Thursday, February 16, 2012

We Love our Friends!

Our friends and backers at High Society Freeride are getting some good press at Transworld. Check out what a dedicated group of local skiers and snowboarders are doing back home, here in Colorado. Like us, they are motivated by a love of snow and the outdoors - Here's to locals making a difference doing what they love.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Super C

"Super C"

August 31, 2011 – The alarms went off at 5:00 a.m. Arpa guides Derek Lennon and Chris Bouchard were granted a hall pass while Anton Sponar was left to tend to clients at the home mountain. Derek, Chris and visiting friends Will Dejourdin and Bailey Mitchell, (and I) all climbed into the Arpa pickup truck by 5:30 for an off-day adventure. The plan was to head to Portillo, Chile to climb and ski "Super C," a classic big mountain couloir, known the world over.

The truck rolled to a stop in the Portillo base parking lot by 7:30. Morning light had not yet illuminated the tops of the high Chilean Andes, but we could just make out the ominous climb before us (and massive descent) on our approach to the resort. We were on the first chair at 9:00 and rode the Rocajack slingshot Poma lift to the beginning of our 3000 ft. climb.

As we left behind the resort boundary line, Chris set the "Bouch-pack" up the 40-degree slope and through a meter of fresh snow. The sun beat down on the rock wall rising above us and heated the snow on the surrounding slopes. It was a race against time to get up before the warming snowpack would be too dangerous to climb. Although Portillo consistently heli-bombs the slope we were climbing, the high Andes are avalanche prone and none of us wanted to be caught in a dangerous scenario.

For three hours we climbed. One boot-step above the last, with Chris leading the charge. If it were not for his sheer determination to reach the promised land of heavenly downward turns awaiting us, our group would have never made it to the top. The fresh warming snow began to windmill and sluff from rock bluffs above.

We reached the point of no return by noon. Our group had to make a decision to cross over a treacherous "no fall zone" onto a connecting pitch, or turn around and navigate our way back down through solar-heated powder to the resort boundary line. There was no choice to make. Chris lead the charge across exposed rock and into the couloir leading to the top. None of us could slip or fall here, as the couloir funnels into cliff face and very long drop.

As the photographer documenting our journey, I was the last to cross over the obstacle. My heart let up into my throat as I stepped over the dividing ridgeline out onto the bootpack. I held my breath as I traversed the snow wall onto the safe zone. We all made it across. Mt. Aconcagua, the highest point in the Americas, came into view as from this elevation. Chris plodded on, setting our course up another 800 vertical feet to the top of the couloir.

After four and half hours of climbing through deep snow, we reached the top. A condor greeted us, soaring gracefully above our heads. I exhaled and sipped my last bit of hot tea and contemplated the massive descent that lay before me. Although we were exhausted from our climb, a 4000 foot descent demanded our respect and excitement.

One at a time, we skiers dropped into the couloir. I brought up the rear. The rollover at the top of the pitch was among the steepest faces I've ever skied. It must have been 55-60 degrees for the first five turns. This was my third run since starting my South American ski odyssey and I was terrified. My exhausted climbing legs wobbled as I cautiously carved into the mountainside. Three feet of fresh and untracked powder flirted with my skis. I let out a big whoop as I let gravity (and my edges) take hold. I reconvened with my waiting party and we piggybacked each other the whole way, stopping periodically to let our legs rest and for me to set up new shooting positions to film the action from.

By 3:30 p.m., we had all reached the resort boundary line safely and loaded back onto the lift for a well-deserved celebration at the world-famous "Tio Bob's" restaurant. My legs were burning and my heart was full. We shared our reflections about the adventure over a round of beers and chocolate bars.

Monday, August 29, 2011

The Torch Has Been Passed – Farewell Ollie!

Ollie got on a plane in Santiago on Friday, bound for the real world. Now the project has fallen solely into my hands. I will rewind the clock a bit...

