Heli Skiing Patagonia
September 9, 2009
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I’m constantly trying to determine my favorite places on earth, and Patagonia has just messed everything up. I thought I had things pretty well organized until this place, which had been little more than Yvon Chouinard’s legacy to me, came along. Patagonia is truly like nowhere else on earth. Giant, turquoise lakes enclosed by pine trees give way to towering, snow-capped peaks that seem to go on forever. What truly makes sections of Patagonia special is that it’s all but deserted during the winter months. Thus, I feel particularly special as the heli rises above the fishing lodge that has become our makeshift base and takes off into the Southern Andes for our second week of shooting with the Movistar crew.
The rotors break the morning silence across countless mountain lakes as we edge toward one of the largest peaks in the area, at what seems like a painstakingly slow rate due to our excitement. The rotor-wash temporarily blinds us as we step out on a snowy ridge just below the summit of 2,942-meter Cerro Tres Picas. Due to a recent warm storm with a rime event, the peak and the surrounding mountains are completely caked in snow and ice—it looks like it’s possible to ski practically everything. Based on the snow around the heli and the looks of the surrounding peaks, I think it just might be an all time day. Maybe I finally timed it just right…
…Or maybe not, I think to myself as we shot the first takes. What seems like a blanketing of fresh powder is nothing more than a wind drift, with the rest of the terrain all but stripped of decent snow. Nonetheless, we work the surrounding terrain that is defined by cartoonish cornices, glaciers, and ramps that, given the right snow conditions, would be right up there with anything in Alaska. After some not-so-impressive attempts at some more ambitious lines I concede to the conditions and tone it down a bit, enjoying the scenery as much as anything. After all, in a place as beautiful as Patagonia, even for me, the skiing is just a bonus.
To paraphrase Thoreau, many men spend their entire lives searching for good snow, when, in the end, it’s not the snow they’re really after