What makes us buy that plane ticket, drive that extra 100 kilometers and find ourselves in places where we don’t understand a word on the menu at the local restaurant? If it’s not just that perpetual quest for a perfect powder run or a sweet backcountry kicker… what makes us go?
As the Rip Curl crew found out in Chile, it’s not just about riding down a mountain. It’s about the journey as a whole. It’s about experiencing how other people get to enjoy the same passion in other places, with more or less adversity, better or worse conditions, and terrain that ranges from a 300-metre anthill to a 3000-metre peak. Traveling doesn’t always get you perfect powder or amazing runs, but it makes snowboarding/skiing that much more meaningful, and it carves the memories deeper in our minds. La Puesta Del Sol, which means “the sunset” in Spanish, is all about the experience, the fun, the sun and… the feeling that you get as you wake off from the top of an skyscraper in a helicopter bound for the unknown.
The summer was in full swing in the northern hemisphere as the crew flew in to Chile and descended into its capital city, Santiago De Chile. Snowboarders Nils Arvidssen and Nate Johnstone, as well as skiers Sam Favret and Simon D’Artois, met on touchdown in the airport for yet another journey as creators on The Search. Adding in the Rip Curl team manager and production crew, there were nine souls embarking on this mission, adding to the five-million inhabitants of the bustling, dusty city of Santiago. As everybody needed a couple of days adjusting to the time difference before taking off into the snow, the crew had time to acclimatize to the South American country and its unique ways of life. The consensus amongst the crew was that Chileans lived with a certain flair… an almost European outlook, with a much more modern vibe.
After two days had passed exploring the city, it was time to ride some mountains. After all, the longest mountain range in the world beckoned…
Geographically speaking, Chile is very simple: on one side you have the Pacific Ocean, which generates quite a few epic surf spots, and on the other stands the Andes, which runs between Argentina and Chile and acts as a kind of natural border. The first destination was called Puma Lodge, situated about a hundred kilometers southeast of Santiago. There are two very different ways to get to it: if you’re the RC team manager on a budget, you’ll want take the long drive up a winding dirt road and wait to get to the end of it to reach the lodge. If you’re a Russian gas tycoon, you will want go to the top of the second-highest tower of Santiago and wait for a helicopter to pick you up and drop you off at the lodge. With all of this in mind, the Rip Curl riders chose to do as the Russians do, and the crew went to the top of Titanium Tower and waited for the ride of a lifetime.
The next two days were spent doing heli laps looking for decent conditions, as it had snowed heavily and the wind had packed avalanche traps in what seemed like every nook and cranny of the mountain range. In addition, when scoping out lines from the chopper, the riders quickly realized that the gigantic proportions of the mountains were quite misleading. With an average elevation of 4000 metres, the Andes can be frustrating. The peaks are so far apart from each other, what seems like a small couloir ends up being a wide snowfield… when you get to it, if you get to it. That also meant there were no hiking possibilities, and runs were only accessible by heli. Which is great…when you’re a Russian big shot. That said, the sheer awesomeness of the sunsets uplifted everyone’s spirit, with a glow that highlighted the horizon and gave the most beautiful backdrop to any man ready to send it in the air.
The next stop of the journey was another heliskiing/boarding lodge situated in the Maipo Valley, 50 kilometers southeast of Santiago.
The staff of Andino Lodge were especially hospitable, and we figure this out from the start as they greeted us with (brace yourselves, vegetarians) a lamb on a spit upon arrival. The lodge had a family orientated feel to it, and the crew slotted in as if it was their second home. The Maipo Valley is Chile’s wine country and the lodge was surrounded by vineyards, which contributed to that self- indulging, cozy atmosphere. Bad weather rolled in the day after touchdown, and the helicopter was grounded for 24 hours. There was no other option but to stay locked in the warm lodge, hit the Jacuzzi, play chess or and, indulgence at its finest, even get a massage.
At the end of the day, everybody hopped in two vans and headed north towards the resort of Valle Nevado and its lift-accessed slopes. Much like some of the biggest resorts of North America, it’s entirely managed by a single company. That means the restaurants, the ski schools, the lifts, the bar – everything is branded the same and run under the same business philosophy. But don’t dare compare it to the Whistler nightlife or an après-ski bar in Austria. Here, as the manager, said… “There isn’t much happening at night.”
Another thing that separates the Chilean resort from its northern counterparts is the fact that it sits at an elevation of 3000 meters. Basically, this means less air and heavier breathing, and the riders quickly discovered this as they hiked up monstrous kickers into the sky.
In good fortune, Tincho (one of the film crew) had visited the same resort two weeks earlier and had already made a few jumps, but hadn’t had the chance to even try them due to bad weather. Despite the fact it was still very windy the biggest kicker remained intact and allowed the team to have a pretty epic session. Local Rip Curl pro rider Paulo Audisio tagged along and brought the visitors to the goods – a perfect pitch, a good jump and a flawless sunset.
As the days went on, the conditions improved and the snowpack settled. And as the trip wound down the Searchers had used up just about every patch of decent snow they could find – so, it was time to use those last heli bucks. Throughout the trip, the snow conditions were sketchy at best with a high avalanche risk and constant wind. Those heli drops on the last day felt like dessert after a meal that never came. The boys were treated to some fine ice cream in the end, and each rider drew insane lines down the powdery mountains as the chopper hovered above. Add one last sunset and purple skies for good measure, and you have the ingredients of what truly made the trip incredible.
Finally, it was time to leave the mountains behind – but, there was one last course on the menu before leaving the country. Punta De Lobos, near Pichilemu.
This is a world-renowned big wave surf spot that consistently holds some very sizeable surf. For watermen, it’s considered a scary place – a sketchy paddle-out through rocks and the chance to ride (and get stuck inside on) a huge left point break. The team got lucky though and was gifted with decent conditions, which meant clean overhead waves out the back and manageable size on the sets.
The wave forms off of two outstanding rock formations and then roll into the bay, where the more cautious surfers try and pick up the smaller sections. Nate Johnstone and Sam Favret, however, decided to just go for it, and headed straight out the back. The others looked on from the beach in awe, watching their teammates on the Search show a whole other side to their talent on a board.