Last Tuesday, we procured our own transportation from Fernando, a local driver and guide. "El Luchador"  (the wrestler) is a franken-truck consisting mostly of Mitsubishi parts. The registration cites the vehicle as a 1995 model. It is a dirty beast. Ollie and I rented the pickup so that we could properly document the approach to El Arpa. We spent Tuesday tooling around the outskirts of Los Andes, documenting our surroundings. On Wednesday morning,

we headed up the mother road to the promised land, shooting the twists and turns of the perilous road. On the way back down the valley our journey came to an abrupt end when the timing belt failed. Despite the best efforts of Chris, the Arpa guide, we were dead in the water. Fernando came and towed his prized possession, the wounded wrestler, back to civilization and a mechanic. Ollie and I were once again motor-less.

On Thursday morning, we hopped a bus to Santiago. Ollie's departure (originally scheduled for Wednesday) had been delayed do to protests in Santiago, which crippled the country's transportation network. That afternoon we met with esteemed journalist, Sergio Paz. He is a travel writer for El Mecurio, the national newspaper, and also writes the annual Chilean Ski Guide. Sergio gave us the low down on the Chilean ski scene. He had offered only glowing compliments for El Arpa and Toni Sponar, the man he refers to as a mountain visionary. Shortly after the interview Ollie and I parted ways, as he had a plane to catch back to the real world (already a day late for his second year of Yale graduate school).

On Friday I met with Bryan Pearson, owner of Santiago Adventures, the exclusive booking agent for Ski Arpa Chile. Bryan gave me a candid interview and assessment of Arpa from a financial standpoint. Then he sent me on my way via a rented Volkswagon Jetta that I will hence forth refer to as "Sporty Spice." By late afternoon I jetted out of Santiago in "S.S.," headed back to Los Andes and the guide compound, known as "the Bunker." I spent Friday evening in the company of Toni Sponar.

We rose to fresh snowfall on Saturday. I climbed into "Sporty Spice" and rocketed towards dirt roads and the unforgiving terrain of the Arpa road. I was able to reach snow line before the morning thaw to document snow settled up high desert cactuses. I spent the rest of the morning zipping around the Andean countryside, meeting local characters. Some of the standout encounters included a herd of billy goats determined to cut off "S.S.," a Caballero (wearing a C.U. Buffs sweatshirt) practicing with his trusty steed, San Esteban's one and only "Empanada Lady," and a group of friendly neighborhood kids demonstrating their Chilean futbol prowess. After a belly full of empanadas, I made my way to bed early.

 I slept in Sunday. After a late start due to unrelenting valley fog and low-hanging cloud cover, I climbed in to "Sporty Spice" and spent the day zipping around the Aconcagua Valley. Sunday is reserved for four things here in the Chilean countryside: Church, Futbol, moto-riding and horseback riding (Caballero style). By late afternoon, the Arpa guides joined me  back at the Bunker and we headed to Lomo House for dinner. Monday will bring an early start and lead to more filming of the Chilean lifestyle. Stay tuned as I report about a visit to Santiago with Toni for some business and a trip with the Boys for some freeskiing down the famous Andean couloir known as "Super C."

Ciao, till next update.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Waging Skihad

It even snowed down in Los Andes. 60 degree temperatures down in the town of Los Andes quickly fell to near freezing, and fat white flakes started falling to the ground. It never snows down here. The Palm trees, at least for one day, were coated in powder. Not something I’ve ever seen in Colorado, certainly. Thank you Ullr.

The Storm coincided nicely with the freeskiing community stopping by Ski Arpa for the 2nd stop of the Freeskiing World Tour. Suddenly what had been my quiet refuge at 9,000 ft, for 48 hours became the center of the ski world, and was packed with athletes, media, and support staff. It afforded the chance to both film first-rate action and catch up with some old friends (And of course have one big party). I’d like to extend a big thanks to all the organizers of the event for their graciousness, and also pulling off one of the best competitions I’ve seen. Check it out over at

The terrain at Arpa is big and watching athletes charge hard first hand is a thrill. After the big snowfall the night before inspection, the venue was primed and no one was holding back. We were treated to Flips, spins, and massive cliff hucks. I bunkered into a post along the ridge line with a great view of the venue and made sure to capture all the action to bring to you in our film.

