At 8 am after we fueled up on food we dressed ourselves like little snowmen and headed out to the ski bus that picked us up at the lobby.
The drivers in Esquel actually come into your lobby and ask for you by your name and walk you to the door of the car with your pack if needed. It’s a real treat after the way we suffer for lack of a better description of some of the car services in Buenos Aires and New York City.
We drove over to the ski shop, and the driver piled all the equipment himself on the van and drove us with 13 other tourists to the top of La Hoya Mountain.
At a certain point we were on a lane so tiny that you have to pull over to the inside of the cliff if another car needed to pass in the opposite direction. When I noticed that detail, I knew that this mountain was going to blow my ski socks right off.
A seasoned downhill and cross-country skier for over 30 years, it’s rare that I get the pleasure to ski on a pure mountain powder at such a high altitude. We drove so high we passes a level of cirrus clouds. That was so awesome because when we arrived at the base of the resort the sun was deciding to show itself from behind the peaks and shine down on a splendid base of packed snow and fresh powder. The sky was crystal clear and I could not belive that we were actually there during the kick off of their 32nd annual winter festival. I kind of felt like a rock star.
We checked in at the ticket office and headed off to the ski lift. You can take the lift and change up at the first base. There is a lodge there that has a restaurant, lockers, bathrooms and an amazing fire-place hearth to warm up at. It also has a huge sun-deck where you can actually get a sun tan and have a Corona with lime. They also serve all kind of delicious stick to your ribs food that you need after a hard day pounding the mountain including waffles with dulce de leche and hot coffee.
We took the lift up with our gear and packs full of equipment to record HD videos and take photos. It was rather uncomfortable I have to say, after my father Joe trained me at an early age to put on my gear and take the lift up with only what I need: a 20 dollar bill and a tube of chap stick. But, we survived.
We decided to leave our ski gear at the lodge and head up to the second peak after shooting an hour of photos with all the children and sledders.
The guys on the second lift were really helpful to slow down the pace of the chair and get us on safely with our packs. When we arrived at the second peak I noticed that we were surrounded by more experienced and expert skiers and boarders. There we shot another hour of some of the festivals’ ski and board teams and the resort regulars. As we were wrapping up a video a ski patrol guy caught my eye and asked if we were heading up. I said, ‘Im not sure it looks a bit high for us!’ But he said, ‘come on it will be worth it!’ I said, ‘ok we’ll see you at the top.’
We took the typical team group decision and figured if he was inviting us up it was for a good reason, so we took the final lift to the ultimate peak. At this point looking down the entire place looks unreal like a toy set. I could not belive how high we were on La Hoya.
When we arrived he and the lift guy were there to get us off the chair. You have to grab on to the guys and hook your arm around them, kind of like line dancing to get off safely. They swung us off and we said our greetings.
We explained that we were the guests of the Esquel the Secretary of Tourism and we were here to capture the best places to go on winter holiday this year in Argentina that have not been effected by the volcanic ashes.
Our new friend and guide, Fernando said, ‘ok guys lets hike to the top’.
I said, ‘no you guys go and I will stay here in this hut and drink mate with Daniel the lift guy.’
He said, ‘come on you wont belive the view and you are never going to see anything like it ,I will help you.’
I said a reluctant ok as I have asthma thanks to living in polluted cities and hiking in ski boots up a vertical cliff of snow for 20 minutes was not appealing at all for some reason. He handed me his poles and we climbed to the top part of the peak where skiers are not allowed. Step by step Fernando dug his boots in foot steps that had been there.
As we took a break he related to us that he climbs to the top every single day, carrying his gear. Its like his own ritual that he does. He jumped up to the final step and pulled me up. I was freaking out having to climb a peak with two trashed knees but it was beyond worth it. When we got there, I was breathless not from the climb but the view.
At that point we were 2,750 meters above sea level. To my right were the beginning of the Andes mountains, on the other side lay Chile. In front of us looking out we could see the mountains and glacial area of the Andean rain forest and the Alerces national park. Below us and to our left was the rest of the resort. There was a place at this top peak that is typically a small lagoon in the summer but now frozen over serving as a cross-country ski track.
Looking at where were started you could not see the first lodge, we were that high up. Fernando and I did an interview and we learned that he had been a ski patrol guide for the last eleven years and has been coming to this particular mountain for a very long time.
We shot some video and photos and listened quietly to the wind. Up there I felt like I found the inner Sacagawea in me again, a woman I had lost a long time ago when I left my hometown for the concrete jungle of New York City. In just a few hours I felt peace and tranquility again in my entire being and even got a sun tan on my face.
People get so wrapped up in their daily lives that its difficult to find a place to just stop and listen to the wind. After living in major metropolitan areas for the last decade I was mesmerized by the pure white snow-capped mountains and silence. I wanted to lay down and never get off that peak.
Fernando led us back down where Daniel the lift attendant was waiting for us in his wooden pine hut. He invited us in and he quickly pulled out a chair for me. Chilvary is not dead and mountain men have proved it to me. He heated the stove and made a pot of water and started a new mate cup for us. I had in my pack, that he actually kept safe for me during our climb a box of delicious local chocolates.You know you left the city when you entrust your pack to the guy in the hut. We all sat down and drank mate and ate gourmet chocolate for an hour while we asked them all about Esquel and the Patagonia region.
As the day was getting past us fast we said goodbye and headed back down the lift to the second peak. It had filled up with a lot of boarders and we caught the most amazing shot of this guy catching some major air. It was so awesome.
We took the lift down to the main base and lodge and shot another hour of images. We were running out of time to ski so I gave Sebastian his first lesson in parallel traversing and snow plowing. He was psyched and strapped his skis on to play in them for about 15 minutes. He did really great and even remembered how to fall elegantly to the side when all else fails.
As all great days have to come to an end we needed to pack up our gear and equipment and head down the mountain to meet with Jorge our driver from Sol del Sur company. Changing back into our winter boots felt like we just had a spa treatment. I never in my life hiked in ski boots but it was an amazing work-out mind, body and spirit! As we headed down the steps, a man was selling fresh dulce de leche churros dipped in chocolate out of a huge basket! We giggled and headed off to the van where we basically passed out in our seats.
I will let the rest of this video tell the story. Stay tuned for the second part of Esquel, Argentina with important links and details on where to sleep, eat, shop and visit!
I highly recommend to any border or skier looking for adventure to come to La Hoya!