“We would like to make invitation to make cat-skiing on Thursday,” says Trinidad, director of marketing for The North Face Chile. While there were a few words missing from her statement, I got the gist of it and the answer was pretty simple, although I tried to act like I was busy and could possibly have more important things to do. “Um, yeah, I could probably do that, I’ll just have to touch base with some other people and make sure it’s alright,” I reply, half lying. And just like that I am off to Arpa—the only cat-skiing operation in South America—to ski some un-tracked.
Ski Arpa isn’t exactly on the beaten path. Roughly an hour and a half from Santiago, Arpa provides fairly easy access to some amazing terrain, once you get there. We arrive at the staging area for the cats and began to get situated, which takes some time given that we are a group of 16. As I buckle my boots one of my group members enthusiastically says, “Feliz Cumpleaños!” I look at her confused and say “si” (“si,” along with “bueno” and “gracias,” have become my go-to words when I have no idea what the hell someone is talking about). Although, I was pretty sure from my high school Spanish class that this meant “Happy Birthday.” I shrug off the incident and load up into the cat. We climb in the shadow of Aconcagua, the highest peak in South America, to the top of the property that contains countless acres of un-tracked powder.
Our group is comprised of TNF athletes and photographers, TNF guests and employees, and some randoms that have gotten on the right (or wrong) snowcat. Needless to say, we are three teams with three very different programs. While we hustle to set up photos, the other groups casually schuss their way back to the cats waiting at the bottom. For the first two runs we are bringing up the rear—taking time to shoot photos on the way down—and it seems that the guides and other clients are beginning to become irritated with us. They continue to say ” Feliz Cumpleaños” to me, which at this point I have decided means “get your shit together.”
By the end of the day, however, we’ve worked out a pretty good system. We’d take our time getting photos in more difficult terrain while the others would make two runs. Our last run is nothing short of amazing: A 3,000-foot bowl filled with spines and natural features. I watch local TNF athlete Chopo Diaz rip the thing to shreds. He can read terrain and spin off natural features better than anyone I’ve ever skied with.
We make our way back to the refuge where we devour sandwiches, chocolates, and, Crystals—a beer which I have been told is the Pabst of Chile. For the record, I think it’s delicious. As we are being treated to one of the most amazing sunsets I have ever seen, the group breaks into song—the Chilean version of “Happy Birthday.” Like an idiot, I attempt to join in and looked around to see whose birthday it is. When the cake arrives in front of me I put it all together: The kind people at TNF had told everybody it was my birthday. I didn’t have the heart to tell them they’d been had, so I just smiled and blew out the candles. Although, I suppose that had it been my birthday it would have been a pretty good one.