While I was hunkered in, hiding from the wind and trying not to freeze, Zach got a real treat. H-E-L-I-C-O-P-T-E-R. It’s only a word – but it puts a huge smile on Zach and my faces. With a big helping hand from The North Face (Gracias Trinidad!) we put Zach in the air for over 30 minutes of El Arpa Aerial Photography. Doors off, strapped in, and hard banking turns – what a ride (for Zach at least).

While there was little sleep, lots of running around, and lots of quick thinking on our feet this past weekend, we are excited to continue working on the project. We are moving off the mountain this upcoming week and continuing with interviews. 

We will also be filming around Los Andes, Interviewing in Santiago, and then sending me back Stateside. We are also trading in the Heli for a new transport vehicle to film from, El Luchador! Stay tuned. 


Saturday, August 13, 2011

The Flying Pack-Llama Has Landed...

Hello All,

With any outdoor oriented film, adventure is inherent in the production. After roughly 36 hours of travel, which has included a cancelled flight and missing luggage, I landed in Santiago on Saturday morning. Ollie met me at the airport. In my long journey from Denver, I was separated from my luggage. With any luck, the bulk of the production equipment will be arriving a few hours and we can make our way El Arpa tomorrow.

We spent the day exploring Santiago and our wanderings through the streets were marked by a serendipitous discovery. Sent Productions is dropping worldwide!

I look forward to my long-anticipated arrival at Los Andes tomorrow and will begin filming on the slopes of El Arpa, come Monday.


Thursday, August 11, 2011

Snow and Blue Skies...Lots to Love

It's been three days of beautiful blue bird here at Arpa. The snow from the last storm, which had caught us all off guard, has settled (somewhat) and the skiing has been great. After coming back up the following morning, I've settled into a three day rotation with the guides at the Refugio.  It's been a  chance to grab some shots of groups skiing and the snowcats running up and down the hill. 

The scenery around Arpa is unlike any in the Northern Hemisphere. To the West lie the lower front ranges and the pacific ocean and to the East lies the great expanse of the High Andes. Unfolding beyond  Arpa is the Aconcagua Valley, whose brown hills and plains contrast vividly with the white slopes.

The new snow in particular has meant that the guides have been busy assessing snow stability and digging pits and doing some control work. For this last shot, I had dug myself a little perch on this spine to film Derek doing some control work on a large cornice. I won't spoil what I got, we'll be saving this shot for the film, but let's just say Derek got some big stuff to go.

I am currently looking forward to picking up Zach at the airport in two days. Can't wait to see you down here buddy!



Sunday, August 7, 2011

Back in Los Andes

Sunday. What began as a rather quiet morning with high clouds that appeared to be clearing, by 11am had turned into a full on Andean blizzard. Before the day was done, one car nearly careened off the road and a second accomplished what the first could not and went right off the road and down a rocky escarpment. Before I knew it I was in the back of pick up truck, in a snowstorm, hanging on to the roll bar for a 1 hour plus, 6,000 vertical foot descent down the mountain road back into Los Andes. Another day of filming Breaking Trail draws to a close. 

The last 5 days have been spent living with the guides up at the El Arpa Refugio - Rancho Avalanchas - or the 'Rock Hut' as it's affectionately known. It is a small bunker tucked into the hill at 9,000 ft that serves as the on mountain base of operations. We've experienced it all the last few days, from blue-bird, to grey-bird, to complete sock-in. But the guests have been coming, and some epic turns have been had, and I've had a wonderful opportunity to work closely with the guides and embed myself in their day-to-day operations.

Guide Derek  hikes up Cerro Blanco toward the Filo Norm.

In addition to the regular guests that have been up here, El Arpa is also preparing to host the second stop on the Freeskiing World Tour. Representatives from MSI and The North Face stopped by to check out the venue. Here they are grouped at the top of Las Cornices - the first day venue.

After a hard days work, and the always dramatic sunsets, it's time to rest and get ready for another day. A hard days work is followed by some hard reading, staying warm and preparing gear for the next day. These times have given me a chance to move footage over to the computer and ready the equipment for another day of shooting.