The second year I went to Chile was like a dream. Every week it would snow for three days, and then we’d get four days of epic sunshine and powder snow. The storms rolled in off of the Pacific like clockwork. And when they hit, they hit with a fury that I’d never seen. In the valleys, the rain poured down with a vengeance that would have put the fear of God into Noah. Massive flooding dominated the TV news. But we didn’t care, because we knew that up high it was snowing. It was during one of these intense storms (which shut down everything, including all the ski lifts) that we found ourselves in transit through Santiago. With no place to stay, and no connections, we weren’t sure what to do or where to go. By chance we happened to connect with a crew from CASA tours. It was a revelation as their guides showed us around the city, drank pisco sours with us and pointed us towards the remote and beautiful southern Chilean ski areas of Lonquimay and Termas de Chillan. Since then, I’ve gotten to know the crew at CASA better, and come to appreciate their insider knowledge of skiing in South America. With a variety of tours and options for everyone, if you’re looking for a turnkey experience and want a trip with no hassles, these are the guys to call. You can check out their website at www.casatours.com. But in the meantime, we caught up with head honcho (jefe to you, peon) David “Gomez” Johnson to get a sneak peak at what CASA is up to this year and to ply him for some inside info.
FS: What makes Chile so sweet?
DJ: The terrain, the massiveness of the Andes, low skier/snowboarder density in the backcountry, huge Pacific fronts dropping meters of Andean powder, the volcanoes and diversity in landscape, and of course the celebratory asados (BBQs) washed down with Chilean vino.
Tell us – briefly – what exactly is CASA.
CASA Tours runs inclusive 7-15 day guided ski and snowboard adventures throughout Chile and Argentina. CASA is the original South American skiand snowboard tour operator and is celebrating its 10th season in the Andes. The focus of our tours is to bring riders to a variety of resorts and take advantage of both in and out of bounds terrain opportunities. CASA arranges the logistics allowing our guests to maximize their snow time and expert guides show guests zones they may never have discovered on their own. CASA strives to introduce our guests not only to the Andes Mountains but also to the diverse cultures throughout the areas we visit. Our guests are as diverse as the resorts we visit and we pride ourselves in allowing them to achieve their individual skiing and snowboarding goals while traveling in small groups. Although the spotlight of our tours is based on the mountain, the experience is enhanced with visits to hot springs, wineries, local restaurants, markets, historic city sights and nightclubs.
What’s new this year?
Our 7 Day Chilean High Andes Adventure [https://www.casatours.com/haa.asp] features stops at Valle El Arpa, South Americaâ€™s only snowcat operation, Portillo, Valle Nevado, La Parva and El Colorado.
Our End of the World Tour [https://www.casatours.com/ush.asp] to Ushuaia, Argentina and the resort of Cerro Castor located at the Southern tip of Tierra del Fuego. And there’s new Ownership at the Chilean Resort of Termas de Chillan
Any favorite old standards?
The 8 day Chilean Classic Shortie [https://www.casatours.com/cst.asp] is highlighted by 4 days at our favorite South American resort:Termas de Chillan
The 12- day Southern Cross [https://www.casatours.com/sc.asp] focuses on climbing and skiing/snowboarding the summits of the Villarica, Lonquimay, and Chillan volcanoes.
How about off the beaten path? Which resorts and places do you like the best?
It doesnâ€™t get more off the beaten path than Valle El Arpa, accessed via a 10 km 4X4 mining road which climbs out of the Saguaro cacti filled Aconcagua Valley to Arpaâ€™s minimalist base campat 8800 feet. La Hoya, outside of Esquel, Argentina: Imagine Arapahoe Basin 35 years ago. Chapelco; located on the flanks of the Lonquimay Volcano and situated in the heart of Chileâ€™s Araucania Region. Dr. Suess-like monkey- puzzle trees are scattered throughout the base area giving the resort a very surreal like feel. The resort sports one lift but has substantial touring potential including the 9840 foot Lonquimay summit.
Your most epic day down there?
There have been a plethora of outrageous powder days over the years, but my most memorable run was September 27th,2007 skiing the Pyramid Face of Nevados de Chillan , one of the 3 volcanoes which tower above the resort of Termas de Chillan. The run is just shy of 7000 verticalfeet from summit to beers at the MI Lodge. The Pyramid Face itself is a continuous 3000-foot pitch while the exit meanders through the stunning Shangri-La Valley and is filled with lunaristic lava flow half-pipes.
Obviously the skiing and snowboarding is great, how about the other
experiences, like culture, food and wine?
Food and Drink are integral parts of both Chilean and Argentine culture and offer great insight to each countryâ€™s identity.
Chile and Argentina both serve up excellent meals and are particularly known for their meat feasts. They are asado masters and the asado (BBQ) is an enormous part of the culture. Need a break on the arteries? Chilean seafood is excellent while trout is an Argentine specialty. Both Chileans and Argentines are serious sandwich makers too. Check out Chileâ€™s Chacarero: warm thin sliced beef, tomatoes, sliced green beans, and diced aji (a hot Chilean pepper) served on a fresh baked roll with mayo.
Chileans and Argentines both produce world-class wines. The signature wine of Chile is the Carmenere. Argentina is distinguished by itâ€™s Malbecs.
The Patagonian region of Chile and Argentina has an especially strong German influence, which resulted in many small â€˜cerveceriasâ€™ brewing delicious handcrafted beers.
Pisco, made from distilled grapes, is Chileâ€™s national liquor and flows regularly at most cultural events. September 18th is Chileâ€™s National Independence Holiday and is a week full of festivities and substantial Pisco consumption.
One of the most important activities in the Argentine culture are the legendary mate sessions. Yerba Mate, an earthy blend of herbs, is packed into a gourd, sipped through a bombilla, a straw like strainer device, and is passed around the group. There are very distinct rules. For instance when you say â€œgraciasâ€ it means you are done and want no more mate, many a gringo have made the mistake of thanking their hosts too early and were cut off from the mate session.
The season has started really strong, right?
The areas around Santiago, Chile have received some huge early season storms.
Many of the resorts opened in mid June and have up to an 8-foot base.
Final words/recommendations/thank yous?
South America provides snow enthusiasts with an awesome amount of terrain. It is a way to get the â€˜fixâ€™ in while waiting for the North American season to begin. It provides a great escape from the summer dog days when its 100 degrees with 100% humidity. It is laid-back, unpretentious, and offers something for everybody.
Airline Tickets: www.kayak.com
A big thank you goes to all the guests who have experienced our tours and keep coming back to visit us. To those Andean Snow Gods who have blessed us with so many wonderful memories and adventures to come. â€œGlobal Powder to the People!â€