Words and Photos by Matt Wylie
Over time certain snowfalls imprint one’s memory in saturated recollection. Alternatively, some seasons seemingly pass by and fail to produce such storms, but there are those years that churn out such massive weather events leaving us awestruck by the force of nature. They defy the norm giving wonder and joy as we watch the most anticipated lines and slopes fill in with the bounty that we pilgrimage after.
The Andes is the second highest mountain range in the world. Their height, along with it’s proximity to the moist Pacific, sets the stage for regular performers in the 50-75 cm depths of quality low humidity, bonafide powder riding. By many regards that is worthy enough to etch an alpine experience beyond expectations.
By Andean standards though, while ranking as a fine storm, that would be regarded by local snow observers as being towards the “average” end of scale. Certainly respectable for a typical deep low pressure center traversing the region, certainly enough to provide ample opportunity to enter the white room and get snow in your face , but still, a relatively typical storm.
In 1997 skiers in the Andes were powder starved after 96’s drought. We had skied mainly on man made snow the entire 96 season with the exception of one small snowfall of 25 cm. The Andean dream stuff was unusually absent and the spigot seemed to be tightly closed. However the following year it was back to “normal” and June started with a tremendous return of snow. When we arrived into Santiago on June 22, we were notified of a Mega storm that had closed the road to Portillo for numerous days by a dump of 4 meters in just 2 days! As part of the international staff for Portillo, we were asked to quickly process our working visa’s in Santiago. There would be a parade of vehicles allowed by the Chilean police to be escorted up to the ski area the following day in order to open the season.
The next day we departed the town of Los Andes in the early afternoon and we soon worked our way up into the Andes and quickly became gobsmacked by the remnants of this powerful storm. The international highway that winds its way in a unique serpentine fashion to Portillo was still not open for the public, but snow removal equipment had managed to excavate a very narrow corridor along the route for a train of supervised vehicles to pass thru to the legendary Hotel Portillo.
The corridor of snow is something etched in my memory. 25 kilometers of it. We were transiting in a tourist van 3 meters high but the (now dark road as it was evening by the time we arrived) corridor that had been excavated for our passage was 4-5 meters high and only one lane wide. Once we finally arrived, there was plenty of enthusiasm to see firsthand how the storm had deposited a huge and ample base. It delivered blower conditions for days on end afterwards.
That storm is impossible to forget. In fact, that entire season is impossible to forget. There was an unrelenting string of storms that season that helped remind us that nature is powerful and the one in control. About 3 weeks later we received another 2-meter storm in about 36 hours. In a sense we felt like pawns on a chess board, participants only, in the larger stage of weather events to come for the remainder of that remarkable season. We were thankful to be a part of it, and were blessed by some deep days.
Previously un-skied lines became skiable. Over the following years several other of those Andean storms also come to mind.
Now, just last week the phenomena of the Andean Mega Storm has revealed itself yet again. On Sunday evening, it snowed 3 meters in 48 hours! The snow gods have smiled upon the central Andes unleashing another system of epic proportions burying the entire region with a mantle of cold snow. It should be a great season in Central Andes!
Does all this talk of epic Andean powder make you want to ski Chile? Join us in August 2017.