[Author’s Note: Today is my 19th anniversary as a sports writer. From time to time through the years, I’ve published an article of particular depth and breadth on that date – sometimes to address issues of the day, sometimes to highlight a wonder of the sporting world I might have seen. This year, I’m particularly grateful that it happens that the date coincides with publishing my first of several stories about my ski adventures in Argentina: the trip of a lifetime and the skiing of your dreams. But far more than that, Argentina is a cultural requirement – the cuisine, the people, the beauty – a bucket list destination to be sure. I’m far richer for all the people I met and experiences I had. I SAVEURED the journey to be sure…and you should too.
Your Author also gratefully acknowledges his medical teams…plural…for getting him there and back again. If I had to take the time to tell you all about the myriad disasters that befell me before the trip – some painful, some frightening, some both – I wouldn’t have time to write this piece. So thank you Drs. Albala and Welchons from urology, Dr. Qandah and team from neurology, Dr. Martini and team from PT, the ambulance team from the fire department, Dr. Fung (who also makes the All-name team), Dr. LaFrance, (my sports doctor), Rebecca M, John P, and all the nurses and staff in three hospitals excepting, of course, that one guy who tried to draw my blood, missed in both arms, and left me bruised for two weeks. “Sorry, you’re my first poke of the day,” he told me at 12:30 in the afternoon. I couldn’t help but quip, “You took a mulligan and you missed again…]
DATELINE: SAN MARTIN DE LOS ANDES, ARGENTINA – I got three reactions when I announced to my friends that I was dropping what I was doing and going skiing in Patagonia, South America: 1) “You’re going where?” 2) “But it’s summer!” and 3) “Totes Jelly!”
It was skiers and boarders in the know who were the totally jealous ones and rightfully so: the might and majesty of the Andes Mountains, rugged and romantic Argentina, and adventures and explorations in exotic South America, a hemisphere away, yet feeling timeless. This promised to be the assignment of a lifetime for a skiing journalist, and it was that and so much more…
I spelled that headline above correctly, actually, because Saveur the Journey is a brand name. A company name, actually: it’s the skiing/trekking/fly fishing/culinary adventure outfit that ran our expedition to two of the world’s greatest winter sports destinations – places that are, in many ways unique, unparalleled.
Founded seven years ago by Aaron Schorsch (pronounced “SHORSH,” not “skorsh”), the company runs professionally guided on piste, sidecountry, and backcountry skiing and snowboarding adventures not just to South America, but to Hokkaido, Japan, the Alps and Dolomites, and the wilds of the American West.They also run similar adventures for climbers and fly fishermen at equally epic destinations.
Schorsch and his team hit every note pitch perfect, they have their finger firmly on the pulse of skiing’s cultural zeitgeist: you ski the best resorts, you journey into the most virgin and pristine backcountry to make the only tracks of the day, your guides are all internationally certified in mountaineering, and you’ll revel in the finest regional cuisine for breakfast, lunch, snack, and dinner. Best of all, you’ll bask in the vibrant culture of your host country. Lather, rinse, repeat.
My particular trip was entirely a Fellini-esque, Portofino-ish la dolce vita. Romantic and exotic Patagonia – the fabled “Land of Giants!” – for almost a century spoken of in holy whispers by the skiing cognoscenti, and in particular two resorts that perennially are top ranked in Argentina: Catedral Alta Patagonia located near the city of San Carlos de Bariloche, and Chapelco, just outside the resort town of San Martin de los Andes. In between we visited the Baguales National Park to go cat-skiing deep in the heart of the Andes. And when it came to cuisine, Argentina is world renowned for four of the planet’s favorites: beef, lamb, wine, and chocolate.
CATEDRAL ALTA PATAGONIA
The grande dame of South American skiing, Catedral is the largest and most venerable of South American ski resorts, stately and proud, and rightfully so for all its contributions to skiing throughout its rich history. It is also, perhaps, the most gorgeous. Named for the granite spires that resemble Gothic churches reaching towards Heaven, Catedral overlooks Lake Nahuel Huapi – the Island of the Jaguars. Many skiing and snowboarding enthusiasts and experts agree: there is no more beautiful lake view on skis or snowboards than at Catedral: not Wanaka in New Zealand, not Tremblant in Quebec, and not Tahoe in the States. The Andes stretch as far as the horizon extends, while the lake meanders serenely below it.
Three separate summits stand above the tree line, each opening into wide bowls interspersed between the rock formations that pepper the ridge’s full extent. On skier’s right, looky-loos left, Punta Princesa looms over the virgin summit snows. Moving skier’s left, Punta Nubes stands above some of the fiercest and most popular runs at the resort, including several chutes and chicanes between the rock formations and, for those less adventurous, the Panoramica: at 1.3 miles and with a 1,180 foot vertical drop, it’s the longest trail at Catedral, meandering along the western edge of the summit ridge and offering mesmerizing views of the Andes and lake. Punta Nevada lies skier’s left of Nubes, a short distance from the first of the three refugios – lodges – staggered below the resort’s summit, each offering restaurant worthy fare. 29 lifts service 55 trails over 1,500 acres of in-bounds skiing, with another 1,500 of side and backcountry to explore as well. It’s a total vertical drop of 3,379 feet from the top to the massive base area, but that’s deceiving as top-to-bottom runs are a rarity; most skiers spend the day above the tree line, returning to the bottom only at the end of the day.
Interestingly, there are four different colors used to striate between the difficulty of trails: a red designation lies between Black (expert) and blue (intermediate). Call it “more difficult.” The vast majority – around 80% of the trails are red or blue.
