Have you ever lived your whole life in a house only to find out that there’s a fairy playground behind the tire swing that you could have been peeping at for years? That’s how I feel today.
I have a very short history with skiing. When I was a child, my father (the other sporty person in the family, long deceased) piled the family into the full-sized green Ford Station wagon and up to golf courses and whatnot off season, so we could clip strangely-squared boot into preposterously long ski and swoosh swoosh off into the distance. It was hard work, and I’m pretty sure I’m the only one that really liked it, and even so, I’m not sure how much I liked it vs. wanted my father’s appproval, which we can put on the list after dental phobia about things to work on in my personal life. Cross country skiing was the only skiing I’d ever done, save a quick stint or two on water skis as a kid.
Fast forward many years, and my ex offered to take me skiing for the first time. I think I was in my late 20s, and I formed my skis into a fast wedge and proceeded to skchkchkch down the mountain, feeling every bit a success. Time went on and I went a couple more times, even getting my skis parallel at times. Some friends rented a condo at Whistler, and I insisted I was a poor skiier. They insisted I was a sandbagger (which I had to look up, and misremembered, thinking they’d called me a carpetbagger). Somewhere along the way I’d become a solid beginner-intermediate. I later switched to snowboarding, and I was one of those people who goes down the mountain fakey, because I’m reasonably ambifoostrous (yes, I made that up), and could never remember if I was right or goofy (these are real terms, I’m not asking for a commentary on my quirk, I already know about that).
Then there was life, and time, and a bike accident that laid waste to my poor tender left shoulder, leaving me clickier than before and also very protective of that side. I decided to ski once in the south of Chile, just to get over my fear. To say that the conditions were bad is an insult to bad conditions and goretex makers the world over. By the end of the day, the snow covered my skis almost completely, leaving me skiing through conditions I previously would have called sleet, but now I will refer to as “frappuccino.” Even after I returned my skis, I wore my goggles to the road to hitch a ride back down to my hostel. The only saving grace of this ski trip was that there were thermal baths at the top (in Chillán). Then I had to wring out my freezing wet clothes and put them back on, and ski to the bottom, where I’d rented my gear.
So, back to the fairies (remember the fairies?). J, a friend of mine who is soon to leave Chile for points east (or west, depends on which way you fly, I suppose), proposed to me that we get out of dodge for the first of three days of the Chilean Fiestas Patrias (national holiday, Sept. 18th, which this year will stretch out through Sunday). Our goal? The snow.
Here’s an aside. In Chile when you say you’re going skiing, you say, “Voy a la nieve” (I’m going to the snow), not “voy a esquiar. Or you can name the location, which around here is Farellones, El Colorado, Valle Nevado, or slightly further afield, Portillo. So to the snow we went.
And you know, remember the fairies? They were out in full-force yesterday, singing and flinging tiny fairy-sized pyrotechnics about. The sky was impossibly blue, the mountains heaps of frothed milk mixed with fairy dust. Valle Nevado was nearly empty, we took bonine on the way up to not puke from the very curvy drive, I bargained my way into a sandwich that didn’t have any meat on it, we skiied and schushed and swished and scraped (but only occasionally) everything we could find on that mountain, and I even went down some reds, which are Chile’s version of a pretty fierce intermediate run, though only because I accidentally ended up with them before me, and not exactly because they are my forté. But I made it.
I am not a person who likes to be bad at things. I know none of us are, but I have carefully crafted my life so nothing comes up that is not pleasant, easy or possible. So skiing takes me out of my comfort zone, plops me on a mountain with nothing but years of bicycling and spinning experience (go quadriceps!), and bunches of balance-related sports activities (cross country skiing, water skiing, kayaking, bicycling), straps painfully squeeezy boots on my feet, sticks onto those, and pushes me out of the nest saying “FLY!”
And I did. And it was great. And I can’t believe this is all just a couple hours from my front door and I finally discovered it now. Of course, on the other hand, it costs a full-on Benjamin ($100) to have the pleasure, and that’s not part of my monthly budget. But wow. Fairies abound. And birds singing, even. And a dozy, cozy ride down the mountain with an amazing driver, and a bus stop just three feet from Ski Total which took me right back down to my empty neighborhood because everyone was out and carousing, because fairies be darned, it was the 18th, and there is chicha to be drunk and empanadas to be scarfed.
Now some advice: don’t wait for the fairies to peep inside and remind you they’re there. Plus the gardner could come and evict them at any time. I urge you: go out and do something spectacular. Today, tomorrow, next week, this month.
Deets: From Santiago, the easiest way to get to the snow is to metro or bus to Escuela Militar or beyond, getting to Ski Total at 4900 Apoquindo sometime after 8 (8-8:30 is probably a good time). Vans leave when they fill up (buy your ticket at the counter), per location. 11,000 round trip to Valle Nevado. You can rent your gear down below or up at the mountain, or bring your own. Probably cheaper down below, but you run the risk of mucked up gear up on the mountain with no chance for repair/replacement. We rented up top, which did cost us some ski time, but increased time for chatting aimlessly with oversunned ski techs who asked us how long we’d lived in Chile.
Another possibility is to take the micro (city bus) up to the ex-YPF gas station (now a Terpél), at the end of Avda. Apoquindo and rent gear at the store across the street, wait at the beginning of “camino a farellones” and hope someone stops to give you a lift. You risk bad driving and stranding, but this is definitely a cheaper possibility.
Tenacity, the ability to wake up early, the willingness to fork over a whole lotta money and a credit card to leave a deposit for the rental equipment is all you need. There’s even tissues at the lifts. And for that chunk of change, there’d better be.
Edited: to add photos and prove that what I’ve always suspected is actually true, Margaret from CachandoChile is nearly always right. I did, indeed have a camera secreted on my person. But skiing is more of a do than a photograph experience, so I tried to oblige. I also have one broken lens already, and am trying not to make it two.