Bariloche side country skiing La Laguna and Van Titer

snow action team 09.05.2020

Bariloche side country skiing is awesome, and very accessible. As we continue our series on the best back and side country skiing in northern Patagonia we check out the lower hanging fruit around the sides and over the back of Cerro Catedral, the region’s resort ski mecca. If you have less time, or just for variety between longer overnight trips out to the refugios like Refugio Frey, just dive into the side country.

Nic Lawrence and Owain Price have the lowdown.

Lautaro Spilj dropping in to a nice line further along the ridge; if you need a ski tune in Bariloche he’s the man! Skis great too © Owain Price

La Laguna and the Van Titer valley are two of the best options, while Palmera is still the run many long time locals will tell you is their pow day favourite for a clean fresh line.

La Laguna is the classic back bowl experience, that almost became lift-accessed (check our feature from the Top 5 Soul Ski Lifts down south for the full story on that saga) local’s favourite, while the Van Titer valley is is a bit gnarlier and a real “day out”. These are the two easiest to access, and you can spend multiple days exploring their various lines. Both are accessed most easily from riding up lifts at Cerro Catedral then starting to walk from there. Palmera is such a cheat you don’t even need to hike if the Condor 3 lift is open – though the often sketchy get out may require a short bush bash/hike out.

La Laguna bowl view, Bariloche sidecountry skiing
View back to La Laguna bowl © Owain Price

Bariloche side country skiing La Laguna

La Laguna is a very easy 15 – 20 minute hike from the top of Del Bosque double chair (the furthest skier’s left on the trail map, above the Amancay Gondola next to the carpark) to the saddle and dog-leg of the failed poma lift installation.

But it has some awesome lines and you can actually finish your run coming out of the trees above the bottom of the Del Bosque lift, meaning you can fast lap the closer La Laguna lines all day if you wish.

Some of the best lines are pretty much straight on over and down past the dogleg. Some of the chutes here just skiers left of the dogleg on the old lift face due south, holding and keeping quality snow. It’s a short steep plunge to the frozen glacial cirque lake below, then a scoot out over the lake with more nice lines tucked in over the roll on the runout.

Skiing above rock spires, La Laguna, Bariloche sidecountry
Plenty of sweet terrain out here © Owain Price

The runout faces north east, so gets some pretty ugly suncrust, but instead of just following the traverse track out there are a couple of more southerly aspect tree lines between big lenga trees which are perfect until you hit the colihue native bamboo caña (cane). This is the sign to cut sharp left to get back to the lift. If the snow is good at lower levels you can ski on down and pick up the zig-zag dirt access road at La Cueva (The Cave) a restaurant experience they quad bike or skidoo guests up to at night. A short uphill hike here brings you to a track to skate and ski around back out under the gondola to the base.

Heading higher from the L Laguna saddle to the ridgeline opens up lots of opportunities. Head out along the ridge – either ski down and skin up or ski and hike along the top – to past the main Laguna cirque. Far fewer people make the effort to get this far, and the runs between massive granite pillars with a view back down to Barioche and Lakes Nahuel Huapi and Gutierrez are as good as it gets.

When the snow is good it’s tempting to continue on down, which unless you really know it well will lead you into a vortex of bamboo can bashing hell. Better to cut hard left high enough to make it around to the regular Laguna runout line.

Backcountry skiing between granite pilars La Laguna, Bariloche
Nic skiing between granite pilars La Laguna © Owain Price

Skinning all the way along the ridge brings you the ‘Burnt Forest’ line, not often skiable, but when it is you come out on the track from the Catedral car park to Refugio Frey. This will leave you an hour or so hike back to the carpark.

While it’s not patrolled or avalanche controlled, La Laguna is more accurately described as side country terrain. It gets popular as soon as access opens usually, but there is plenty of space once you get out there.

Nic above La Laguna © Owain Price

Bariloche side country skiing Van Titer Valley

Van Titer is a bit gnarlier and a real “day out”. It is over the back of the Nubes chairlift and is accessed also with a 20 minute hike. However, this one is much scarier and not for the feint hearted because the slope you walk across is usually sheet ice so if you slip then you’re sliding to a prickly end on the rocks below…

ski tracks in Van Titer valley Bariloche
Plenty of lines in Van Titer from cliff drops to bowly © Nic Lawrence

Avalanches are common on the back face access line too, with wind loaded slabs a regular feature. It drops staright down to the Rucaco Valley a 1000 vertical metres or so below. Several people have died there over the years.

There are some serious lines with big consequences when you get into Van Titer proper too, but also some more mellow bowls to ski.  However, you need to know what you’re doing in the backcountry here, or at the least be with someone who has been there before (on good days there is usually a decent amount of people heading out there so striking up a conversation to ask for directions isn’t difficult).

Sketchy skin track out of Van Titer, Bariloche sidecountry skiing
Sketchy skin track out of Van Titer © Nic Lawrence

If you go out to Van Titer valley it’s going to be a full day tour because there is a decent amount of skinning/climbing involved to access the best slopes, plus you have to skin up and out to exit back down through Catedral.

You don’t want to be caught out if it socks in that’s for sure. On good days the views are amazing out to Tronador, at 3334m the highest pek in the region, and beyond to the volcanoes on the Chilean side of the Andes.

View to Tronador from Van titer ridgeline, Bariloche sidecountry skiing
Selfi with view to Tronador heading out to Van Titer © Nic Lawrence

Bariloche side country Palmera

A little slice of heli-ski off the lifts when it’s on! The furthest right bowl looking up, Palmera is reached with no hiking at all via an often sketchy ridgeline run out from the top of Condor 3 double chair. Or if Condor 3 is shut you can also cut across the back side, after skating/hiking 50m or so up the ridge line run – which is accessible from any of the chairs along from Punta Nevada.

After a couple of inbound runs as people start arriving heading out to Palmera is the call. It’s nice to be among the first handful out there for the best lines, but actually letting a couple of people go first to set some sort of runout rack is no bad thing. The exit is via a deep gully (it does slide into this – a lone snowboarder died there caught in a short but deep slide there a few years back) – then around the edge of this, down through some thorny brush to a narrow runout track that brings you to a green road run down to the base next to Condor 1 lift.

Once on this track a massive condor popped out just above a friend of mine who was only 20 metres ahead of me. But I didn’t get the shot, camera was off!

Robi Cooper has been skiing Palmera on and off since the 80s still charging hard © Owain Price

Because Palmera is lower – the top around 1700m – it gets more mixed snow conditions through the season. Maybe rain, wet snow, dry snow .. you never really know till you get there. It angles back towards the south so the line closer to the trees delivers the driest snow. After 15 seasons I remember some great days out here; the ugly ones when we made the wrong call fade away.

One time when it was good, but snow down low was very sketchy, I went out alone for last run of the day (dumb, but couldn’t resist) and had to pretty much rock climb out of the gully get out and bush bash from there.

Arriving exhausted back home I expected a hot drink and sympathy from the boss, buy she abused me for staying so long in the apres bar – she couldn’t believe it hadn’t taken me a couple of hours after lifts closed to get home (we are 500m from the lifts).

Skiing Palmera Bariloche side country
Nic Lawrence on the lower section of Palmera © Owain Price