Three-thousand steps in the Andes. They took us up to the top of a 5,000 vertical-foot couloir overlooking the Chilean-Argentine border. We marched straight up the bootpack (to nearly 14,000 feet) to Ski Portillo's Super C Couloir with no acclimatization, no ski legs, and just enough water. Just. This followed the 24-hour journey it took to get here. The one with the stopovers in Los Angeles and Peru. The landing that generated enthusiastic clapping when we made touchdown. Or my elfin seatmate who boarded in Lima and crossed himself as we took off, then continued crossing himself throughout the trip, though it possibly had to do with asking God to spare him from an in-flight movie starring Jennifer Aniston.
Once we arrived, though, the sleeplessness and altitude were mooted by the mountains: It's simply too hard to resist the couloir. Portillo, placed in a steep valley bisected by an alpine lake, has a way of coaxing you out of your comfort zone. A handful of lifts crawl partway up each side of the valley. From the top of each, both short and long hikes put you into thousands of granite-lined couloirs ribbing every mountain in sight. Some chutes stretch as long as 5,000 feet, some as little as 300. Cliffs of brown granite serrate nearly every skiable line. Which is why Skiing Magazine is holding this photo contest here: Portillo rewards those who take chances, and those who hoof it up the valley walls. In addition to the Super C's 5,000 feet of shin-deep powder, our rewards on Day 1 were the views of 22,841-foot Aconcagua, the highest peak outside of the Himalayas.
The only hitch in the contest? Competitors have only five days to shoot. Competing in the invite-only event are some of the best ski photographers on the planet: Grant Gunderson, Adam Clark, Steve Lloyd, Jordan Manley, and Gene Dwarkin. (None of these guys shot http://www.skinet.com/action/2008-08/south-american-photo-challenge-port... these photos of the Super C, which is why they suck.) Skiing for the photographers is a similarly talented group of Pep Fujas for Gunderson, Eric Roner for Clark, Chad Sayers for Manley, Jason West for Lloyd, and Josh Van Jura for Dwarkin. The task? The team that shoots the best air, big mountain, powder, ski culture, and "creative angle" photos win. The winning shots will be published in the February issue of Skiing magazine and the lucky few staying in Portillo get to see each team's slide show at the end of the week.
Rather than scout the area, the teams got after it in earnest today. Roner and Clark hiked both sides of the valley and finished at the top of the Super C at dusk. (They retreated.) Gunderson and Fujas capped their day with a 20-foot acid drop from a sundeck onto a tiny landing ramp in front of a crowd of bystanders. (They clapped.) Dwarkin and Van Jura shot in a few areas in the sun. (They sweated off a hangover.) Sayers and Manley shot both early and late light but wouldn't elaborate. (Keeping secret stashes a secret requires surprise secrecy.)
And the forecast is for another bluebird day. Check back here tomorrow for more. To see Skiing magazine's Staff Members photos, http://www.skinet.com/action/2008-08/south-american-photo-challenge-port... target=_blank>Click Here.