Trip leader: Dee Dee Vallez Trip participants: Randy Alexander, Marty Lubinski, Arlen and Anne Warta, Ann Williams, Bob Findlay, Dale Rudolph, Barb Rudolph, Dee-Dee Vallez, Roxane Devine, Tom Szwedko and John Flory.
Thanks Marty Lubinsky, Arlen and Anne for taking the pictures. Be sure to go all the way down the page to read the article written by Bob Findlay printed in the Rocky Mountain News. Back to more photos.
Mountain view from Posada taken from parking lot at the Farellones hotel.
Posada de Farellones Hotel where we stayed the first 4 days.
Termas view from top of hotel lift taken just after exit from top of 1st chairlift.
Dee Dee and Anne on the antique lift at Termas.
Termas de Chillan antique chair with Anne and Dee Dee.
SSC skiers at Termas. SSC skiers at Termas.
The steeps at Termas.
Ski bowl from Termas.
Termas hotel from lift taken from first (bottom) chairlift while looking back at hotel.
Valle Nevado from El Colorado.
Valle Nevado ski area base and road. The road curves from Santiago Chile to the ski areas.
Top of Tres Puntas lift, Dee Dee, Anne, Roxanne.
Valle Nevado view from Tres Puntas lift, W in the Mountain.
Valle Nevado view of El Plomo 18,000 ft peak.
Anne and Arlen at Valle Nevado.
Termas de Chillan restaurant and steam vents.
Thanks Marty Lubinsky, Arlen and Anne for taking the pictures. Be sure to go all the way down the page to read the article written by Bob Findlay printed in the Rocky Mountain News.
Back to more photos.
Slipping off a ridge top, my skis clatter across frozen tracks before hitting softer snow in the ridge's shadow. Farther down, the edges take deeper bites in corn snow and I pick up speed on the wide- open slope. Nothing like Colorado skiing well above tree line.
Yes, the calendar's on August, flipping into September. And no, I'm not dreaming. This is El Colorado - in Chile, 6,000 airline miles from the home state where snow was barely dusting the tops of the Fourteeners and resort skiing was a couple of months away.
A dozen members of the Satellite Ski Club - 11 Coloradans and one Vermonter - decided not to wait this year. Far south of the equator plenty of snow clings to the Andes.
The snow is much like you find during springtime in the Rockies - morning boilerplate softening in the afternoon, with the occasional powder stash piled by the wind up high where it's still too cold to thaw.
But Colorado has nothing quite like El Colorado. The mountain is a classically shaped volcanic cone, with no trees and smooth slopes spilling steeply from its pinnacle 360 degrees around. Aspiring World Cup racers have found Chile to be a perfect training ground, where they are drawn to the firm snow and the chance to get on skis well before the competitive season gets rolling in North America and Europe.
The slopes rising from El Colorado's base blossomed with the red and blue gates of multiple race courses and, on the opposite side, skiers were blasting down a bump run and somersaulting off jumps. They turned out to be members of the U.S. Ski Team's freestyle squad, in Chile for their first on- snow drills since March.
We admired their skill as we cruised the adjacent run, and when they abandoned their course in late afternoon, Dale Rudolph, of Parker, and I sneaked onto it. My normally ragged moguls style became sweetly smooth on the carefully groomed symmetrical bumps, even if I couldn't match the jackhammer- legs style or speed of the Olympians. Dale said I've never looked better.
I skipped the jumps; no need to risk aging knees with several more days of Chilean skiing spread out before me.
On either side of El Colorado lie the resorts La Parva and Valle Nevado, and as a group we did our best over four days to ride every lift of each area. The relentless goal for most in the club was to ski off piste, and the opportunities were endless. Only a few cliffs plus bare patches of volcanic rock interrupted the sweep of snow in all directions. We had only to make sure we didn't take a slope that might become a cliff, or sink too far into a valley and be forced to hike up to a lift.
I often followed a single ski track to a ridge for a peek down the far side. Usually, a reward awaited: like the time at the top of Valle Nevado when a narrow skiable path through the rock led to a steep slope piled with soft snow. I set out to lead Arlen and Ann Warta, of Golden, to the same spot on the next run, but Arlen found an even higher path and a longer run through the powder.
