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Trip Report: Las Leñas – The Arrival

If you’re going to ski big, South American lines in August, you’re going to have to work a little for it.

And if you’re going to take eight pairs of skis—really long, fat skis—to test on those big lines, you’re really going to have to commit, and get ready for a little bit of a production.

We arrived in Mendoza, Argentina, Saturday afternoon, and had been told by several people that we had to stay at the Park Hyatt hotel. Some friends of ours were staying there, the place is absolutely gorgeous, and the Park may have had the most helpful staff and quite possibly the friendliest concierge we’d ever met. We were impressed. But we were hungry, too, so we decided to get a bite to eat before making a decision.

We then came across a place that was just a short walk from the Park Hyatt, called, the “All In Monkey Hostel.”

It’s hard to say what, exactly, is the best part of the Monkey Hostel, but my favorite part is the “ALL IN” that had been more recently added to the title. As if it needed to be said, that, if you haven’t already been sold on this place (or haven’t already run from this place) by the fact that it’s named, the “Monkey Hostel,” and has a fridge full of 40s for sale in the lobby, we want to assure you that this Monkey Hostel is all-in, fully committed to full on monkey-hood.

Our decision was made. We’ll catch the Park Hyatt some other time, but this moment called for the AIMH.

There was only one problem: we were dead tired.

The day before, Friday morning at 10:45, we had left Taos, New Mexico to drive to Albuquerque, then flown from Albuquerque to Dallas, TX. After a short layover, we caught a red eye flight from Dallas to Santiago, Chile, and arrived around 8am. After another layover of a couple hours in Santiago, we flew to and arrived in Mendoza, and we were now standing in the lobby of the All In Monkey Hostel at 8pm, Saturday night, having just checked in to room #5, about to resume our quest for food.

At some point during dinner, reality set in. We had to get up at 4:40 in the morning to catch a 6am bus from Mendoza to San Rafael (3 & ½ hour ride), then another bus from San Rafael to Valle de Las Leñas (4 hour drive). For the record, there are more direct ways to do all of this (see Will Brown’s article, “Getting To Las Leñas”), but as always in life, timing is everything, and this was simply our lot.

We decided (for the sake of our survival) that we had better get some sleep. It was nearly midnight, and this is Argentina, so the All In Monkey Hostel wasn’t even going to begin earning its reputation for another hour or two. So yeah, against our raging curiosity—but not necessarily against our better judgment—we decided to crash.

The two bus rides got us to Valle de Las Leñas (VLL) today at 1:30pm, and we were greeted by a large sign with my favorite resort logo of all-time: a scarf-wearing, ‘80s goggles rocking sun, with rays that look like bro-hair. The Las Leñas sun (known simply as, “Leñas”) has a bro-flo to end all bro-flows. Put simply, it is stoke, personified. SOL-steeze, if you will.

The best part? They have white ski poles here with the Leñas-logo dotted all over them, sort of like pajamas. And even though some here call them “tourist poles,” if you think I’m returning to New Mexico without a pair, you’re crazy.

So we’re here at Las Leñas, and we meet up with our good friend Pablo Thomas, a backcountry guide for VLL.

Pablo Thomas, Cornercito, Las Leñas.

Pablo is sort of amazing. Born in Buenos Aires, he seems to have lived everywhere on earth. He also has accomplished more in some 40 years than most people could in 100. A former world cup snowboard competitor who lived in and competed from Park City, UT, he came to VLL in 1987 as a backcountry guide, drawn to Las Leñas’ 60,000 acres of backcountry skiing, most of which are lift accessible from VLL. (If the last part of that sentence didn’t just drop your jaw, then I can’t begin to imagine what’s wrong with you.)

A very small section of Las Leñas' 60,000+ acres of backcountry.

It was now snowing, and we were jonesing to get on the mountain. But we also desperately needed to eat. Our day had begun at 4:40am, and the only thing we’d consumed was something given to us on the bus: a single Alfajor, a doughy, chocolate covered, South American cake sandwich, typically filled with dulce de leche. It was my first Alfajor experience, and this is my one word Alfajor review: Amazing. Will’s review? “That was the worst Alfajor I’ve ever had, and I’ve had quite a few. That was like offering someone their very first cupcake, then handing them one that you bought at a gas station.”

Whatever, Will is picky….

Anyway, the point is that we really needed to eat. Pablo even told us we looked terrible, and that we ought to get some sleep. (Evidently, we aren’t that great at sleeping on planes or buses.) “You’ve got fifteen days. There’s no rush. Plus, I want to introduce you to some people.”

Low on sleep and food, we knew Pablo was right. We followed him to the Innsbruck for lunch, and Pablo introduced us to the owner, Federico. Pablo told us that the food at the Innsbruck was very good, but on this day, it was amazing. So was the café—I’d been up for nine hours already and had yet to have any. Que horrible.

After lunch and many more introductions, Pablo introduced us to Claudio Margaride, the director of Las Leñas’ backcountry guide program. We talked skis, backcountry skiing, and very little else. Sometimes, you meet people in the ski industry who are sort of burned out on their jobs. Not Claudio. “You’ve got to see it, you’ve just got to see it,” he kept saying. And he’s right, we do. And we will, tomorrow. But tonight, we’ll have dinner with old friends and raise a glass with new ones. Then, sleep.

In the morning, the mountains. And our testing begins with the Armada AK JJ and the MOMENT Bibby Special.

Hasta mañana.

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