Having never skied in South America, I decided to go to Valle Nevado with the World Cup Women's Technical Team this past September. Their head coach, Trevor Wagoner, was a friend of mine and a former Squaw Valley coach. He made the trip really special because, unlike some of the Austrian coaches that are with the team, he really likes to ski!
The day of my arrival, after the customary all night flight with multiple connections, and a 2 1/2 hour ride from Santiago up to 9,000 feet, I arrived at 11:30 am as the team was just coming off of the hill from their morning training. Trevor walked by and said "Did you bring your skins?" It's funny, I almost did not bring them since I had expected the typical "end of season/springtime" conditions and I had envisioned bare ground and exposed rocks. Good thing Trevor had emailed me just prior to my departure to tell me that the off piste experience is great down there.
So after a quick lunch, I riffled through my gear and found my skins, a shovel, a probe, etc. Couldn't find my water bottle, so I borrowed one from one of the USST girls. Off we went....Trevor, Seth (another coach) and myself up to 13,000 feet. The nearby peaks are 17,000 feet. What a sight! We skied a huge hourglass that Trevor and Seth had been checking out from the training area. The snow had not yet softened but was very smooth and really grippy at about 40-45 degrees. This being my first turn of the season, I decided to pick a route right down the fall line, so that if I fell, I would hopefully be spit right out of the waist and into the bottom half of the hourglass without banging off the edges. I made it! (but with no mid-season grace!) I think, in retrospect, that I may not have done this ski if I had been rested and perhaps had a little more oxygen to my brain.
What a great start to the trip. That ski alone was worth it! For the next nine days it was skiing on pretty firm snow in the mornings (6:30am) and, if I had enough energy, some corn at mid-day and into the afternoon. I know it sounds glamorous, but 80% of the time I am up really early, throw on the 60 pound pack, ski like crazy to keep up with the team to the farthest point away from the lodge. Then it's on to slip the course, carry some gear, stand on an icy, slippery, shady, steep slope. All the while hoping that no one gets injured because I really don't want to ski down there with that pack. Not to mention that I'm cold, stiff and hungry!
Fortunately, no problems on this trip. They really value having a doctor in South America more than most places because they are so remote. Often times, the athletes may acquire gastrointestinal and respiratory illness. Santiago actually has a very modern and well staffed hospital, but it is a 2 1/2 hour drive down the 70 "cuvas" road which is so narrow they make it one-way in the morning and the other way in the afternoon. Otherwise, there is the ever present helicopter ride for real emergencies.
Next year, I don't know.....maybe back to Europe, although I hear New Zealand is really cool!
The Hourglass - It really had a wider waist!
2. Julia Mancuso and Chemmy Alcott (a Brit) and the others in the background
Submitted by Dr. Ganong who traveled to Chile with the US Ski Team this past September.