We arrive to Anton’s friend Derek already chatting up a couple of the day’s customers who have arrived early: a couple guys from Sweden who we immediately hit it off with. They ski well and are the kind of guys that you wonder how a guide could get paid to hang out with. Looking around it is obvious that Chile is having a dryer year than normal. In fact, it is the coldest winter in 98 years, but you wouldn’t know it today as the sun is out and the snow is fresh.
Flashback to the 2009-2010 winter, having a beer in the Double Dog in downtown Aspen, I got introduced to Anton Sponar.
Anton is Toni’s son and is the the lead guide and co-owner of Ski Arpa. He describes it as a little bit of a casual operation. They have big terrain, they don’t advertise, they sell beers for two dollars, there is no mountain lodge at the base, no pavement, the electricity is run off of battery power and a generator, heat is the woodstove, there is a single wall left from an avalanche in 1981, there is a run named after two Wolf Creek ski patrollers, Colin Sutton and Chris Bilbrey, called Cascadas del Lobo. Currently the guides are having a mustache growing competition in anticipation of the arrival of Senor Morrison and Matchstick productions…I may just have to join in.
The daily commute from town (if you don’t sleep in the refugio) to the base area is 6,000 vertical feet and 18 kilometers; currently guide in training Derek is attempting to break the record for most nights spent at the base refugio. The snowcats used here are Don Chancha (translated Boss Hog). Older than me and Pitbull, who is a little newer, both run well, and get the job done. Toni has skied over 100 seasons in his life, and last but not least: THE FIRST THREE TIMES THAT TONI CAME DOWN TO CHILE, HE DROVE FROM MICHIGAN IN A VW BUS! There is only one word for that. Sick.
All of the paperwork done, we are finally in the cat (Don Chancha today) and headed up. It is 25 minutes to our drop off point. The sun is out, the window in the top of the cat is open. The spindrift comes in the windows but it feels great to be in the winter environment again. Arriving at the top, the view is astonishing. Blue sky, 9,000 feet below you can see the towns of Los Andes and San Felipe; 10,000 feet above us and just slightly to the east is the highest mountain outside of Asia, Aconcagua, allowing a line of site from Argentina all the way to the Pacific.
Quickly I am snapped back to reality with Anton’s announcement to the clients that we are heading up a quick hill and putting the skis on. We left the breezy ridge and dropped in to our first run, skiing new snow from the day before. The terrain for the first run wasn’t what my generation would call the gnar, but it was great to get the ski legs back under me after a month off. Our lines got progressively longer over the course of the day finally ending with a run named “El Otro Lado” (The Other Side) that took us all the way back to the refugio.
Back at the refugio we are greeted by warm sunlight and cold cervezas, both are welcome after four runs that are each longer than what most ski areas in the USA have to offer. Jokes are told, t-shirts are bought, photos are snapped, stories are told, and eventually the clients pack it up for the ride back down the road. We go about what will quickly become our nightly routine of cleaning up, playing darts, cards and reading books, and getting ready for the following day.
The refugio faces to the west and every evening the sunset is an incredible spectacle as we sit there reading a book watching the sun set over the Pacific. You wonder if there is any place like this on earth.
The winter sun sets early and we pack it in to our makeshift living room with the old wood burning stove. We play cards, and watch Arpa television (the fire). Eventually it is time for bed and the mattresses are pulled out and tossed down with a sleeping bag on top and we get the chance to repeat it all over again the next day. Not bad if you ask me. I can’t wait.