La Chimenea

La Chimenea

La Chimenea (The Chimney) sits high above the Chilean resort of La Parva. A distinct cleft, it attracts and repulses at the same time: sure, you want to ski the line, but the coulior is steep, narrow and dicy. In the wrong conditions, a fall could be fatal, your body pin-wheeling off the rocks as you bounce down the mountain to a certain death. But when things are better – and avalanche danger minimal – there’s really no question. If you are going to ski La Parva, you’re also going to have to knock off La Chimenea. The line is impossible to resist.

That’s why we found ourselves peering into the abyss on a sunny Saturday afternoon, the rock walls of the coulior framing the condos and homes of La Parva. A massive cornice guarded the descent, but it was possible to sneak into the coulior under the hanging intensity of the beast. Far below, we could see beginners skiing on the lower poma, swarming like ants after their instructors. Above, if you kept a keen lookout, a condor or two. And in the distance, the skyscrapers of downtown Santiago, and beyond them the coastal range of Chile, a lesser group of mountains that rarely sees snow and is dwarfed by the Andes. It was a beautiful distraction from the task at hand, so we allowed ourselves a moment to soak it all in.

Skiing at La Parva is different. It’s not just the language that people here speak – Spanish, of course – but the entire experience. Reached by the same access road that services sister resorts Valle Nevado and El Colorado, La Parva lurks above the small town of Farellones. This collection of rustic stone buildings, contemporary architectural experiments and simple A-frames is ground zero for skiing culture in Chile. The first Chilean ski club was founded here, and you can still catch some of that history by visiting Hotel Tumpangato, where the bar and restaurant now occupy the original stone clubhouse. But history is always inexorably linked to the present, which is why many global ski nomads can be found staying the in the various hostels and hotels that dot the streets, creating an international ski culture and mingling with local Chilean rippers.

But just as history is linked to the present, the present is linked to the future. And the future of skiing in Chile can be tasted just up the road from Farellones at La Parva. We got a glimpse of this future courtesy of Rodrigo Medina, the marketing manager of La Parva, on our first day here. Rodrigo didn’t bust out a crystal ball, like some two bit fortune teller down in Santiago. Nope. Young, energetic and very smart (he’s also an international lawyer) Rodrigo described a vision that would see La Parva develop into the freeriding Mecca of the Andes. And, in fact, this transformation is well under way. The resort is in discussion with MSI to host a major big-mountain freeride event, and Rodrigo is working on several other projects as you read this. Keep your ears open, as you will be hearing a lot more about La Parva in the future.

After the contracts are signed and the deal consummated, the MSI event will be held on the same face as La Chimenea. So another good reason (aside from the aesthetics of the line and our burning desire to ski it) to do the hike was to check out what would be the venue for any big-mountain event held here, and to look into the future, as it where. And our take is that there is no doubt that the terrain at La Parva is the real deal.

This analysis was underscored during our descent of La Chimenea. A no-fall entry zone leads to the critical first turn, after which you yo-yo back and forth between imposing stone walls. At the bottom, the line spits you out into a massive bowl. From there it’s easy high speed turns back to the resort. It’s an extremely satisfying run, one which could easily be the descent of the lifetime in two feet of blower powder.

But while the spring conditions we experienced didn’t offer up that kind of memory, the great thing about skiing is that the future unfolds turn after turn after turn. You never really know what you are going to get, but usually it’s pretty good and sometimes outrageously so. At the end of our day, as we enjoyed beers on a mountain top deck and soaked up the superlative views, it was easy to understand and appreciate Rodrigo’s vision for La Parva. The future, baby, will be big. Very big.

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