Sendero Group Travel Blog

Follow Sendero travelers on their adventures using accessible GPS.

Monday, August 08, 2005


Skiing in Valle Nevado Chile

Mike and family skiing at Valle Nevado
For six days, I am mostly taking a break from GPS activities if not completely from Email. This is probably a record since I started working on accessible GPS 10 years ago. In those days, I was dragging a 12-pound backpack to Chile and now I have the 1 pound BrailleNote PK, small enough to actually ski with.

I have been to Chile a half dozen times over the past 20 years both to Portillo and to this area, closer to Santiago. Valle Nevado, where we are now staying and skiing, one of four ski resorts perched in this section of the Andes. I have skied at the others, La Parva, El Colorado and Farellones, but this is the first time to ski Valle Nevado.

Seventy percent of skiing is the same no matter where you go in the world, snow, lifts and a fairly up-scale clientele. It is not an inexpensive sport. One thing different here is that all the skiing is above the tree line. This is fine when it is clear and sunny but unnerving when skiing in white-out conditions. I remember being in just that situation with my friend and ski guide, Ron Salviolo, at La Parva. There wasn’t a soul around and we/he could not see 10 feet ahead. We could tell which way was downhill but little more. There was a real danger of getting into a low area we couldn’t ski out of and a remote chance of an avalanche. These days we ski with a cell phone and two-way radios, mostly to stay in touch with the rest of the people we are skiing with but also in case of emergency.

Valle Nevado peaks panarama

Not much chance of a white-out this week. It has been sunny and in the 50s most of the day, every day. Other than Sunday, the slopes have not been very crowded. Valle Nevado mostly has intermediate skiing terrain. I’d term the runs medium in length and they wind around a lot. The snow quality is good and they groom extensively. I could really get used to this business of someone taking my boots off and putting all the gear away each day after skiing.

Valle Nevado has a couple high speed quad chairs and a few triple chairs. They have far too many poma lifts and T-bars. I clench my teeth the entire tense ride up one of these contraptions. I have had two bad experiences many years ago in France and Switzerland with a poma lift. Once, there was a double poma and the two units got twisted together with me riding them like a bucking bronco. Another time we skied past a poma and a riderless poma smacked me in the helmet, cracking the plastic but fortunately not my head. I suppose if you used these things every season , one would learn the technique of riding a poma but they are rare in the U.S. and I haven’t fortunately been on one for many years. It is just the allure of steeper and deeper snow in other areas of the resort, which gets me on a T-bar or poma at all.

A blind skier is a very unusual sight here in Chile. I forget how unusual this is because we are such a common sight at our home resort of Kirkwood, CA, where there will be 2 to 20 blind skiers on the slope any given day. My bright orange bib says blind in English, French and Spanish. Crowds of people will collect at the top of a run to watch us ski down. And yet, there are reckless people who ski right between me and my guide, close enough for me to tell what they had for lunch. I don’t think it is that they need blind displayed in another language, they are just clueless. Most other skiers are thrilled that a blind person is on the slopes sharing the exhilaration of skiing and the beauty of the mountains.

Once, I was skiing up to a very full lift line and the lift operator shouted to me as I approached, “Hola Ciego.” (Hello blind guy). “Tiene grande huevos.” (You have big balls). The entire crowd in line cheered as I skidded to a stop, nearly running over my guide.

Just like the streets of Santiago or the small towns, it is the people and the experience of skiing that makes the trip here worth it. For the sake of skiing alone, I prefer steeper and longer runs like those in Portillo, Kirkwood or especially Telluride, CO or Blackcomb/Whistler in Canada. We also love being able to practice our Spanish here in Chile and in Argentina where I have also skied. I hear good things about Las Lenias in Argentina, which we will have to try on another trip. For now, we will savor the wonderful snow, sunshine and Chilean hospitality, not a bad combination for 6 days of vacation, skiing, eating and socializing.

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