While the main group skied the resorts, Tom Szwedko, of Leadville, was off earning his turns on the surrounding slopes. Tom is legendary in the club for cross- country skiing as often as possible. He once skied all 365 days in a year and has not let a month slip by without skiing since October 1979.
We enjoyed mild weather until our sunny idyll was interrupted about noon on the fourth day when clouds wrapped themselves around the mountains in a dense whiteout. We were skiing in four to five groups at the time, and each had an adventure groping toward the bottom, mostly by the feel of the snow underneath and the sounds of nearby lifts.
Someone worried aloud about Tom - off on his own, as always. But John Florey, of Aurora, commented that he quit worrying about Tom years ago because he always gets down. Tom did but said if he hadn't taken altimeter readings on his ascent, he wouldn't have known where to turn toward the resort on his return.
We spent our evenings at the Hotel Posada de Farellones, a rustic one-level structure nestled against one of the scores of tight switchbacks on the road from Santiago to the ski areas - a road so narrow that weekend traffic is limited to one way, up in the mornings and down in the late afternoons/evenings.
Breakfast and dinner prepared by an in-house chef were included with our lodging, and we never were tempted to wander. How could you pass up breakfasts that had chocolate pie one morning and pineapple-creme pie another? Dinners included such dishes as pork chop with pesto, tomato soup with cinnamon and sour cream, and desserts like crème brûlée, lime sorbet and toffee pie.
We ventured out one night to check out the "upside down" Southern sky. With the help of a star guide, we managed to find the Southern Cross, even though it was just above the horizon and obscured by Santiago's smog - reminiscent of Denver's brown cloud on its dirtiest days.
On the morning after the whiteout, we were carried by van 25 miles back to Santiago, where we boarded a train for a five-hour journey south of almost 300 miles to Chillan. We passed through vineyards, orchards, pastures and a few towns under dark skies dripping rain. At the train station in Chillan, the van driver who would take us to the ski resort spoke the words we were hoping for: It's snowing in the mountains.
Arriving after dark at the five- star Gran Hotel in Termas de Chillan, most of us were ready for a quick supper and bed. But Tom immediately put on his skis to log Day 348 on the final day of what he counts as a ski year: Sept. 1 to Aug. 31.
Morning dawned with blue skies, stunning white slopes and steam rising from vents in the volcanic mountain just outside the hotel windows. The new snow wasn't that deep - 4 to 5 inches - but it was powder, and it covered a treeless expanse so big we carved freshies until well into the afternoon.
The next morning, we looked longingly at the virgin powder surrounding the resort's highest T-bar lift. But the snowcats that had been digging the T-bar out the day before still were digging and had a long way to go.
No matter: A day of seeking out leftover powder below corniced slopes, dodging the omnipresent racers on the groomed slopes and hauling down a souvenir chunk of jet-black lava rock left me more than ready to hit Termas' amazing hot tub.
Fed by natural hot springs, an indoor pool flows to a huge outdoor pool with a waterfall in the center and massaging jets arranged around the perimeter. It's the centerpiece of a luxuriously modern base hotel that stands in sharp contrast to the positively creaky chairlifts.
How slow were they? At the top of the Don Otto chairlift, Marty Lubinsky, of Milton, Vt., got on the two-way radio to Randy Alexander, of Littleton, who still was on the chair: "We can see you now, Randy, which means you'll be here in about an hour."
OK, that's an exaggeration; my stopwatch timed the lift ride at 22 minutes.
On Day 3 in Termas, our last day of skiing in Chile, the snowcats had done their job. The upper T-bar carried us between 12- to 15-foot-high walls of snow - perhaps a season's worth of accumulation - to Termas' high point. On one side, the powder was disappointing, but on the other I veered blindly to the top of a ridge and a long untracked slope opened up below me.
I can still feel that sweet floating sensation of one turn flowing to the next and the next and the next . . .
Valle Nevado: 21,600 skiable acres (by comparison, Vail claims 5,289 acres), 9,957 feet base elevation, 12,111 feet top elevation, 2,854-foot vertical drop, 8 lifts.
