Summer is for Skiing11/22/2014 03:53PM ● By Christina Freeman
A stellar view from Cerro Catedral ski area in Argentina.
Story and Photos by Eric Deering
My ski bag lumbers behind me like a semitrailer. Ordinarily, travelers in Denver don’t give ski bags a second glance, but it’s late August and 90 degrees outside. People stare.
On my summer vacation, I’m heading into winter: It’s 30 degrees and snowing at Cerro Catedral, Argentina. Endless winter. Skiing the southern hemisphere is big-time on the bucket list for me and my compadres, three wintertime guests from Steamboat Powdercats.
There are many solid options for great skiing in Argentina, but we’ve chosen Cerro Catedral, located just 12 miles from the Lake District’s largest town, San Carlos de Bariloche, for a diversity of terrain that includes large cirques, high peaks, couloirs (think narrow chutes), and great tree skiing. The trees ensure protection and visibility – and also that we have no down days due to big storms.
With some great guiding from our friends at Sass Global Travel, we head
out the ski area boundary toward the back side of the mountain. With skis
strapped to backpacks, we scramble acrossa ridge. Anticipation builds as we
pass many tempting lines, untracked and nearly begging us to drop in. Bonus: Catedral has abundant sidecountry that is easily accessed from
the ski area’s boundaries. With a 10-minute hike, skiers and riders can drop in
to expansive Alpine bowls that funnel back into the ski area for another lap.
Buck up for a 20- to 30-minute walk and you’re presented with terrain like we
rarely get to experience in the Lower 48. Massive peaks filled with skiable
lines offer a challenge in every direction. You could ski a different line
every day without duplication.
We stay on target.
Finally arriving at our line, we see it was worth the wait: a beautiful chute with a wide-open apron below. Skis and boards on, we’re ready. I can’t remember how, but I get the honor of first-in. We’ve discussed our line and our safe zones, so without much more than a shout of “You got eyes?” I’m in and skiing.
I’m skiing powder....in August! Check.
On piste and on the town
If dipping into the backcountry is not for you, there’s still a ton of fun to be had within Catedral’s ski area boundaries. With more than 3,700 feet of vertical and 38 lifts, a tram and a gondola, Catedral is one of the largest ski areas in South America. You can lose yourself in expansive bowls or follow the “lollipops,” poles with day-glow plastic circles to mark the runs in low visibility, down miles of groomers. On the hill, you’re never far from food and drink. When the weather turns, head to any of the 14 independently-owned restaurants and bars to get a taste of Argentine après.
Extra-curricular activities seal the deal for Catedral. When skiing and riding in South America, especially in Patagonia, you need back-up plans for bad weather. The region is known for potentially long stints of stormy weather, so it’s best to have a longer window to reap the powder harvest, or at least great alternatives for down days. Herein lies the beauty of Catedral and Bariloche.
Few other ski areas have a city like Bariloche in close proximity. The thriving city of more than 100,000 people rests on the shores of beautiful Lake Nahuel Huapi, Argentina’s first national park. Largely influenced by a flood of German immigrants after World War II, the city combines the charms of classic Patagonia mountain culture with Bavarian architecture and cuisine. Many structures look like they were plucked from a mountain village in the Alps.
Meat, Malbecs, chocolate and beer. What more can you ask for?
No trip to Argentina is complete without these indulgences. Eat the meat: a traditional asado, or barbecue, is a must. We got our fill at the acclaimed Boliche de Alberto, where you choose from an amazing array of cuts, then wait for the asador to prepare it to perfection. Delicious Malbecs and other red wine varieties from the Mendoza area of Argentina are available and cheap wherever you go.
Lesser-known are the chocolates and microbrews of Bariloche. With more than a dozen brew pubs, the city claims to be the Argentine capital of microbrew. Many of these pubs pair their beers with local cuisine straight from the surrounding lakes and pastures. Go for the smoked fish and cheese platters that many offer.
Next summer, when you’re melting in the dog days of summer and dreaming of a powder day, pack your bags and head south. No matter your skill or conditioning, there’s adventure waiting. Have fun. Be safe. Chao!
While you could pull this trip together on your own, we were fortunate to work with a local operation at Catedral, Sass Global Travel, for our lodging and guiding. These guys have all the beta you’ll need, from the ski terrain to the best pubs and restaurants downtown.