Snow Day

Yesterday I posted a photo on Facebook that I took while skiing at Nevados de Chillán. The story of how I came to take that picture is the one I would like to tell now.

Skiing is a rather strange hobby. As has been noted, mainly by comedians, it’s a lot of sitting around and waiting. You get to the mountain, wait in line, sit in a chair that takes you up the mountain slowly, then point the sticks strapped to your feet down the mountain and WHOOSH! It’s over in less than half the time time it took to get up. Rinse and repeat. It’s kind of like football, actually.

To get to the mountain, I had to catch a bus from Chillán. Let me backtrack a bit, because this part is a little confusing. Chillán is a city in Chile’s Central Valley. It is not a ski resort town. The mountain is 90 km east of Chillán and is called Nevados de Chillán. Located on the slopes of a volcano, the ski resort features the hot springs Termas de Chillán, where people go to take a dip in the naturally heated pools.

So, there I was, on the 7:30 bus to Las Trancas. Wait, I left that part out. Las Trancas is a village located about 8 km away from the ski resort. It’s a valley with cabins and hostels for rent–cheaper accommodations than the slopeside hotels and condos. That’s where I went to rent my skis.

So I’m on the bus, about halfway to Las Trancas, when the bus suddenly pulls over to the side of the road and stops. The driver opens a compartment to the engine, and smoke starts pouring out. Not good, Bob.

I sat on the broken-down bus with my fellow passengers for about 20 minutes, until a new bus arrived to ferry us on our way. Once in Las Trancas, I found a place that rented skis, boots, and poles for about $12. I asked the guys in the shop how to get to the mountain. They shrugged and suggested hitchhiking.

Figuring it was worth a shot, I headed back to the main road and stuck out my thumb. No takers. But I kept walking along, where I passed a Chilean family trying to make the same trek as me. Eventually, I wound up at a police checkpoint with white vans shuttling passengers to and from the mountain. The Chilean family had secured a transfer, and invited me to join them.

So that’s how I got there. Getting back was so much simpler. Two buses pulled into the ski resort’s parking lot at about the same time. One departed 15 minutes before the other. Both were heading to Chillán. I took the first bus to Las Trancas to return my gear, and caught the second bus the rest of the way back. Piece of cake.

Chilean long-distance buses are a little strange compared to the US ones (think Greyhound). Passengers can buy tickets in advance, but some of them also pick people up from the side of the road like a local bus.

That’s what my bus from Las Trancas to Chillán did. In fact, that’s how I got on it. Me and enough people to fill the bus twice over. For most of the 80 or so km from Las Trancas to Chillán, I was standing shoulder to shoulder, elbow to elbow, hip to hip with as many passengers as could squeeze onto this not very large bus. Every time the bus stopped to let someone new on board, it felt like an experiment to see how tightly people can be packed together.

I went through that entire travel adventure for a few hours of skiing. The last of which involved skiing in the rain. And the highest part of the mountain was closed due to lack of snow. Even the runs that were open had patches of exposed rocks and dirt. The snow that was there was like spring snow, not powder. I only fell once, when I decided to venture off-trail and found myself ankle deep in slushy snow.

I think the jokes about skiing must come from people who have never done it before. Because, in spite of everything I just wrote, I had a great time. A day spent on the slopes beats a day spent doing almost anything else. Just look at the lengths some people will go to for a chance at some turns.

DSCF0597

Even with the looming clouds, it’s hard to top that view.

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