elevation while navigating the rolling snow dunes of lava flow. We reached the volcano’s summit and were greeted with a ferocious wind as we stared into the elongated Argentine Andes. The upper snowfield was wind hammered with strastugi, and amazingly Wolf, ski on back looking like a bow-hunter, descended through the cardboardesque ripples without issue. Our goal was the “moon dish” and as we gathered at the drop-in, a 48-degree slope, with a curling, corniced lined ridge, alpen glow illuminated Volcan Nuevo to the south in a dense violet. Mars was already glowing in the Andean night sky and an immense moon made its rise. Team Montana; Alex ‘Obi-Juan’ Jacobi, ‘Sweet’ James Guild, Ryan ‘Cornice Boy’ Kapes, Wolf (newly nicknamed Lane Meyer-see “Better Off Dead”) Von Lindenau, and myself ‘Gomez’one by one entered the perfectly concave face. The 335meter (1100ft), wind groomed and styrofoamy-dished slope offered us all the opportunity to tag our individual signatures on its wall. We all watched in admiration as ‘Lane Meyer’ proceeded to rip it. Headlamps on we toured back to the resort as the vast South American sky, freckled in stars, filled our world. We got fresh corduroy turns all the way to the parking lot, passing the groomers making their final rounds. This has always been one of most memorable ski descents and as I continued to return to Chillan memories and strong vibes of the ‘Lane Meyer day’ would embrace me.

I waited 4 seasons for another Nevado Chillan descent. Either I was guiding and could not take the time to earn this descent or as in 2006 when I witnessed one of the largest crowns I’d ever seen and justified it would be irrationally sketchy, Nevado Chillan stood there waiting, constantly enticing me to return and explore it more. Not only that but after 6 seasons riding at Termas de Chillan I’d always drooled over the Pyramid Face, just north of Nevado’s glacier and crevassed covered West face.

September 23rd, 2007- I just finished my last CASA Tour 2 days prior and decided to hang around Termas de Chillan with my snowbuddy, Kim Ross. Kim was celebrating her 95th consecutive month on skis and spent the last 2 weeks on our Endless Winter Tour. We tore it up pretty hard the night before, drinking 45-degree piscolas at our friend Hans’ bar, Olivas. My ride up the 22 -minute Don Otto lift was pretty rough, I need not go into the details, but am glad there were no skiers under my chair. Then up the Fresco t-bar to the highest lift accessed point on the mountain. My friend Phil lined me up with a more efficient approach. His main directive, “don’t gain any elevation and curl around the backside of the snow covered lava flows, then you can make the ‘moon face’ in 2 1/2 hours.” Granted Phil is Canadian and runs an avalanche center there so 2 1/2 hours, especially after a night of pisco, is to be interpreted differently. However somehow I seemed to get possessed and skinned with an intent focus.

I reached the steepest part of the wave-like ‘moonface’ ridgeline in the prescribed time and switched over to my crampons. I checked on Kim’s progress and kick-stepped the remaining 150 or so meters to my desired entrance. As I was de-skinning and making my descent preparations, a Scotsman and Frenchman came out of nowhere to join me. They had been kite-skiing on the lower lava flows and ascended by weaving in and out of the western glaciated face. Crazy Chamonioxites! Happy to have eyes on my back, I dropped off the cornice and onto the steep flank. The top turns were chalky and turned into more wind-buffed powder before changing into rippled wind waves, typical of Andean big mountain conditions, variable. My ski compadres followed, ripping tele turns down the skier’s left curl of the bowl.

Skins back on we pursued Kim who was making her way up the ridge. We all were keen to reach Nevado’s summit and descend the pyramid face. Crampons now on, we spread out on the final snowfield, the same strastrugi encrusted slope Wolf miraculously managed to ride through. Our extended gigantic shadows projected themselves on the afternoon sun’s glistening whiteness. This time the wind was not blowing us off the mountain and we had time to revel in the wild Andean expanse.

We decided our best entrance to the pyramid would be to curl around the northwest flanks of the Nevado. We skied the upper pitch above the glacier and traversed around this face. Talk about opportunity, the northwest exposure of Nevado is huge and has a ridiculous amount of potential lines, however, it is a long way to anywhere once on its lower flows. We continued to contour the volcano until reaching the entrance of the ‘pyramid’s’ colossal fall line and about 50 meters from its triangular peak. Ready to make turns and knowing we had close to 2000 meters (6200 feet) of vertical below we plunged in, taking the first 1000 meters (3000feet) non-stop. With a fantastically consistent angle ‘the pyramid’ is a skigasm.

The lava flows of the Shangri-La valley oozed out in front of us and after this steep anvilesque descent we still had 1000 meters of lava tongues filled with half pipes to ride in the waning deep blue light. In all my years coming to Termas, I’d never exited through Shangri-la and was blown away with the terrain possibilities. We finally reached tree line and skied alongside massive cliffs vegetated with dense stands of coique trees. Waterfalls poured down its sides and inspirations of other backcountry adventures filled our thoughts. We dodged through the forest and made our way to the valley road, touring through summer cabin retreats until we reached the MI Lodge and cold beer, 1885 vertical meters from the Nevado summit.

Written by  Dave Johnson.

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