“The base of Catedral offers a wide range of services and activities for those who visit it: ski schools for all ages, levels, and styles, 7,000 sets of ski equipment, 1,500 snowboards, as well as cross-country ski equipment. There are over 7,000 beds on site, dozens of bars, cybercafés, pubs, typical restaurants, and international cuisine,” stated Catedral’s Public relations manager, Belen Jonssen. She neglected to mention the ginormous on-site mall, with one of the largest Burton stores in the world, as well as pharmacies, churro stands, even hairdressers. “There is also a highly specialized private medical center with a first aid center, nursing room, X-ray services, and ambulance services,” Jonsson concluded. Lift tickets can cost as little as $37 US a day for four-day pass.
Just as life in Argentina can be a little…unbuttoned…at times, (it’s called “The A factor” or “The Argentina Factor” – things take necessarily longer and are more potentially slightly more frenetic), so to can a day on the slopes anywhere in Argentina resemble the Wacky Races. Keep your head on a swivel as even if you shout “Trap Right!” or “On your left!” you may not be heard or understood.
[Author’s note: Jay’s long form story n Catedral and the history of Patagonian skiing will drop in print within the next four to six weeks and appear on-line shortly there after, with articles on Chapalco and Baguakes to follow four to six weeks later in both print and on-line.]
At a mere 28 trails and 12 lifts, Chapelco punches far above its weight, perennially ranked as one of the most popular winter destinations in Argentina, easily keeping pace with much larger and chichi-er resorts such as Las Lenas, Castor, and La Hoya. Blending above the tree-line skiing with wooded trails, Chapelco is ergonomically spread across three summits: Cerro Mocha, Cerro Teta, and Cerro Escalonado. Volcan Lanin stands proudly in the distance.
Totally run on renewable energy, Chapelco is a marvel of the skiing world. In 2018 the resort began producing its own electricity using photovoltaic solar panels at strategic points at an altitude of 5,500-5,600 feet generating the energy needed to power the electrical load of all the equipment used by its patrol station. Moreover, Chapelco added an additional battalion of solar panels with a power of 5,200 watts, to three micro power stations controlling the base, ticket office and other various platforms, along with a storage and backup system, providing solar energy to the entire data, communication, information and services systems, even in the of grid failures.
Like Catedral, refugios are peppered throughout the mountain serving outstanding fare, from Belgian waffles served with berries, dulce de leche, or both, veal milanese, giant steak sandwiches, savory soups and stews, and a collection of wood-0fired pizzzas. America, take notice: heat lamp pizza is so last century.
Chapelco is also rightly famous for two other reasons: First, its indelible contributions to adaptive winter sports. Their in-house Adapted Ski School offers those with a wide array of disabilities the wondrous joy of skiing, snowboarding, nordic skiing, snowshoeing, and other winter activities. A division of the Ski and Snowboard School of Chapelco Ski Resort, their level of excellence in instruction of Adapted Skiing is regarded as the gold standard in Argentina. The resort had hosted the 1st International Paralympic Championships in 2015.
Second, Chapelco features a Husky dogsled track midway up the mountain. Have your own little Iditarod, mushing around the verdant wooded track for an hour and then enjoying hors d’oerves and champagne, before going right back to your run down the mountain and the base lodge below. The resort features a small, but well-appointed array of hotel rooms, condos, and bungalows. Several different off piste adventures are available in the nearby national park area. Your gateway to Chapelco is the Alpine-style resort town of San Martin de los Andes, charming and delightful, filled with everything from gear shops to artisan craft stalls. Just six miles form Chapelco, you can even fly into San Martin directly from Buenos Aires.
BAGUALES MOUNTAIN RESERVE
It was a skiing adventure unlike any other. Baguales Mountain Reserve, located in the southernmost section of Nahuel Huapi National Park, just over an hour from Bariloche, offers nearly 25,000 acres of pristine Patagonian backcountry touring and snow cat skiing and snowboarding terrain for all levels of skier. They offer day adventures and also long tours deep into the heart of the Patagonian refugio system for overnight and week-long excursions. Their main lodge, a 3,200 square foot wooden chalet built on the site of a former horse stable was built using locally sourced materials and has four large double bedrooms each with their own private bath. There is also a large shared bedroom that can sleep up to eight guests. Savory meals are served to those staying overnight while champagne and high end canapes are provided to all athletes shredding to pristine pow.
A bit of life advice: Do this while you are young and healthy. Don’t wait until you are too old, infirm, or otherwise unable. You only live twice (or so it seems), one for yourself and once for your dreams. So make sure to chase them and catch them. In a choice between now or maybe never, choose now.
The wide variety of people we had on the trip – from New Jersey to New Mexico and from Seattle to Syracuse – proved an index of American society, but two things united us: 1) the skiing and mountain ethos of altruism and camaraderie and 2) the thrill of exploration. It proves one indisputable truth. If politicians were more like skiers, this would be a merrier world.
That’s Saveur the Journey in a nutshell; I went on skiing assignment, and I came back with ten lifelong friends. I went to shred madly, and I fell hopelessly in love with a country, its culture and – most importantly – it’s people. I know that coming from someone else you might say “Oh what pitiful stuff,” and dismiss it as mere hyperbole and exaggeration. But coming from me, I hope you feel your heart glow. My heart is right now, glowing like a crown of glory over Patagonia.
FOOD GLORIOUS FOOD
Oh…and don’t forget Saveur the Journey’s other imprimatur: the best the regional cuisine has to offer. I could write another 2,000 words on the food…but since pictures can be worth 1,000 words or more, as they say on the Internet, “I’ll just leave these right here…”