Extremely Argentinian

19th August 2009, by Editor Watts

(c) Dave Watts

(c) Dave Watts

Off-piste heaven

WOW ... I’d been told that Las Lenas had more easily accessed off-piste terrain than anywhere else on the planet. But I didn’t believe it. By Day 3 of my visit last August, standing at the top of yet another field of virgin powder and being invited by my Extremely Canadian guide to go first, I was converted ...
It is truly amazing. A small, unpretentious, purpose-built resort with pyramid-style architecture beloved by the French in the 1960s, with a handful of slow chairs and drag lifts, hundreds of miles from civilisation in the Argentinean Andes, with just sensational, deserted off-piste to be explored.
And what no-one had told me was that this powder-paradise was set among simply stunning scenery of Dolomite-style pink-tinged rocks rearing perpendicularly out of the snow to the ice-blue sky.

Planetary delights
After a morning of warming up with a couple of on-piste runs and a couple of fantastic powder runs each of 800m vertical, the single afternoon run was an epic - Las Lenas Epic Run.
We traversed far to skiers’ left of the Marte chair (more on that later) and launched ourselves into a huge, high powder bowl for 50 turns. Then the guide stopped and suggested we traverse over the ridge on our left and keep going as far as we could - ‘the further we go the drier and less tracked the powder,’ he said. We did just that and were rewarded by another 50 magic turns in virgin snow amid a spectacularly beautiful wilderness with no-one else around. Then a long run-out, keeping left and arriving 1200m vertical lower at the foot of a drag-lift. ‘That was Mercurio,’ the guide announced, ‘or a variant of it at least.’ No surprise then that we insisted on repeating the same run at the end of the following day too.
The key chair-lift is an old double called Marte (Spanish for Mars; the people who named the place were obsessed by planets and classical mythology - other lifts and runs are named after Jupiter, Uranus, Mercury and Neptune). Marte takes 12 minutes to climb 800m vertical but it opens up 270º of ski-anywhere off-piste terrain (plus a couple pistes) from gentle slopes suiting powder novices to couloirs and cliffs for the brave. But before you are allowed to venture into the great off-piste, you have to stop at a mountain-top hut where a local asks you to enter your name, passport number and sign a document in Spanish releasing the resort from all responsibility for you. He then sticks a coloured tag, valid for a week, on your clothing which allows to venture where you like.

But venture not without a guide. We saw snowboarders precariously perched on top of 300ft/92m cliffs and skiers riding under dodgy-looking cornices. The place is vast and you need to know where you are going. My recommendation would be to book a week with the Whistler-based ski school Extremely Canadian that specialises in steep and deep terrain and runs trips to Las Lenas every year. Their guides know the terrain, can assess the avalanche risks and show you the time of your life.

Sadly, Day Three (my last day) came far too quickly. But what a day! A full day of cat skiing had been arranged (at a bargain price of 480 pesos - £85). The cat skiing here is round the back of the mountain in Valle Hermano and had only been open three days that season because of ‘too much snow’. Hmm ... well, that left us with virgin snow as far as the eye could see. I’d thought that the skiing in Las Lenas couldn’t get better than the previous two days but it just did ... four fabulous runs of around 850m each, with steeper or shallower options for each of our three groups to choose between. And I have never felt safer from avalanche danger - not only did each group have an Extremely Canadian guide but also a local mountain guide and a ski patroller bringing up the rear.

Gauchos and ponchos

So apart from the powder what’s a holiday in Las Lenas like?Well ... it’s very Argentinian! My taxi driver had to stop on the approach road to the resort to make way for a group of poncho-clad, cigarette-smoking gauchos herding a huge herd of cattle over the arid mountainside. Ten minutes later I was in Las Lenas in time for their standard 10pm dinner time - they eat late here and then move on to one of the two nightclubs to party the night away. And food and drink prices are cheap - burger or omelette £2, local beer £1, bottle of decent wine £6. The village is small; there’s a choice of hotels and apartments in different price brackets, a casino, a few restaurants, couple of nightclubs and a handful of bars, including a wine bar. Hotel prices generally include lift pases, the food and wine are good and the locals friendly (though few speak English).
Intermediates who want to stick to the pistes shouldn’t bother with the long journey; there are pistes but they are nothing special. But those wanting deserted, easily accessible off-piste powder should put it on their ‘Must Do Before I die’ list!

Extremely Canadian: go to extremelycanadian.com

Back to features

Recent features

Popular features

Share |