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The Big Debate in Las Leñas

The Big Debate in Las Leñas

[ August 31, 2009 - 5:51pm ]
Las Lenas Couloir
In this isolated little ski area in Argentina, there is this choice: Join the South Americans at the disco and sleep all day, or go to bed early and get after the powder stashes yourself. By Brigid Mander. Photo by Aaron Dahill.

Sleepily stepping out the hotel door into darkness at 5:40 A.M., I run smack into a group of drunken Argentines. I knew what was coming…after all, this is Valle de Las Leñas, Argentina. 

The Argentines were doing, in their eyes, what one should be doing at that hour. in Las Leñas—heading home from the disco. I was the weird one, with my ski gear and a loaded pack. I did my best to explain that to climb and ski a big mountain, you had to start early. It was obvious this made no dent in their horror, so I gave up, smiled, and waved a pole in farewell.

It’s my third day in Leñas, a big-mountain mecca and one of the favored destinations of the Northern Hemisphere’s freeskiing scene. The Marte chair, Las Leñas’ famously terrifying lift (and not just because of the terrain it accesses), had been broken down since one of the towers was hit by an avalanche weeks ago, and there isn’t much interesting terrain to ski inbounds without it. In this isolated little ski area, there is this choice: Join the South Americans at the disco and sleep all day, or go to bed early and get after the powder stashes yourself.

I chose the latter. So with my friend Aaron from Jackson Hole, I soon found myself cheerily skinning through a pleasant Andean sunrise. A few hours later, we are a couple thousand feet up a steep gully clinging to an exposed, frozen slope. The latest in massive, vicious, Andean wind gusts threaten to unhook me from my precarious purchase, and I’m cursing our ambition to ski Adrenalina, a classic 6,000-foot descent near the resort. I resolve to turn around at the next possible spot, and envy those safely sleeping partiers.

But we go on, because we are already up there, and the snow gets colder and softer the higher we go. Eventually, not too far over our heads the summit of 50-degree Adrenalina appears, a furious scene of roiling, blowing snow, backlit by the sun. Beautiful, but I don’t want to go up there. Really. I give into what must be my 20th resolution to turn around due to the malicious wind, and hunker down in a semi-sheltered, sunny side of the chute we are ascending while Aaron continues.

The wait is not too long. Aaron gets impressively close, but as so often happens in Argentina, the wind has its way. Summitless, our consolation is over 5,000 feet of cold snow and corn down to the valley. Back at the resort, we hear the Marte is finally cleared to open again, and it is back to the daily Leñas debate: disco and sleeping in versus rocking the early morning ambitions.  —Brigid Mander

Las Lenas Couloir

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