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Avoiding the Warnings in La Hoya, Argentina

Avoiding the Warnings in La Hoya, Argentina

[ September 11, 2009 - 12:09pm ]
La Hoya, Argentina
So what if you're alone and the big lines aren't good this late in the season? Brigid Mander has been warned, but she still heads to La Hoya, Argentina, to ski blower pow with a couple of ski patrollers.

“Don’t go.” My friend Doug, a South American ski guide and Silverton Mountain, Colorado’s snow safety director, is staring at me, alarmed. I have just cheerfully informed him of my plan to visit Esquel and ski La Hoya, late season. He wants me to know that most lines I would want to ski there haven’t  been filled in during this mild Andean winter. The bottom third is all downclimbing, he tells me.

The warning gives me pause, but conditions change so rapidly in the Andes, you never know what will happen. Closed lifts and touring plans scrapped for wind, or storm-chasing powder when you arrive turns to rain. Or, you can stay in one place with terrible conditions and be unexpectedly gifted with a week of perfect powder, blue skies, and no wind. I’m going alone, warned but not dissuaded. I hop on a bus to Esquel, a charming mountain town, fly-fishing epicenter, and home of La Hoya (Oh-zsha, as the Argentines say it) ski hill.

The eight-mile ride up to the ski area base is riddled with beautiful chutes, couloirs, and snowfields, although, as Doug predicted, they’re only skiable to about two-thirds of the way down. The potential for big lines here in a better snow year (or earlier in the season), however, is huge. A local tells me there was a large storm a few days ago, so hope springs eternal.

The base area is nestled up a narrow valley, with just a few inviting little wood buildings, and no gringos. A couple of chairlifts take you up to a large basin, with wide open skiing and fun-looking ridges. Above the top chairlift there is a boot pack. Figuring the ridges look most interesting, I head up it. The lines are not very long, but steep, with fun airs for drop-ins, a few flutes, cliffs, and best of all, what looks like untracked powder. Coming along the ridge I spot the guys who kicked the steps, two ski patrollers. They drop into beautiful blower pow, confirming the snow quality is muy buena.

Up here, the snow is perfect, so I stay, lapping the little ridge with the ski patrollers, who eventually start talking to me. They say it's too bad you have to hike to this spot, but they have no idea how good they have it: just three of us, casually hiking and scoping untracked, blower lines under bluebird skies. I am pretty much in love with La Hoya. And this is only a tiny bit of the real terrain, which I am not visiting because (a) I am solo and (b) I plan to return and ski these lines when they are filled in. It just goes to show that you never know what you will find in Argentina.  —Brigid Mander

La Hoya, Argentina

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