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Chasing winter

If you can't get enough skiing, try the Andes

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For those suffering from ski withdrawal during the summer months, there is fresh powder calling south of the equator.

I've chased the winter twice in past summers on two different continents, and during my time in the Andes on the Argentine side, I experienced some of my finest days on snow. While everything initially seemed to move at a slower pace, the culture was rich, the terrain was unique and the food was first-class. There were several aspects of the experience of skiing in Argentina that made it one of a kind.

The Andes is the longest continental mountain range in the world, stretching about 7,000 kilometres. I spent most days hiking in the Cerro Catedral resort where backcountry is easily accessed, up to massive granite spires that led to either wide-open alpine powder bowls or steep couloirs, followed by moss-filled Palmero forests, with perfectly spaced bamboo trees.

When the snow wasn't stable and the avalanche risk was high, I enjoyed my time in the resort. Chairlift rides were always amusing opportunities to practise my broken Spanish with patient, friendly locals who were more than keen to divulge travel secrets of their country.

While ripping down the mountain in the resort, I occasionally skied into military training zones, full of soldiers dressed in camouflaged helmets, jackets and snow pants.

As I ordered empanadas and Quilmes beer après-ski, mobs of Brazilian tourists who had never seen snow before jumped out of tour buses, eager to start snowball fights. The flamboyant vibe coupled with the laissez-faire attitude added to the adventure. The pace in South America could be slow -- or tranquilo, as they say in Spanish -- but the experience is authentic and genuine.

Besides the terrain South America has to offer and the joy of being immersed in a different culture, there's something else that makes the ski experience in the Andes not only highly desirable, but 100 per cent unique in comparison to a ski trip in North America: During the off-season, several North American pro skiers and snowboarders, as well as the ski industry's top mountain guides, flock to South America to coach at adult ski camps.

Joining one of these camps not only ensures itinerary details are sorted out for you, but also allows you to receive some of the best coaching a skier could possibly get, at an affordable cost. From participating in a big mountain ski camp, I learned how to ski steeps from some of the top professional freeskiers in the world and how to make calculated decisions in the backcountry from some of the most knowledgeable off-piste guides and avalanche forecasters on the planet.

Skiing in South America isn't only for the hardcore extreme skier. It's an experience for anybody with an open mind, a passion for learning and a craving for snow. If you're feeling adventurous and haven't had enough of winter, maybe now is time to start waxing the skis and packing the bags for winter again.

 

-- Postmedia Network Inc. 2014

 

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 25, 2014 E2

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