The sun has already begun warming up the rocks and loosening up snow thousands of feet above. Hang fire sluff begins ripping out of couloirs around us as we all reconvene on Primavera, a stunning bit of apron that unfolds right above the lake. We get the cameras situated in two different spots and the crew begins ripping fast, monster turns through the untracked outer margins of the run.
Nick and I both look at each other with the same thoughts as we watch Carder Lamb, another 17 year old from Vail Colorado throw up a monster rooster tail of snow in the shadow of the lake followed by Peter White from New York City as he lays out clean wide radius turns. The crew is progressing magnificently. They were starting to stand up tall and rip at high speeds with ease and comfort.
Our dream of over two years had come to fruition: Create a telemark camp in a location with terrain that was stunning enough to be able to teach and develop the contemporary tools to safely navigate and rip big mountain terrain on telemark skis. Nick had approached me with the idea two years ago after a trip to Portillo to check out his friend Chris Davenport’s Ski With the Superstars Camp. He knew he had found the place: a stunning Andean setting with endless chutes, spines, and couloirs both on and off-piste. A small cozy all-inclusive lodge that sits like a stranded cruise-ship lakeside at the foot of a glacial valley. It was quite simply the Noah’s ark of the ski world. It took us two years to put all the pieces together and get the camp up and running, and finally we were watching our first seven clients rip powder lines in front of a deep purple lake.
The energy is high as we make the transition at the lodge to backcountry mode. For many, this is their first time using skins, and we take some time to cut skins and get everyone situated. Then it is up the lift and on to one of Portillo’s legendary five-man Pommas that drag you straight up couloirs. Unloading these pommas on a 40-degree slope always provides laughs and antics, and this ride is no different. From there we begin booting up several more hundred feet across the ski area boundary to the upper reaches of the Lake Run. We come to rest just below a cliff band where we look down 3000 feet to the reflection of the mountains in the lake.
We begin having our first discussions of backcountry safety, and Nick lays out the plan. “We are going to stay out of the main gulley at all costs. We’ll divide the run into two halves and go one at a time. I’ll rip down first and duck out in the safety of the rock outcrop on the right. Then we will do the same thing with the lower half and reconvene at the lake. With a smile he’s off, and in signature form he straight lines the first 50 feet to build up enough speed to really lay it out.
The crew looks at each other, smiling and shaking their heads. Adam Johnson, a 26 year old from Denver is the first to speak “It’s a stunning thing to watch”. Everyone agrees, but not without first offering a few sarcastic remarks and fun jabs.
Nick is a paradigm shifter. He is the Seth Morrison of the telemark world. Telemark skiing will never be the same because of his influence. He has redefined how a slope might be approached on telemark skis and in doing so has bridged the gap between Telemark and Alpine skiing by dragging the telemark world into the high speed, breathtaking, Super G turn realm that has characterized the Big Mountain movement in the last five years. Add to this cat-like airs and aggression and you have a skiing spectacle that leaves people struggling with words to describe what they just witnessed.
This technique became the foundation for the camp. To ski in this style begs a technique overhaul which we both had been tweaking and developing over the last ten years, me in the venue of the CRMS Telemark Team and Nick in his global adventures, big mountain descents, and competition lines. Now we were both crawling with excitement as we were starting to see it manifest itself in a place that was truly conducive to this type of skiing.
One by one the group took off for the second half of the run. Each skier carving monster turns and disappearing in a cloud of snow over the last rise that dead-ended in the lake. The end result is almost 3,000 feet of the most stunning skiing people had ever experienced. People were smiling and laughing and trying to find the language to describe what had just happened as I carved my last turn and joined the group. Kelsey Lewis’s (a 17 year old member of the CRMS Telemark Team) response was to beat me about the head with a flurry of punches and slaps and a Cheshire grin. As we skinned up Nick layed out the plan again. “We face the same hazards going up as we did coming down. I am going to cut a skin trail that keeps out of the main gulley (the next day we watched rock fall from the summit thousands of feet above us cause an avalanche that ripped down this very same gully and explode into the lake). We will only cross the gully once at the top, where we have to.”
People I-podded up and we climbed in the mid-day sun. Our destination was Tio Bob’s restaurant, which sat on-Piste at the top of the run for a Chilean feast overlooking the entire Portillo valley.
Check back soon for the Portillo wrap-up...