Contributing writer Cathy Healy has spent time in Argentina, and while we're soaking up sun here in the States, she's dreaming of snow...
Ski slopes opened late this year in Bariloche, Argentina, and as of late June, the runs are ready for shredding. But after three spectacular snow years, Latin America’s largest ski resort has been plagued by a snow drought and an erupting volcano.
This has been a wild winter in southern Latin America. Patagonia’s fierce winds have blown ash from the eruption at Volcán Chaitén on the Chilean Pacific north to Bariloche, about 130 miles away. Ash has also swept across the continent to Argentina’s Península Valdés on the Atlantic, one of the world’s premier wildlife areas.
Because volcanic ash ruins jet engines, airlines are flying on-again, off-again schedules to Bariloche and Trelew (gateway to Valdés), said IT friend Juan Andres Kaczorkiewicz, an Argentine importer in Bariloche, who spends U.S. winters teaching snowboarding in Telluride.
“Bariloche has about 18 inches of snow on the top of the mountain,” Kaczorkiewicz said in a Skype call in late June. “This is a weird winter."
Adding to Argentina’s woes was the political showdown between the president and the farmers, with empty shelves in some supermarkets in Buenos Aires, and some people cashing in pesos for dollars. Bad move. Now, though, the strikes seem over and the dollar keeps dropping.
Sound crazy? Yeah. Should you go? I would in a heartbeat. Few things are more satisfying than walking through airport security with a parka in late July. You’re announcing to the world: It’s MY choice to skip this nasty heat wave. (Tip: You might think about taking enough cash in case banks and ATMs shut down suddenly.)
Why late July? Because that’s when the prices start to drop and the kids finish their winter vacation and go back to school. (July = Christmas week in Aspen.)
WHERE TO SKI:
There’s way more than enough to do in the Bariloche region, including, of course the granddaddy of bowls and runs at Cerro Catedral, which overlooks Lake Nahuel Huapi (think supersized Tahoe with fjords and an island with forests of trees with twisted, cinnamon-colored bark that inspired Bambi’s animators). And did I mention that the lakeside village smells of chocolate from all of the small chocolate factories, which use richer cream than in the U.S. and Europe for extraordinarily healthy chocolate? (Just kidding.)
In ordinary snow years, you also can drive north about three hours to San Martín de los Andes to ski through beech forests draped with chartreuse Spanish moss—I love these slopes, but they don’t yet have enough snow to open. Or, you can cross the Andes from Bariloche through a rain forest that gets twice the amount of rain as the Amazon, and ski in Chile at Osorno, a surreal area of dormant volcanic cones and snow so wet and spongy that you bounce.
Horns of a Dilemma: Or…Also Enjoy Whales, Penguins, and Welsh High Tea
The barren Atlantic coast between Península Valdés and Punto Tombo is where thousands of southern right whales come to mate and calve starting in June, and where half a million or so Magellanic penguins arrive by early September.
Which means that you can whale-watch and ski in Patagonia in July and August. And, if you are willing to put up with only skiing the bowls in Bariloche in late August (rain on the lower slopes washes away the snow), then you can ski, and whale-watch, and waddle with courting penguins as they hold flippers and nuzzle.
Yes, waddle, because if you’re human, you’ll make sure to stop in the 19th-century Welsh hamlet of Gaiman for high tea, with cakes and tarts. IT friend Rebeca Henry, who lives in Gaiman, says the traditional Ty Gwyn teahouse continues to be one of the most popular.
To reach the wildlife and Welsh, you’ll fly into Trelew, whose airport was was closed by Chaitén ash most of May, but is open again.
If you’re not a skier, wait until spring
Come November, elephant seals, sea wolves, and a vast array of birds arrive to breed; it’s as fabulous as Galápagos. Penguin chicks are born in late November, birds are splendid, and elephant seals are a phenomenon—the cocker-spaniel-faced males weigh four tons and if alarmed, growl and grow a trunk.
Surely by then, Chaitén will be asleep, the farmers and the president will have made up, and Buenos Aires will be lavender and pink with jacaranda and bottle trees.
Savings Note: If you’re flying to Argentina from outside the country, Aerolineas offers discounted internal tickets with deeper discounts if you fly Aerolineas the entire way.