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Published: August 7th 2019
Let’s all be honest with ourselves here. Traveling just about anywhere with two young children, is not well, exactly enjoyable. Like, don’t get me wrong, it is fun (usually) once you get to wherever you are going, but the process of first preparing, and then doing the actual traveling to get to your destination can be an anxiety wracked process. It can feel like you are preparing to execute a major military operation (bags, rations, timetables, maps, contingency plans) and when you cross that startline and jump out the trenches, you sure as hell better be prepared for sh*t to hit the fan soldier!
Consequently, we went on our first Chilean ski vacation up to the Andes a few weeks ago. It was random “Chilean holiday day off in the middle of the week” week (i.e. Thursday), so we decided to take the Friday off (well, one of us decided to take off the Friday, the other was granted it off by her Employer – wait a second, don’t you work for the same company you say?) to make a four day weekend for ourselves, and head up to Valle Nevado, which is the biggest ski resort in South America.
Apres errr day
Is it still Apres if you didn't ski?
So it is not far from Santiago, maybe 60km as the crow flies, the issue is, there are 51 switchbacks to get to said resort, on a kinda sketchy two-lanish road as you climb from about 2,000 feet above sea level in Santiago, to 10,000 feet where the Valle Nevado village is….and two small children prone to motion sickness, oh joy! On holidays and weekends they actually require the road to be one way up or down for certain times of the day, so at least we had that going to us while we headed up. Not that this mattered, as the weather was warm and sunny and there hadn’t really been snow for weeks, but snow tires aren’t really a thing here, and the Carabineros (Chilean police) have a checkpoint where they check that you are carrying snow chains. We had snow chains, however we were a bit nervous about this as we knew that we were overdue to get our Chilean licenses, which could land us in a bit of trouble. We were told the best way to avoid this situation was just to act like stupid gringo who can’t understand Spanish (this is not hard for me,
Later, angry ski bunny
harder for Steph), so as we passed through the checkpoint Steph pointed to the rear and said “Cadenas en el back” and they waved us through. So with this hurdle out of the way, we began our climb to the top…and fortunately for us, the journey passed relatively smoothly, with only minor protests from Zoe, mostly about not being able to watch ipad, as we climbed the 51 curves to the apartment we had rented….on a side note the way down was not quite so smooth, as it included an hour wait on the highway as we cleared up an accident, and then a stop or two at the side of the road to make sure Zoe was not going to throw up, but the fact that we made it there and back without having to clean any vomit was a great success (a few days later friends heading up there texted us “we made it to curve 17 before one of our kids barfed”).
The Andes, particularly when they are snowcapped, are impressive. As I said, the village was at 10,000 feet, and I think parts of the resort reached up to 15,000 feet, with views
of peaks like Cerro El Plomo, whose height is somewhere about 17,000ft. Valle Nevado itself has a ton of terrain, which would have been great to explore except that it has been a fairly dry snow year thus far, and we were there in early season (mid-July) in a ski season that does not last too long, so only so much terrain was open, and we mainly stuck to ripping groomers in the warm sunshine (never a bad thing). Regardless, the weather was sunny and beautiful, and it was great to be out of the city in the fresh air of the Andes (have I mentioned yet there is smog in Santiago?), so we set about to discovering the village (small, but nice with a few hotels, restaurants, shops and apartments), and trying to rent ski gear for the kids so we could hit the slopes the next day. As the sun set over the ski resort, we lounged on a patio overlooking the resort, drinking beer and enjoying snacks as the kids danced to thumping techno music…and for me, it was so nice to be back in a winter setting.
The next day we awoke, intent
on getting the kids on skis. The weather was overcast, but warm, so we set out with all our gear to the base of the lodge. What unfolded, at least for that morning, was basically a disaster. Prior to this, in my mind I had a variety of scenarios that may happen when we took our kids skiing. The optimistic one, was that everything went smooth and the kids loved it and they begged for “more skiing daddy” and that was it, we immediately became a ski family…after all, this is like the fantasy as skiing is probably my favourite thing in the world. The reality was a bit closer to another scenario that had played out in my head…there was too much gear to carry, Maelle was a puddle, whining and crying the whole time, and after maybe a few runs on the little bunny hill we retreated to the comfort of a chocolate crepe at the lodge, which didn’t help with Maelle at all as she was just a mess (as we left the lodge, some lady with her kid and a grimace on her face asked me “uh, do you need help” as I struggled with skis, poles, a bag and a screaming child – “no I’m good” I lied). We returned to our condo defeated and a little depressed. Fortunately, after lunch, the sun came out strong and warm, and we headed back up this time a bit more prepared, and both girls did several runs on their skis, and we spent the rest of the afternoon enjoying the snow and building snowmen.
There is always a part of this journey where you always feel like you are learning…a new job, a new language, a new culture, a new way of life, how to work a diesel boiler for your home heating…and because of that, there is always an element of being uncomfortable, or if I can be brutally honest, being not very good at things. So putting skis back on, even though it had probably been about a year and a half, and doing something that I was good at, and still felt good at…well, it made me feel at home, and it made me feel like myself….and that was a good feeling, because through this journey there’s a lot of time that I haven’t felt like that. We have been here are year as of August 23rd, and while I want to say that I have taken everything in stride, and it’s all gone according to plan…well, you know, it just hasn’t. We were maybe a bit optimistic about what this would be like coming into it, like it would be some kind of a three year vacation. And how can you not be? It’s an amazing experience that I don’t think we ever expected to get, so of course we were excited. In reality, it is exciting, but there’s an element of getting on with the day to day of your real life in a place you are completely unfamiliar with, whilst trying to manage careers and two young children. So as I ripped down Valle Nevado, it was nice to feel that sense of self, and you know, maybe a real sense of accomplishment. Sure it has not been easy, but every so often you get these incredible life moments where all the work is worth it. Here we are, taking our young family on a ski trip to the Andes…I mean, how cool is that!?
So what can I say, after all the effort, and despite a few bumps, our first family ski trip was a great success…although next year, I think we’ll go to the south. I heard the snow is better there.
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