Story by Reggie Crist. Photography by Will Wissman
Today is the day! It’s the kind of stuff that summer dreams are made of: a meter of fresh, cold temps, no wind, blue skies and we are waiting in the Marte lift line in Las Leñas, Argentina.
The energy is palpable as Walter Estrella, a 12-year veteran liftie, finishes clearing snow from the base station. The crowd is visibly fired up—the French crew behind us is yelling into their Go-Pro cameras making hand gestures, while the local Argentines bust out singing and banging their poles together. My brother Zach exhibits his enthusiasm by simply blurting out, “Martehhh!” at the top of his lungs every 10 seconds. It’s evident by the look on everyone’s faces that this moment in time is a function of being in the right place at the right time.
The chairs spin, we load, and all of our suspicions are confirmed as two patrolmen float through waist deep blower. The options from the top of Marte are vast, with a plethora of steep, nasty couloirs. Looking around at all of this terrain is making my head spin. Where do we start? Fortunately our decision is simple: Follow Claudio, the guy responsible for making this adventure happen in the first place. Claudio has been a Guides Director at the Las Leñas resort for the past 17 years, and he has made it his personal mission to open doors for the First Ascent crew, whether it be early chairs or pre-dawn cat rides. Claudio elegantly explains with his Argentine accent, “It’s all about the connection.” He appreciates the effort that Eddie Bauer has made to outfit his elite mountain staff in the latest First Ascent gear. This partnership makes a lot of sense on a number of different levels. First and foremost, Las Leñas represents the best lift access terrain in the southern hemisphere, providing First Ascent guides the unique opportunity to consistently test gear in the most demanding winter conditions—year round.
The excitement continues to build as we near the top in time to watch Gustavo, a young local ripper, make three high-speed turns leading directly into a mandatory 30-foot air. He launches with knees to chest and perfectly sticks the landing, igniting a chain reaction of cheers down the steel cable. As soon as we reach the top we begin skating and polling behind Claudio. It’s no surprise that he is taking us out the southeast ridgeline towards his favorite zone, Edwardo’s.
Rolling up on top of Edwardo’s reveals a labyrinth of untracked chutes with the village of Las Leñas looming between our ski tips, nearly 4,000 vertical feet below. There is a moment of pause as our group salivates over the expanse of untracked powder. The conditions are perfect and we have the entire venue to ourselves. Claudio motions to go, but nobody has the gall to drop in on our host. In response, he shrugs his shoulders and dives in, leaving behind a contrail of white smoke. As soon as he disappears, the feeding frenzy begins; Coulter and Zach attach the main vein, as Brian, Wissman and I grab the right channel, while Lyndsey and Lel break left over the horizon. Every turn produces an over-the-head face shot as I find myself laughing out loud uncontrollably. The snow is velvety smooth, making it easy to trust gravity and gain speed. That is until I merge into the main drainage where I’m blinded by a massive roost created by Zach attempting to pass Coulter. I quickly move left; like changing lanes in high-speed traffic, it’s all about finding an opening and stepping on the gas. Weaving around rock features, I instinctively gravitate toward a prominent spine and begin slashing turns towards the valley floor before launching a small air off the nose and into the gully. Just ahead, I can see Claudio raising his hands skyward. It’s a memorable opener and quite possibly the best resort run of my life.
The next four days are spent exploring the side country (lift/hike) terrain of Las Leñas, from which the photos tell the story. We covered some ground, from Torrecillas to Sans Nom to Mikey’s, and I can honestly say that we only scratched the surface. Once again, Las Leñas delivers the goods!!!
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