Las Leñas - Post Numero Tres: Marté Delivers
Thursday, August 13, 2015 at 04:20PM
Brian in Las Leñas skiing, Marté, Race/Trip Reports, steep skiing

A few of the couloirs sampled with Marté lift in boldOne more day in Las Leñas. For a trip that started out with much to be desired, it’s ending with just what I came for. My only regret is that I didn’t have a partner to ski all these amazing lines with. It was strange dropping into one 2,000’ 45˚ couloir after another completely alone. Sure, there were tracks but I hardly saw anyone on the ten or so runs I took from the top of the mountain down the imposing south face. As a result, the pictures to follow leave something to be desired but they give you the general idea.

The day I’d been waiting for finally came two days ago. The weather cleared, the wind stopped and the patrollers got their business done. I thought I’d join the frothing masses in the Marté lift line just for the ceremony of it. It was cold in the shade and I happily pulled out the big puffy in my pack that rarely sees the light of day. I stood with the rest for about 30 minutes before I lost my patience. Some of them had been there for 90 minutes. What the fuck is THAT all about? So, I backed out of line and took a short run down. Turned around and rode back and still no movement of the bull wheel.

At that point, I shed all my layers while standing in the sun just uphill of the massive lift line, threw skins on and started uphill. If I had to wait, I might as well get some exercise. This was a great way to see what gems were hiding in the upper basin. I was skinning on what is said to be the longest groomer in South America. It’s kinda like SA’s version of the Valle Blanche in Chamonix without the gaping crevasses. About 45 minutes into my climb the skiers started coming indicating the lift was now running. I decided to continue just because and soon dispatched with the 2,700’ to the summit.

I had my mind set on one particular line I’d spied from across the valley a week ago as my opening salvo on this crazy, shaded face that dominates the view from Marté. I’d committed its start to memory and did my best to triangulate my position from where I was. I cruised down a gentle ridgeline that held the keys to every delicious couloir on the feature and soon was standing a top my objective. Holy shit. You go from sunny, flat to 45˚+ steepness that dropped to forever. It’s hard to describe how excited I was to make those first turns.

One of several...Let’s be clear here. I’ve been skiing a long time. With the exception of actual alpine ski racing, I’ve dabbled and sometimes committed to several different skiing disciplines. From the slightly misguided zeal of telemark skiing in the 70’s, 80’s and early 90’s, to the equally zealous obsession with ultra light skimo gear. I now find myself jumping around a bit with the conditions, ranging from race gear for fast tours to fat skis for powder whoring. It’s all fun. But if I had to ski one kind of condition for the rest of my life it would be steep, shady, rock walled couloirs, hands down. The instantaneous commitment I feel when moving from the warm embrace of a sunny summit or col to the gnashing teeth of a steep line on a cold face is like a narcotic. And Las Leñas on a day like this is like that scene in Scarface when Al Pacino is sitting at his desk with the huge pile of cocaine in front of him snorting his brains out. It’s just that good.

Each run is about 2,500’ of perfection. The complexity of this face isn’t apparent until you’re in the meat of it. Keep your eyes peeled right and left as you make turn after endless turn and you can find options and secret passageways to yet another line. Hats off to all the guys who sussed them out. It made my job as the solo tourist relatively easy. Of course, I kept waiting for the one time I followed some tracks down only to find they ended in a mandatory rappel. But even after two full days of these lines getting hammered, I was still able to find fresh tracks on some of the obscure variations. There’s much more here than this face but I kept it simple and worked my way down the ridge hitting line after line.

The next day was supposed to get stormy but I was hoping the front was dragging its feet getting here. Indeed it was. I figured that if time was short, I wanted to hit a line called Manhattan, which taunts skiers directly opposite of the Marté lift. It’s a hike-to objective which made it all the more attractive to me.

The cat road and some skiers for reference

How could not ski THIS?I got on the lifts early and was surprised to see Marté running. Instead of hiking all the way up, I decide that I could take a top-down approach. As I descended the mellow terrain of the upper basin I spied the snow cat loading skiers for a morning run down a huge bowl near the couloir I wanted to ski. There were also six other skiers making their way in that direction. I didn’t want to get scooped. I had a friendly chat with some other Americans at the transition and was off up the cat track. Once again, I was triangulating the start zone from this new perspective and managed to hit it perfectly. There was no one else in sight. With sun exposure all day, I knew the conditions might be weird. Indeed, the wind hammered start was an icy 55˚at least and I briefly wished I had a tool of some sort as I gently eased in. But I quickly got on some chalk and all was good. Turn by turn on variable snow brought me to a wide sunlit bench with a creamy, softening surface. The couloir pinched down again and steepened to about 45˚ but was mostly corn and I was soon running it out onto the apron and the groomer below. Really satisfying.

The clouds finally rolled in and the light went flat. I bailed for some lunch. The sun came back out a few hours later which had be back on Marté hoping to sample the bowl that the cat skiers had hit. But as I rode the lift, the clouds came back so I settled for another tight couloir (yawn) back to the base.

Today is grey and spitting snow. We didn’t get much last night and tomorrow is supposed to be sunny. My bus doesn’t leave until 6pm so I might get one more hit of something before heading home and back to waiting for winter.

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