La Parva: 7,680 acres, 8,785 feet base elevation, 11,979 feet top, 3,194 vertical drop, 14 lifts.
El Colorado: 2,470 skiable acres, 7,973 feet base elevation, 10,936 feet top, 2,963-foot vertical drop, 18 lifts.
Valle Nevado, La Parva and El Colorado offer interconnecting passes and together form the largest skiing area in South America.
Termas de Chillan: 24,700 skiable acres, 5,280 feet base elevation, 8,910 feet top, 3,630-foot vertical drop, 12 lifts, South America's longest run at 8.1 miles.
Lift tickets: Prices ranged from $17.88 U.S. on a half-price deal at Valle Nevado to $44.14 on a weekend at La Parva.
Of note: The Satellite Ski Club, affiliated with Lockheed Martin but open to everyone, turns 50 this year.
Total 12-day trip cost per person: $2,863 (2-day Santiago extension: $170)
Holidaze Ski Tours arranged the Satellite Ski Club's trip.
Flights were on Delta Air Lines, from Denver to Atlanta (3 hours) and Atlanta to Santiago, Chile, (9 1/2 hours)
For information: holidaze.com and delta.com
You memorize Cerveza, por favor, but you still can't get a beer because now you're being asked to specify which label in a language you don't understand.
Next you memorize No entiendo and nod toward a spouse or friend who speaks Spanish.
Pista Negra Solo Expertos on a sign at the top of a steep run, however, needs no interpretation.
Emu is on the menu, so you try it, only to be chided, "You ate Big Bird!"
You ski over a harmless pebble and learn that even small chunks of volcanic rock will rip up your edges and bases.
Occasional whiffs of sulfuric gases percolate through the snow.
Dividing by 1,000 and multiplying by 2 tells you that a hat marked 5,000 pesos will cost you about 10 bucks.
Two days in Santiago after the skiing wasn't nearly enough time to explore Chile's capital city. Founded in 1541, it's full of historic stone churches, government buildings, museums, shops and a population of more than 5 million. Among the highlights:
Plaza de Armas: From this large open square you can branch out to the historic heart of the city. It throbs with people and street performers and is partially filled with booths selling artwork and handicrafts. Watercolors, an alpaca wool poncho and a leather hat were among the items going home with our group from here.
Cathedral de Santiago in the Plaza de Armas and the Merced Basilica: Massive stone walls and columns, stained glass, statues and huge halls provoke a hushed reverence in both of these grand church structures. And there were many more we didn't have time to visit.
Pre-Columbian Art Museum of Chile: Not far from the plaza, this museum houses an exquisite selection of pre-Columbian artifacts.
San Cristobal Hill: A funicular railway carried us past the Santiago Zoo up this steep hill. Topped by a huge statue, the Virgin of Immaculate Conception, it affords a bird's-eye look at the city and a view of the mountains we had been skiing. On the streets at its base, we found numerous small shops selling handicrafts of a finer quality (and higher price) than those at the Plaza de Armas. Purchases included a small tortoise carved of lapislazuli (a native Chilean stone), copper mask, carved wood replica of an Easter Island statue and a fish made of wood sections so it bends and flops. A few blocks from the railway is the home and now museum of the late Pablo Neruda, a Nobel Prize-winning poet.
Plaza de la Constitucion: A plaza surrounded by government buildings, including the Palacio de la Moneda, Chile's equivalent of the White House.
Central Station: Turn to one side of this bustling railroad hub and you find a basic mall of everyday goods and clothing. But on the other side are scores of booths jammed tightly together selling everything from parakeets to belts to stone carvings. Here, I finally found a good price on the Chilean spurs I'd been seeking as a souvenir, plus a huge, flat-brimmed cowboy hat favored in central Chile. (Combined with the alpaca poncho, I look like Clint Eastwood in his spaghetti westerns - minus the guns, cigar, snarl and good looks.)
Marriott Hotel: A nice place to stay, and who would have thought we'd get caught up in the buzz of a visiting dignitary from China and be treated to a lobby fashion show?
Subway and buses: All we needed to get around the city on very few pesos.
Bob Findlay is an assistant news editor. Contact him at findlayb@RockyMountainNews.com.