Snow Road Trippin’ Chile: Leaving Lines on the Andes - Part 1

The volcano above Antillanca

It’s around three hours drive from Antuco back to LA then south to Victoria and then inland again to Lonquimay where we would base ourselves for a day or two. 80's music on the stereo passed the time and it must have been around 5.30pm when we passed through Malalcahuello and took a look up the access road to Corralco which is often named Lonquimay as it sits on the side of the volcano by the same name.

Passing through the monkey puzzle trees we made decent progress up the access road until the snow began to come down hard and was drifting all over the road. We ground to a halt when we got caught behind a truck that was reversing out after getting stuck. Telling George to sit tight I jumped out to push and guide Mike back down the single track road. After five minutes we were able to turn but I was cold, wet and miserable. I needed a whisky!

A visit to the local shop was called for to get some supplies. This was a trip back in time. It made me think of what a local shop in Scotland would have looked like in the 1900s with just one or two things on the shelves. With our limited Spanish and an old woman who spoke no English, we were able to buy three litres of wine, eight rolls from a potato sack, cheese, ham, biscuits, coke and chocolate all for the pricey sum of £7 ($12). She had no change so we just bought more to make it a round figure. So cheap out this way...

We found that the locals we met were generally very friendly and although many spoke little or no English we always managed to get by with a little bit of sign language and pidgin Spanish. One thing that still makes George and I chuckle is that even when it was obvious that we had no idea what was being said to us, they continued to talk in Spanish at 100 miles an hour. However, everyone went out of their way to make our stay with them as pleasant as possible regardless of the language barrier.

Ruca Pehuen cabanas, Malalcahuello

We checked in for the night at Ruca Pehuen cabanas in Malalcahuello. The cabanas were set ina beautiful area of light trees with mountains all around. The wooden buildings are very typical of South America with trunks used to construct the frame of the buildings. Inside were a couple of bedrooms and a living area. One small fire heated the whole building and with the wind howling in under the door and the windows it was hardly enough to keep us warm. The damp wood was hardly ideal fuel, and we spent a lot of time drying it on top of the fire!

Patagonia is renowned for being windy and wet and unfortunately for us we saw it at its worst and were unable to ski for the following couple of days. By Saturday we decided it was time to move on in the hope of finding some skiing elsewhere.

We had to travel south to Puerto Montt in order to extend our car rental and get the necessary documents to take the car into Argentina. The city of Puerto Montt is the furthest south you can drive directly from Santiago and to head further, a boat is required. It was a five hour drive and once there we would have to turn around and head north to the ski resorts at either Volcan Osorno or Antillanca for our next turns.

George, Quintin and Mike, Ruca Pehuen cabanas

After getting lost in Puerto Montt we eventually made our way up the z-bend road up to Volcan Osorno. With visibility down to a matter of yards, the volcanic ground and snow was reminiscent of driving on the moon. To our surprise, when we arrived at the base area, the day lodge was open for business and we tucked into a lovely apple strudel while ascertaining that the mountain was not in good shape and it would not be worth our time returning tomorrow.

Another one of my short cuts took us onto another forestry track and it was long since dark by the time we rolled into Entre Lagos (Entry to the lakes). Not knowing the town, cold and tired we stopped at the San Sebastian and enquired about rooms. This place will forever be remembered as an absolute dump. The room was out the back of the restaurant and the smell hit us as soon as we entered. There was a bedroom for George and two bunks and a single in the other room for Mike, Matt and I. With no space and an old gas heater, the place was overpriced at £5 ($8) each per night!

We ate in the restaurant, but as a very light sleeper I was worried that I would not get any, as a band was thumping drums next door. Mike was knackered and headed off to bed and was quickly followed by Matt. I fancied a nightcap and had a look behind the bar but could not see anything so 'uno mas por favor' was the request, and another bottle of wine promptly arrived. Before hitting the sack George and I had a couple of local ‘mint flavoured' cocktails that looked and tasted like mouthwash. Three bottles of wine and a couple of these were enough to knock me out for the night.

Hotel at the base of the Antillanca ski area

We did not hang about in the morning and set off on the short drive up to Antillanca. We knew nothing about the resort and were pleasantly surprised when we arrived to find it open, and conveniently there was a large hotel right next to the lifts. We checked in and were delighted at how cheap dinner, bed and breakfast worked out.

With a couple of days without skiing we were keen to get back onto the slopes and after getting our gear into the rooms we were quickly booted up and heading to the two open lifts.

Our first two days were spent in limited visibility in deep powder. It was pretty hard going not knowing what direction you were moving, how fast and whether you had stopped. A couple of breaks in the cloud gave a teasing hint of what was out there but we really were hoping that our final day before heading into Argentina would be a bluebird one.

The hotel served us well and the meals were superb value. Both lunch and dinner were four course feasts, with salad, soup, two choices of main course followed by a selection of deserts. With comfortable rooms, helpful and friendly staff, our only criticism was that in the evenings there was absolutely nothing to do, but we were there for the skiing so it wasn’t a major issue.

The following morning Mike jumped out of his bed clearly delighted by the clear blue skies. As he was heading to Puerto Montt to collect the car documentation he was keen to be on the slopes by 9am so he could have a half-day before leaving. After a speedy breakfast, Mike and I were the second and third people on the lift. Our first aim was to put signature turns onto the wide face above the base. Excellent stuff and it was good to see those lines still untouched at 5pm.

The majority of the morning was spent doing laps on the upper t-bar and by the end of the day we had it down to eight minutes per lap. From there you could ski either side of the lift line or blast from the top and across towards the T-bar in the centre of the piste map. We put in a couple of super 8's although my first effort was far from super and I bailed out when I got thrown onto the back of my skis on a steeper section.

Quintin makes some turns in powder at Antillanca

We hadn’t had any great need to hike in the previous week but Mike and I felt that it would be worth the sweat for the views and open, untracked skiing and we were not to be disappointed. We picked our lines but I headed too far out and landed in a flatter section than I had wanted, but the turns were sensational.

With Mike on his way and lunch over I decided that I would ski a couple of runs with George and Matt, who due to lack of practise, confidence and equipment rarely venture far off the piste. I knew that by heading off to the left of the upper t-bar, you could go right out on an easy off-piste section before traversing home if need be. Although I hit my obligatory rocks, George and Matt got down unscathed and I think they enjoyed seeing the different scenery and experiencing the type of skiing that I now crave.

Lap after lap I skied different fresh lines and at one stage the local instructors, lifties and I all seemed to be competing on one section to put in perfect powder turns. Whilst I don’t know if mine were perfect, they were certainly fun.

I went right through to 5pm before heading to the bar for a couple of beers and got caught out when Mike arrived back an hour ahead of when I thought he might appear. Skis loaded back into our trusted Nissan, we were off to Argentina.

But that’s a story for another day...


Quintin Chalmers is a 30 year old skier from Aberdeen in the north of Scotland. He has skied at over 50 North American resorts and runs, a site designed to help like minded people find the best turns in some of the more unusual resorts in western USA. He has over 20 years skiing experience and enjoys nothing more than seeing new places that many people write off as not being worth the hassle.