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Destination Antarctica: Arriving in Ushuaia

Destination Antarctica: Arriving in Ushuaia

[ November 4, 2009 - 5:29pm ]
First Ski Tour of the Trip
Views from the plane, poaching a guides' meeting on glacier travel, and warming up the ski legs after a summer off. Sam Bass reports from his journey to ski in Antarctica.

This is going to be a quick one, as I’m about to miss the taxi up to the glacier above Ushuaia, where I’m going to eavesdrop on a guides’ meeting. They’ll be discussing such things as roped glacier travel and client relations in anticipation of the Antarctica phase of this trip. There are about 20 guides in all, working for Doug Stoup and Ice Axe for the price of passage to Antarctica and the opportunity to ski in a place few have skied before.

The flight from Buenos Aires was visually astounding, with views of the desolate and sparsely populated south Atlantic coastline of Argentina. We refueled in El Calafate, a tiny airstrip on the shore of a huge, turquoise glacial lake (the color of which was not unlike my margarita from Dallas; see blog post 2) with no sign of civilization anywhere nearby. I’m told that the vista that inspired the apparel brand Patagonia’s logo is a short drive from El Calafate. With huge snowy peaks rising directly from the ocean, approaching Ushuaia feels like flying along the southern Alaskan coast. Only in this case it’s not the ocean proper, it’s the Beagle Channel, the name of which I assume has something to do with the HMS Beagle, but I’d have to check on that.

Once a prison colony, Ushuaia is now a town of 80,000 or so situated on the north shore of the Beagle Channel. There’s a one-chair ski hill about 10 minutes above town and beyond that are endless bowls, ridges, and peaks—range upon range of them, a backcountry skier’s paradise. The venue provides a convenient opportunity to get our ski legs under us before crossing the Drake Passage, bone up on backcountry skills, and make sure all of our gear is working properly before we commit to Antarctica for two weeks.

I’ll pay 20 pesos (about 6 dollars) for the cab ride to the glacier. After the guides’ meeting, I’ll probably join Warren Miller cinematographer Tom Day and his assistant Colin Witherell, as they shoot footage of a few marquee athletes—Andrew McLean, Kip Garre, and John Morrison—for next year’s Warren Miller film. Kip’s my roommate here at the hostel in Ushuaia and he just rolled in last night from a month-long mountaineering expedition in Nepal.

Alright, gotta get some pesos and grab that taxi. More soon.  —Sam Bass

Skiing Magazine Senior Editor Sam Bass is heading to Antaractica for an 18-day ski-mountaineering trip. You can follow his journey—and watch a video interview of him before he took off at

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