Skiing on the highest: Las Leñas Valley
October 5, 2019
by Gimena Gisela Olmos
I had a persistent curiosity about snow. It may have something to do with the fact that was absent during my final year trip to Bariloche in Argentina’s Patagonia, to commemorate our passage to adulthood as well as finishing secondary education. Thanks to global warming, back then it was July 1997 and despite being winter, we left Buenos Aires with 27° C. As we arrived at the student’s recreational city, snow was already melting. Although we make the most of other excursions, such as four tracks or a mountain Land Rover excursion under heavy rain with branches falling in front of us over a barely visible road with some ice on the side, the main activity: skiing class was shortly and dull. We were completely out of luck on that, not yet a snowflake to admire.
Reaching Las Leñas
More than 20 years after that disappointing first time, I was finally able to take a long weekend holiday to another part of our Andean mountains in the south of another Argentina’s Province: Mendoza, well known for the Malbec wines and also for great ski resorts. The place is known as a high-level valley prepared for snow sports; proudly city hosting winter Pan-American games back in 1990, Las Leñas welcomed me for my first’s baby steps on the sport. The Las Leñas valley is located 1200 km from Buenos Aires (Argentina’s Capital City) and hosts the first Latin America ski resort. The season usually goes from July till September included. Everything is well organized from the restaurants around the base (my level didn’t let me go up high where there are others) and hotels and apart all around it. Naming of hotel and trails are all related to Greek an Roman Gods, or solar signs, so never mind your level, it feels like a being a semi-God, at least as Hercules with the works as you may fall once in a while or twice a class like me, but is all part of the learning process so rise above it and fall again.
The mini-week trip
We arrived on a bus at 8 am of Saturday, left our luggage on the rooms and take the local van to the base which is 2240 meters above sea level, so 5 blocks are too much of a distance on so steep streets and altitude. Everything was well organized as the travel included lift tickets and the rental of the equipment that was paid separately as well as the lessons. Our boots were waiting for us, and a joke about lying on your weight that may result in you losing the ski in the middle of the mountain. The group class was scheduled for the afternoon and us –beginners- had time to get familiar with carrying our own equipment and move with such rigid boots. A story apart is for the climbing of stairs in the restaurant, we look like ducks, as the bathroom were upstairs. Only coaches knew how to walk in a human manner with them.
When day-time skiing comes to end, fun time rises, as you can’t wait to take off the boots on the base they star with after-ski activities. You may find free beer and free pizza in the same place you had lunch hours before. There is such a spirit of goals accomplished for everyone that the mood of party flows. Happily, on Sunday night it was so cold and windy, suddenly everything started to turn into white. A soft snow rain fell over the mountain, I was so grateful that my wish was delivered for my final day.
That Sunday also took place improvised trekking with our travel couch. We take a path from back our apart and crossing the main road that leads in and out of the city, everything was so calm. As we walked to the opposite mountain to the ski resort, we had the bigger picture of trails as seen on the information center. As we walked by, some wild rabbits ran off or better-said jump off some bushes look at us and started to run, we counted three of them. At the top of the mountain, we were sort of climbing a big rapacious bird was hanging above us. We cross a river that runs deep into the valley, I guessed it was the Las Leñas River, and walked over a bridge which continues as a road to the farfetched farm we saw in the distance with some cattle fences as in summer some horse-riding are organized to get to know the valley. On our way back some seagulls came to check if we share some food with them.
The final day was a rush, as we checked out, had breakfast and went for the final lesson. As you get confident on your abilities you just want to enjoy more, but coaches pushed us far away from our comfort zone. Having fun makes time goes by faster, the snow was great and whiter that day, with the sun shining made a perfect memory. From one slide down on Venus to be tested on Eros I, I managed to accomplish my daily two falls easily. Somehow during the process of practice the exercise explained by the coach, end down on the base and take the cue for the lift trying not to fall again from it and repeat the process again, found time to enjoy the experience and appreciate it as well as the mountain, every single snowflake was perfectly in place for us to enjoy.
Sense of purpose
And the question rose from the back of my mind why we rushed everything? I was there achieving a dream, you just need to be present to realize how blessed we are to be able to have such experiences. I knew because I missed it the first time, how long it can take to be back again among Gods at the mountain heights. As I’m writing this article, I’m watching the Las Leñas city logo magnet on my fridge. The season is ended for this year, so I hope you can join us next year.