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Kite-skiing in Caviahue, Argentina

Kite-skiing in Caviahue, Argentina

[ September 28, 2009 - 5:33pm ]
You are lost on the side of a road in the middle of the night in Argentina. What do you do? Ask a cop for help. Then rent a sled or grab a kite and go skiing.

After being pitched off a Cono Sur bus at 2 a.m. onto a muddy road in Caviahue, Argentina, I have no idea where I am. Somewhere in the cold dark is El Refugio de Caniche, a hosteria owned by an Argentine friend and my next destination. Flashing lights jolt me fully awake: The police have rolled up behind me in the road. I brace for a hassle. But a policeman jumps out and offers to help. Before I know it, my gear is in the back of the police truck and so am I.

Minutes later (Caviahue is very small), the truck pulls up in front of a building. Five of the approximately nine decent snowmobiles on the continent are parked out front. I’m relieved—this is Caniche’s and not jail. The cops insist on bringing my gear in for me.

Established 30 years ago, tiny Caviahue has about 500 year-round residents. It is nestled between a C-shaped lake, a volcano, and araucanias (famously weird trees from the Mesozoic period). It boasts plentiful snowfall with the longest ski season in Argentina.

It is an out of the way place, yes, but worth the trek. There is a small ski resort on the lower flanks of Volcan Copahue, a large colony of French kite skiers, and great snowmobile-accessed terrain. Plus, there are actually sleds here to get to the terrain, unlike most of South America. You can make friends with the owners (hard) or hire them (easier).

To ski most worthwhile stuff here, you will either find yourself touring, on a sled, or using a kite to get to the goods. There are a lot of south-facing stashes along the border, featuring open bowls, nice drops, and steep ridges. The snow stays good and cold and you can almost count on having it to yourself—at least for now.

And if you go out to the one bar in town, as I did with a crew of French, Argentine, and Basque kiters (we had to drink so we could understand the cacophony of Castellano and French), then you can recover at the many termas pools around (ask how to get to Las Maquinas) for a steaming outdoor soak on a volcanic Andean plateau. But in order to get there? You have to ski-tour, sled, or kite.  —Brigid Mander


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