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Las Leñas - Post Numero Quatro 

The wind lashed objective - my final runsAs promised, the weather cleared for my final day in Las Leñas. Unfortunately, the epic wind returned, as well, which might be fitting for my first round there. It started out “breezy” although Marté was not open first thing. I think the guys knew what was coming. Because, by the afternoon, things were getting Biblical up high. All this didn’t stop me from getting my share, of course and I demonstrated significant resolve on my second lap. More on that later.

With the upper mountain closed, I figured a “side country” push was in order. There’s a huge bowl within sight of the base that the cat ski service uses regularly. I knew the road was in so I set my sights on that. I took the lift up as high as it would take me and set to skinning up the groomer. Three other Americans whom I’d met before a few days earlier were just ahead. I waved as I skinned by but didn’t exchange plans. With a bus departure later in the afternoon, I didn’t want to screw around.

Did I mention I hate wind?Once in the sun on the cat road, the temps and wind weren’t too bad although my fingers were biting in my thin gloves. But I could see things were going to get interesting at the col before dropping over. To be clear, I HATE wind. It’s my least favorite mountain weather phenomenon. So, I was swearing loudly as I was being pummeled and lashed trying to get to the shelter of some rocks so I could transition. I should’ve put on goggles.

4,700 feet to the hotel!

Creamy goodAfter ripping skins, I sidestepped through some rocks to get to the obviously loaded slope. It wasn’t super steep and the slab was soft and uniformly dense as far down as I could probe. The consistency was like AK pow – delicious. I made a few tentative high-speed turns aiming for a little shoulder that flattened out before I would have to commit to a choke through some rocks. All seemed good so I punched in through the narrows and out onto the huge run out bowl below. A short flat brought me to the next event, a long 2,000’+ bowl to the groomer far below. There was far less new snow here but I found fun pockets of goodness and generally enjoyed myself to the bottom. When I clicked out of my skis at the hotel door, my altimeter read 4,700’ of drop. Not bad.

I ate a snack, had a chat with Dean Cummings, who was on a work trip, then headed back up for another. Why not? I was about to sit on my ass for the better part of two days.  The gods sensed my hope for the wind dying and quickly whipped up some meteorological violence for me. Holy shit it was gnarly. The wind was barreling down the piste around 70kph. It was very pushy. I heard later that ridge top gusts were over 100kph. I’ve never skinned with goggles on but it made sense at this point. I toyed with bailing three or four times but remained resolute. The increased wind loading also occurred to me.

After turning the corner onto the cat road things got better. I could see it was ripping still through the col. The cat was also descending so I had a large group of hapless avy poodles ahead, which was nice. With goggles on the col was more tolerable. The wind was actually blowing up slope at this point. The second run was a carbon copy of the first, albeit with a few more tracks to contend with. When I got to the groomer, the lift was shut down and the resort’s services were contracting as the storm raged on. The base was still nice so I had some lunch and enjoyed my last few hours of après

Leaving the resort by daylight allowed me to see the nearby topography. It’s safe to say that there is a LOT to do around here. I’d likely come back but with a crew of chargers in tow.

Final thoughts

Las Leñas may represent the highest density of lift accessed steep skiing I’ve ever seen. Better-traveled skiers can weigh in on that claim. Unlike a place like Cham, LL is tight and lacks some of the objective danger one finds in the heavily glaciated Alps. You don’t have to hike much if you don’t want to. And if you want to tour, the place is ridiculous for that, too. You simply need the time and weather. Plan accordingly.

I easily managed without a guide but having one on a green light day would be worth while if only for the lift line carte blanche. After plucking the low hanging fruit as I did, a guide would also open up other, less obvious objectives.

The hotel thing was nice but super pricey. The village is tight so if you chose to rent an apartment you wouldn’t be walking far. The Mercado is adequate for foodstuffs so you could save a ton there cooking for yourself. It’s hard to eat out in any of the hotel restaurants for less than $30. I regularly spent $45-$50 if I was drinking wine, which you tend to do in Argentina. Learn to love Malbec and you’ll be psyched. On that note, you can save at least 30% buying your wine at the store. Same goes for beer. No surprise there. Brasero. Dudes in animal suits spraying champagne to techno.

The hot après spot, Brasero, has a nice lunch for around $16. My favorite steak was found up the hill a bit on a cool slopeside restaurant, La Rita. Something about the vibe in that place was just cool. The lomo (filet) was delicious and they make their own pasta.

La Rita - worth the hike

Don't buy your lift ticket until you get there. I skied half the days I was in Las Leñas so I donated about $500 to the cause. I should've known better with an area notorious for weather events. Just buy as you go. It also opens up options to ski completely out of the area and you won't regret it.


Looks good but....One final thought on a subject dear to me…coffee. When I first travelled to Central America in 1996 (Ecuador) I was stunned to find out that such a rich coffee growing region did not sell “real” coffee. Nescafé, or instant coffee, was the norm. As I spent more time in South America, I found the same. Certainly, typical espresso shops can be found nowadays and most of the hotels had machines. But the few shots I sampled were disappointing at best and not worth drinking at worst. And you still pay $4.50 for the cappuccino. Ouch.

Yes, it was worth the troubleMy solution for this was to do what any obsessed coffee snob would do. I brought my own coffee and gear. Yep. I know. Roll your eyes. But it worked out great. A pound of Anchorage’s finest Kaladi Brothers Estate Java, a scale (yep, I measure my beans. No, I don’t have a pencil moustache or wear skinny jeans, either, so stop it! I don’t even have a fixie). I have a small hand grinder that works great. I decided on the Aeropress as the method and brought a 1-liter thermos and a to-go mug into which to brew. Argentines love their mate so asking for hot water in my thermos every morning was normal. Problem solved.

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Reader Comments (1)

Hey Brian
Thanks so much for the blogs on your trip.
It's like giving steak and potatoes to a starving man.

August 18, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterBill

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