TRANSITIONING FROM FLIP-FLOPS TO SKI BOOTS OVERNIGHT is always shocking, but chasing winter to South America has been part of my annual migration for the past 30 years. As a member of the US Ski Team, I would spend the entire month of August bouncing around between the resorts of Portillo, Valle Nevado, La Parva and Las Lenas. Each season I gained new appreciation for this amazing part of the world, a unique region where the Pacific Ocean gives way to fertile valleys producing the finest fruits and vegetables (and wines) before abruptly slamming into the 20,000+ foot peaks of the Andes.
In 1989, my teammate Erik Keck and I decided to extend our trip. We sold our 205cm Head slalom skis and purchased surfboards at the only surf shop in Santiago. We followed handwritten instruction to a place called Punto Lobos. Privy to locals only, this ‘secret spot’ is now one of the most prominent surf breaks in South America. The two giant rock pillars that form the beginning of this perfect left can be recognized in the pages of every major surf publication in the world.
But 17 years ago there was was no place to stay. We slept on our empty ski bags in an abandoned house on the beach surfing the best — and biggest — waves of our lives. When we were too tired to surf we played in the sand dunes, jumping our brand new 4WD rental car, and running around naked. It didn’t take long to discover that Chile was and still is the ultimate adventure playground.
More recently I’ve returned to South America every August to follow my passions as a heli-ski guide and production manager for StellarAdventureMedia.com. Each year is a new adventure as we deliver high-end experiences for clients while servicing the needs of professional skiers such as Tanner Hall, Lyndsey Dyer, Todd Ligare, Julian Carr and others.
While pros and clients have different agendas, the relationship is mutually beneficial. The pros prefer to utilize the helicopter during the early and late light hours while the clients are more interested in skiing throughout the day. Typically the pros will go early and establish a zone and help mitigate the hazard so that we can bring clients into the field and safely descend more aggressive terrain.
Then at the end of the day we can all meet up for a beer at the local bar, a truly Stellar Adventure.