Take a helicopter into the crater of Volcan Puyehue, Skin across the crater, climb out, circumnavigate the cumbre and ski hundreds of meters towards the valley floor.
36 hours, Helicopters, Volcanoes, and Energy Drinks… “Red Bull Out of Hell.”
It was October; spring in Chile, but for some reason this year winter had chosen to ignore this typically mandatory change of season, which usually comes in mid September. It was raining at my house in Las Trancas, so I headed to a small surf town to wait for a weather window. After not hearing anything from Red Bull for a week in a half, I thought I had surely missed the event. So I emailed Chopo who was organizing the event. I received an email back 12 hours later: “Competitors head south Thursday (tomorrow), race Friday (day after tomorrow)”… Shit. The volcano Puyehue was 8 hours south and I was at the beach without my ski gear.
I packed my bags and so began 36 hours truck to bus, to another truck to yet another bus…. I groggily walked out of the last bus, gear in hand, in the south of Chile at 11 pm Thursday night. After “Athlete Check-In”, some event forms, and a Mapuche indigenous ceremony I crawled into my tent and sleeping bag at 2 am.
We had a 5 am wakeup.
I entered the cafeteria and the event base, there were athletes from all over the world, but I can say happily that most were actually Chileno. During breakfast the groups slowly got flown into the crater. I was late on the list, so enjoyed the sun, a surreal field full off cows, helicopters, and some of the lushest forest I have ever been in.
When my turn came, I sat in the front seat of the helicopter and watched as the cows became smaller, the trees shrunk, and the white tops of other nearby volcanoes began showing their heads out of a floor of greenery. We climbed above snowline, circumnavigated the rim, and entering the wide crater: a sea of white covered in tiny black dots with a small blue Red Bull tent emerged. As we came closer tiny dots became athletes, and as we landed and we joined those tiny dots as we crawled out knelt down, felt the machine’s rotor wash, and watched the helicopter fly away.
I walked into the crowd, but on my skis and found Froggy (a badass Czech ski- mountaineer, living in Canada, and traveling in South America)she said she knew the perfect spot to piss to avoid 90 something Chileans watching me pop a squat. I followed her towards the other side of the crater, and as I squatted the view of people, tents, and cameras disappeared. It was incredible, the noise went away, and I realized that I was truly inside of a snowy white mystic giant.
Eventually after staring at her power for minutes we were forced to head back. The race was about to begin.
We were lined up in three rows randomly. I was in the last row. The rules were reiterated, smoke was pulled, and the gun fired… 80 people started running skis in hand. The first leg of the race was a skin, one kilometer of flat terrain as we crossed the crater. This race would have 4 transitions the second of which would be crampons and the hike out… The hike out became a single file boot pack, I passed several people on the way up but in general it would’ve been near impossible to pass the 60 people who were in the rows ahead of me while breaking trail. At the top I was greeted by some of my friends (Manu +) who were working the race. These guys were the soul of the race. A passion for the mountains combined with positive energy made every check in was awesome. After several ups and downs along the rim we came to the final down. I high fived my friend Teto (the final check in) and pushed off into 800m of variable corn skiing. At this point I wasn’t going to pass anyone else, and no one was going to pass me so I relished the moment. Skiing down a sunlit volcano by myself, the clearest day in weeks, I was feeling euphoric. I approached the bottom, crossed a small drainage and was handed a Red Bull by a friendly women, whose hair looked way more brushed than mine. Next I was greeted by a bunch of friends who had also completed the race. Everyone was just as euphoric as I was. Everyone was hugging each other and cheering for each new competitor that crossed the line. This did not feel like any competition I had ever been to before. The comradely was extraordinary. I was especially proud of the women. We were 8 out of 80 people and every one of us finished before the middle of the pack. I feel like I made 7 new lady mountaineer friends on that day.
After an awards ceremony the sun shifted to a soft afternoon light, and we still had a 10k walk back to camp. We packed up and headed down. We were all spent but the walk was incredible, through mud, old conguillio trees, and fields. We made it to camp just in time to watch the sunset, eat cordero (roasted lamb) and drink local brew.
I got to hand it to Chopo and the folks at Redbull Chile… They found an excuse to host the most incredible gathering, and positive party that the ski mountaineering community in Chile has ever seen, and probably will ever see. 12 hours after making it back to camp I stepped off the bus in Santiago. I couldn’t help but feel dumbfounded and honored to be able to be a part of it. Thanks guys for one of the best 36 hours of my life.
Story By Alex Taran