Bariloche is in the Lake District in Argentina. It is technically just north of Patagonia
but the name Patagonia brings more evocative images for tourism so it is placed in Patagonia! Despite summer being peak tourist time, winter is still a fairly busy time of year here due to the ski areas that neighbour the town. We arrived by bus from Orsorno our nemesis town in Chile. Life was sweet we had finally left Orsorno for good and arrived at the chocolate capital of S. America. We stayed at the Travellers Guesthouse a new, unimaginatively named and fairly random hostel. I like staying at new hostels because lets face it if you don’t get great hospitality then why did they bother opening a hostel! The town certainly has a certain charm to it, but it is quite well hidden among the tourist tour operators and the huge number of low quality tacky chocolate shops. The setting is spectacular the views across the lake are similar to Queenstown in NZ but probably even more spectacular. You have to climb or get a lift up one of the view points along the lake edge to get the full view panoramic experience, the panorama was apparently one of National Geographic’s top 10 views in the world. In town we met up with some old friends who were wintering in Bariloche, over the last few years we seem to be following each other to the best snow spots around the world. After some drinks we headed out for all you can eat pizza, the down side was only one topping was allowed, so quarter can be olive, quarter ham, quarter cheese, quarter onion, but they can’t mix them for you. This bizarre rule applied to quite a few subsequent Argentine pizza places we visited. Luckily there was great local Patagonian beer to wash it down with. The Germans certainly left their mark here! Another odd occurrence in the town was the student spring break groups. There were loads of student groups out on the town, they come for skiing but seem intent on just partying, the odd aspect is they all wore matching jackets. When I say all I mean everyone. The town felt a bit like it was overrun with gangs who felt they had to wear matching outdated ski jackets. A particular favourite gang uniform was the jackets with brown with yellow and orange specks over them, we called them the vomit gang and they looked sick, literally. We visited in winter so we could snowboard into the Frey mountain hut/refugio, the refugio is fast becoming a ski touring mecca. We spent just a few days touring around the refugio however you can clearly see the countless couloirs and huge powder bowls that surround the hut. We also visited Cerro Catedral resort, which is seen as one of the best resorts in Argentina and the southern hemisphere in general. After skiing a lot of resorts in Chile, Argentina and New Zealand, I can’t disagree. It has a good lift system (although 2 chairs fell off in 2013…), some great off piste with couloirs that are marked out by spiky rock pinnacle ridges. We hit it on a powder day with about 25cm of fresh which helped form a favourable impression! Hiking laps of the Laguna area couloirs and a few nice tree runs it was the best resort riding of the trip.
After riding in resort we spent a day skinning up the pistes headed for Refugio Frey. Frey is behind the ski area, a long run down a valley then up the other side. We were too tight on money to buy a lift pass for the one trip up to the top of the resort, after three hours sweating in full view of the chairlifts this felt a bit stupid. But as we approached the pinnacles on the ridge we did feel a great sense of achievement. The picture below is us approaching the pinnacles on the first ridge from the resort. There were supposed to be countless easy couloirs down the other side, in this low snow year we struggled to count one. After a bit of traversing along the ridge we found a snow field down. The picture below is shot looking back towards this snowfield we entered just to the lookers right of the highest point where it is in shadow. Looking from above, the route was far from clear cut. It appeared to have a cliff band in the middle. The other issue was the entry point required a down climb on rocks to reach the snow. If there was a cliff band could we retrace our steps and get out? What the heck lets find out! So after kicking steps and rock scrambling we made it onto the snow. With the snowboard strapped on, I traversed far right to get a good view down. We skied a stunning route between the rocks down the face above. Even the snow in the bushes lower down was fun. We then balanced on rocks and crossed the river before skinning up the other side to the hut. Outside the hut we were greeted by some friends old and new! It was a bit of a Chamonix get together with about 10 past and present residence in the hut! The hut sleeps 30 comfortably, but the warden told us they had 120 in it last summer. It isn’t possible to book a place and they don’t turn people away, so it is a bit of a gamble and there is a race to grab a bunkbed! Luckily in winter 120 people is unlikely I would recommend ear plugs all the same! The next day we skinned various faces, mainly the shaded south slopes to find great powder. The area has endless options that you can scope on sight. The line above ended on a frozen lake, although not steep it was super fun. An added bonus was that the entire area was totally untracked! The head of the valley up from the hut was more popular with endless couloir options. The dot in the middle is Marion ridding out from the couloir that comes down diagonally from the right. This was stopping to catch a breather at the top of a skin up to a col, splitboards ready to be put together. I love snowy mountains in black and white, this shot of the cerro principal pinnacle really shows how dramatic the scenery in the area was. In the summer for climbing it must be stunning too. This ridge held many possible lines to ski, with the impressive Tronador in the background. Cerro Tronador looks like an impressive climb, sadly the snow is almost always so wind affected it is not worth the effort to ski it.
So after a few nights in the hut we had drunk our cheap and disgusting Argentine Fernet, ate Edgar the hut warden’s great pizzas, avoided stomach issues from the dodgey out house and water buckets and best of all had had the perfect weather to explore the area! The hut has its own hydro electric plant and treats its waste so it really is a sustainable spot to enjoy a few days of self propelled snowboarding, we wont forget the area in a hurry and hopefully we will be back to ski some more of the stunning couloirs.The way out took longer than expected you can either skin up to the resort for a run down the piste or ski the footpath until you have to walk out. We took the footpath, it was a long walk with skis on back, it was through stunning forest but we were ready to collapse 3.5 hours later in the resort car park! The bus then whisked us back to town for a well deserved chocolate followed by a hot shower!