Touching down in Bariloche, the snow capped mountains surrounding us looked like a scene out of a movie. The sun was slowly setting behind a range in the distance basking the usually white caps in a deep orange-red tint. By luck we came across a local who knew about Penthouse 1004 and offered us a ride there for a very modest fee. Saved us the hassle of dealing with the bus & cabs. It wasn't a long ride along the shores of Nahuel Huapi Lake, approaching the Civic Center we made a left and drove up the hill, the streets were teeming with life. A huge departure from Buenos Aires, and for a ski village, the activity was like nothing we've ever seen stateside.
(Saw this great application, Animoto, presented at the September NY Tech Meetup)
Chocolate stores were numerous, separated by clothing and sports equipment stores (restaurants too). Our hostel, Penthouse 1004, was located right across the city's center on the top floor of the tallest building in Bariloche. The view was amazing, I've never seen anything like it. Because the mountains surround a lake, I wondered aloud whether or not Lake Tahoe looked similar. According to some individuals I met on the mountain that have been to both, they stated Bariloche blew Lake Tahoe away. I hope to see for myself this coming season if it is true. By some coincidence, we arrived at the tail end of a school holiday. Teenagers were milling around in packs attempting to look and act older than they really were. A taste of freedom out of their parents' supervision. As a celebration to cap off the holiday, there was a colorful bus with a DJ at the town center projecting a video onto the side of a hot air balloon stationed nearby. Didn't see much dancing or understand what they were showing on the hot air balloon though.
On the evening we arrived we had to do a little shopping, Kevin needed a new jacket (ended up getting a Northridge jacket) and Elmo purchased a helmet. One of the best purchases ever down South, that helmet saved his head the next day on a spectacular crash. I'm glad my snowboarding bag eventually came because the town of Bariloche doesn't really carry any of the brands we are used to state side. It would have been hell if I had to ride on a rental. For people considering snowboarding down here, do yourself a favor and bring your gear. The only store that may have offered decent products was the Burton store at the resort which without having to step foot in there was probably insanely expensive.
The mountain we rode on was actually about half an hour away by bus. Catedral Alta Patagonia gets its name from the rock formations at the top of the range. The most spectacular view is actually all the way on the left side of the mountain and the only way to get to it is by hiking an hour or so (depending on how far up and how far to the left you want to go). Like everything on the mountain, it was better in the afternoon to make the hike. The snow softens up a bit, and hopefully by then, people will have created a path for you, making the hike a bit easier. Remember, you are there for the view and even if you are there for the snow, let the sun warm it up! Fresh powder is another story though, but it never snowed while we were there.
The only lift you should even consider taking from the base is the Sextuple Express. The gondola is a close second on those windy cold days to warm up. The lift gates are the most retarded thing I've ever seen (I heard they are used in Europe too). There's actually a turnstile (think NY subways) that always gets stuck on your snowboard bindings. To get the turnstile to admit you, you have to insert your lift ticket into a slot to get scanned. It wouldn't have been too bad if I just had to hold it up next to a beam of light, but physically inserting it took some effort to master with gloves on. Season pass holders checked themselves in via an RFID enabled pass, much easier than the damn weekly passes. In the states, how often do you see employees scanning your lift ticket for lifts midway up the mountain? Doesn't make sense right? If a person got halfway up the mountain, it probably means they already scanned themselves in on a lower lift. And if they hiked all the way up, then I would give them a free lift ride for all that effort. Anyhow, it was a pain in the butt unzipping my pockets, digging around for the pass, scanning it in and then stuffing it back into my pockets again. But you know what, lift lines were usually pretty quick if there were any lines at all, can't beat that.
It barely snowed while we were there, but because it dumped 30" in one day a week or two prior to our arrival, the coverage was in general very good. Especially in the afternoon when the sun softened up the hard pack sufficiently. The mornings were still better than our usual East Coast fare though we ran across some death cookies a few times. My favorite runs were the ridge runs, Condor all the way to the right of the mountain. A pretty quick ride on the top right ridge followed by a drop down into a set of trails running around the mountain. Jumping off the trails onto the slope became our favorite pastime. The trails were marked but were more of a suggested route type. The mountain was like a giant bowl. You were allowed to drop in pretty much everywhere. Only small sections considered too dangerous (around man made structures) were off limits.
While all runs on a Northeast mountain are usually called trails, down at Catedral, they use two terms. Caminos were for the slow small trails that went around the mountain. Think of... the Great Eastern in Killington. Piste were the wider trails that usually went straight down the mountain.
Strong boarders tend to be members of two groups. Foreigners, usually British, and local snowboard instructors repping their red white and black puffy jackets from another mountain. The skill level wasn't close to Whistler, Mt. Snow or even Mountain Creek's park rats. But there were enough riders that were able to pull off clean 3's around. Something I still haven't managed in my three seasons of riding.
Kev took his camera to the slopes on the second to last day, like most of the days there, it was considered a blue bird day (take a look at the photos!). It was interesting seeing Kevin throw his arm up saving his camera every time he took a spill. Fortunately, his spills were far and few in between. Looked like he mastered the 180s (backside and frontside) on the trip too.
The food in Bariloche wasn't as good as the stuff in BsAs, and it was expensive too (almost approached US prices). However, the resort food was decent unlike most lodge food stateside. And as always the prices were cheap for non locals. Except if you bought Gatorade, it was more expensive than what you paid in the states. Guess they believe only foreigners purchase Gatorade. Pepsi you have hope.. sort of.
Photo Gallery: Bariloche by Kevin Boon aka Costner and my own photos from South America