Backcountry skiing Patagonia: Refugio Baguales
The cold wood deck pressed against my back as I laid down in the frozen night at Refugio Baguales and gazed on an alien-looking sky. Trippy music emanated from Justin’s phone as we all stretched out in a row, picking out constellations our own imaginations had to conjure, as the southern-hemisphere night held no familiarity. Gone were comforting beacons like the Big and Little Dipper, so we replaced them with the “Patagonian Corn Farmer” and “Niños Jugando,” each collected from star clusters far brighter than the mysterious black space that hung like an ink blot along an arm of the Milky Way. Some of us fell asleep, entranced by music and the vigil held for a glimpse of shooting stars. We were skiers totally “buenoed out” by a day spent in the mountains, a day that kept us repeating the words, “did that really just happen?”
The morning of the “buenoed-out day” started at the Alaska Hostel in Bariloche, where our guides from Alta Montaña EVT, Patricio and Alejandro, picked us up for a trip to Refugio Baguales, a brand new hut located in heart of the Cordillera de los Baguales, or “The Mountains of the Wild.” After loading up our skis and gear, then making a quick stop at a local bakery to pick up fixings for breakfast, we drove south on a highway that snaked alongside immense views of giant peaks that rose directly up from the shores of Lago Gutierrez and Mascardi. It was on this drive that some of the most amazing Patagonian scenery of the trip sped by in a blur outside the car windows.
After about 45 minutes, we turned onto an unmarked dirt road into the valley of Rio Villegas as Alejandro blasted Black Sabbath and Pink Floyd on the car’s stereo. It was a fitting soundtrack for the rough terrain we entered. Just getting to the hut proved to be an adventure in itself as we crossed the river by literally driving in the water. Steam rose up from the bottom of the cars as we continued up from the water onto a loose cut in the mountainside. The road soon ended at the snow line where we had to hike in the mud for 200 yards with our gear in hand to snowmobiles that idled in wait. With our skis secured on a sled, we rode the snowmobiles to the hut, while Adam and Sean were treated to even more adventure as they volunteered to be pulled on their skis from behind.
Refugio Baguales is a large hut (more like pimped-out cabin) of rough-hewn wood paneling and beams. Inside, stone floors encircle a giant, central fireplace that sits open beneath a massive metal hood and chimney. Leather couches, animal-skin chairs, a communal dining table, and panoramic windows that look out over Alaskan-style mountains round out the accommodations. It’s all tied warmly together by Loli, the hut’s cheerful hostess who will kill you with too much food and drink if you allow it (and believe me, it’s hard to resist.)
After a late brunch of croissants, coffee and tea, we geared up and loaded a brand-new Pisten Bully 300 snowcat with room for 18. As the cat lumbered on its tracks over the Mesada de los Baguales, we took in the expansive mountain range that is privately owned by the same company that runs the hut and the snowcat operation. Hundreds upon hundreds of skiable lines spread out in all directions, and on all aspects. We drooled over the skiing prospects here, practically fogging up the cat’s windows as our noses pressed against the glass.
When the snowcat stopped atop a small peak, we all jumped out into a 360-degree view worthy of a Valdez heli ski-porn segment. Patricio and Alejandro took us to the edge of a cornice and dropped in, leading us to the best lines they could find despite the spring-like heat of the day and a rapidly warming snowpack.
The first few runs were warm-ups where we could get our legs under us and the guides could observe our skiing abilities. We must have shown off our mad skills because it didn’t take long for them to rally the cat to ever higher and steeper descents. One run after another stacked up as we shredded spring corn all day long, carving crescent curves on creamy corn, farming lines until our legs begged us to stop. On that day, we were Patagonian corn farmers, harvesting the shit out of the Cordillera de los Baguales.
To make the descents even sweeter, our guides admitted that we were the second clients to ever use the hut and snowcat. A group from France had been the first, as they visited earlier in the week to shoot film for a ski movie. In fact, we were told that some of the peaks we skied were second descents, including a massive summit called Cordón de los Hermanos. Plus, our final run was on a line that Alejandro had never skied before, and he was clearly excited to be there skiing it with us. Looking at the amount of terrain in Los Baguales, and the possibilities of the innumerable ski routes she holds, my mind boggled to think about it, and made me wish I could spend a week here skiing everything I could.
After eight runs or so of the most perfect spring corn I ever tasted with metal edges and ski wax, we returned to the warm confines of the hut just before sundown, where Loli poured bottles of vintage 2006 Tupungato Malbec wine. As we sat around the table sipping vino and noshing on warm meat and appetizers of cheese and salmon, we recounted our day and the “buenoing-out” of our corn-orgy began.
We could not believe we were there, the second group of skiers to ever experience the place. Under a warm Patagonian sun, we skied almost 10,000 vertical feet in five hours in a remote mountain range. Then “second lunch” was ready, as Loli dished out bowls of beef and potato stew with even more wine. It was 6 in the evening, and our bellies were full. But we knew dinner was yet to come. So we changed into comfortable clothes, gathered around the fireplace, and talked as the sunset cast alpenglow across the face of the Baguales mountains. Later, we drank Fernet con Coca and delighted when dinner was served. It was a traditional Argentinian Asado, consisting of several courses of meat like chorizo and strips of steak that were slowly cooked over the fire.
After we had our fill and couldn’t possibly eat another morsel, an impromptu dance party ensued fueled by Goal Zero speakers and the emergency flash modes of our headlamps that acted like dozens of head-mounted disco balls. But the batteries in the speakers soon wussed out, so we retired to the sweeping wood deck and laid underneath the stars where the trance overtook our wine, food and buenoed-out bodies. As the night became late, and the temperatures dropped well below freezing on the winds of an approaching cold front, we went back inside, crawled into our sleeping bags in the attic, and got the best damn sleep of the trip.
This day was the highlight of our Patagonia Ski Tours trip. And even though we questioned it throughout the day we were convinced that, yes, this really did happen.