Preparando: Behind the Scenes at Patagonia Ski Tours
July was the hottest month on record in Utah, and August sweltered as well. The desert sun blazed, and our departure date loomed closer. For we were heading south to Argentina to ski the pow. It isn’t just a vacation, however. It’s a vocation. Ski patrolling and guiding in the Rockies has been the career of choice for my business partner, Justin Lozier, and I for the better part of a decade.
Lozier hails from the Midwest, but found his calling as a skier in the mountains of Vail. I rode in on the wind from the hills of Tennessee. Now we call Utah and the Wasatch our home. We have both found the high places of the world to be our greatest love and have devoted ourselves completely to chasing an endless winter.
In 2006, Lozier followed his future wife to her home in Argentina. What he found was a treasure trove of ski descents throughout the Andes. He wanted to return again and again. It only made sense for him to make the decision to transfer his guiding skills to a new venue. So was born Patagonia Ski Tours. In 2010, I traveled to Argentina to see Lozier and his wife get married in grand fashion. The reception ended somewhere around 8 a.m. the next morning, and I was hooked on the culture. The next step was to travel even further south to the lofty peaks of Patagonia. Amongst the snowy summits of San Carlos de Bariloche, I discovered skiing anew. The terrain was as rugged as I’ve seen, and the panoramic vistas of water, mountain, and sky were inspiring. This is where the partnership began.
Four years later, we’re still returning to this land of ski lore with our sights set on a successful season of guiding clients through the vast wilderness that is the Andes. Our goal is always to come home safe, but to explore more of the region each time we visit. This year promised the opportunity to further our knowledge of the culture, the terrain and the snowpack. With the storm track lining up over the cordillera, it was prime time to be skiing in the summer.
To make this dream of skiing year round a reality, we’ve sacrificed a life of normalcy and consistent paychecks to follow a passion. Saving to build a business a half-a-world away is no mean feat. But we’ve been blessed to have strong and understanding women by our sides to help us along the way. My wife was sad to see me go this year, but knows that next year she will be alongside us, skiing the fresh. Until then, we must continue striving to find better routes and more efficient means of traveling around.
Before one turn was made in August, months of planning were in order. Offering a unique experience for snow sliders and adventurers requires adapting our skill set from busting avalanches and search and rescue to catering to the needs of our clientele. Often times they’re apprehensive about traveling to a country where they don’t speak the language and the infrastructure doesn’t reflect that of North America or Europe. By being fluent in both English and Spanish, we’re able to interact with the locals and bring the culture face to face with the client. After all, it’s more than just a ski trip, it’s a cultural excursion. My first few seasons learning the native tongue were more entertaining for the locals than for me. But given a few months of skiing, and a few glasses of red wine, the language flows naturally. It becomes fun to converse with the locals and share in the intricacies of their homeland.
In addition to being a proficient linguist, knowing the state of affairs in Argentina and Chile is vital. The current economic condition of the countries is trying, but South Americans are a resilient group of people that have overcome challenges for centuries. It’s refreshing to see that they’re turning to outdoor tourism, namely skiing, to enhance their economy and build up their industry. Skis and apparel are now being designed and manufactured by the respective countries. The Alto Valle line of skis from Argentina is particularly interesting, and they’ve developed a compelling mix of skis made for shredding the heavier snow of the Andes. As freeskiing begins to take hold in the region, more attention will be placed on evolving the art. Competitions like Red Bull’s Beyond the Line, La Parva’s Eye of the Condor, and the famed Freeride World Tour bring riders from across the globe to the area. It also inspires a generation of young Latin riders to step up and take charge.
Recognizing the industry trends has led us to partner with other organizations around the countries whose aim is bringing skiing and education to more people. South American Beacon Project is a non-profit with a mission to deliver avalanche equipment and education to mountain workers. We’ve worked closely with them over the last couple seasons to further their objectives and impart knowledge we’ve gained working in the mountains of North America. Developing classes and curriculum is always exciting, and finding new ways to convey information in an effort to raise awareness and hopefully save lives is rewarding.
The last piece of the puzzle is analyzing objective hazards and monitoring the snowpack and conditions of the areas we visit. Weather stations and forecast centers are virtually non-existent. Meticulously studying weather maps and satellite models eats up many a Saturday night when our friends are fiesta-ing poolside. Once we step foot in the snow and can dig around, we compile our historical data and make a game plan for our tours. We make it a point to illustrate the dangers of traveling in avalanche terrain to our clients and keep everyone on top. This immerses our clients in their environment and makes our jobs as guides slightly less nerve-racking.
New objectives are always on the horizon, and finding the next great line or intriguing zone is what drives us. This year was one of adventure, and we look forward to going back with added insight to do it all over again next year. Join us and see for yourself at patagoniaskitours.com.