Cerro Lopez totally wild skiing a bus ride from Bariloche

Cerro Lopez is a 2075m big mountain classic with amazing backcountry skiing just a 45 minute bus ride (plus a hike and skin up) from bustling Bariloche, the Queenstown of South America.

Day trips are feasible, but it’s far better to stay up at Refugio Lopez which on the tree line at 1620m. Nic Lawrence checked it out as the last of his Patagonia refugio ski missions.

As of now Cerro Lopez is skiing all time awesome, just when no one but locals can get there. Local freeski legend and park shaper Esti Erdocia sent us the clip; without COVID-19 he and his partner were lined up to do the season as instructors at Perisher..

Local Guide Ramiro Calvo also lent us some shots – he can safely show you the best of it; they get some big avalanches up here and conditions do change quickly, so having a guide is very handy. He has decades of experience in the region. See info links below for contact details.

I was never particularly enamored with the idea of ski touring at Cerro Lopez.  It is so close to the main road out from Bariloche that I thought Refugio Lopez would be crowded. In addition, Cerro Lopez itself is a big open slab of a peak that wasn’t the most impressive of the almost unlimited options across the Andes skyline when I looked out the back of Cerro Catedral each day dreaming of my next touring trip.

[Ed’s note: It’s always reminded me of Treble Cone viewed from Wanaka]

Views over lakes Moreno and Nahuel Huapi from Cerro Lopez
From big bowls to chutes, all with incredible views, Cerro Lopez offers the lot © Ramiro Calvo

So you can imagine why it wasn’t until near the end of my trip, on 11 September, that I finally decided to visit Refugio Lopez, more out of a “I should at least take a look” attitude than really being all that excited.   

Boy was that attitude misguided!

Skiers nearing summit of Cerro Lopez with spectacular views back over Lake Nahuel Huapi, Bariloche
Not many better views than from Ceroo Lopez © Ramiro Calvo

Cerro Lopez is great. There is a scattering of terrain to suit anyone and everyone, with multiple faces, spines, basins, rollers and chutes of all aspects and angles.

After catching the bus to Colonia Suiza, my flatmate Caleb and I met an American couple, Chris and Sarah, at the trailhead and we all started up the track with skis strapped to our backs. It’s a steep uphill, but not much distance, and after an hour or so we could put skins on. From there it was another hour skinning through the native beach trees to Refugio Lopez, which sits on a rock bench at 1620m with amazing views over the lakes and mountains. The lodge can sleep up to 100.

Dani Olivieri enjoys a clean spring line on Lopez © Ramiro Calvo

After a quick bite to eat we emptied our packs of overnight gear for the skin up the face above the refugio. That took another 2.5 hours, arriving at the top greeted by a billowing westerly wind. Luckily we were on the lee side, but it still made the last 15 minutes of skinning interesting with dry windblown snow landing on a slick raincrust underneath.  

Chris and Sarah pointed out a steep spine under some big rocks about 300m along the top ridge to looker’s left, so we took our skis off and bootpacked the lee side of the ridgeline to reach the spine.  

By this time the wind was howling, so it was good to get under the rocks. There was some banter about who got to ski the spine. Chris graciously skied the chute to skier’s left of the spine, leaving Sarah to rip the spine. However, just before she dropped in she made a last minute decision to ski the chute as well, because it looked like there was more windblown snow in there. Unfortunately the rain crust underneath meant she came unstuck and bounced her way down the chute.

Skiing Cerro Lopez
Windblown over rain crust made life interesting © Nic Lawrence

That meant I ended up being able to ski the spine and I didn’t hesitate. The snow was part windblown, part windpacked on top of a raincrust, but it was steep and deep enough to turn pretty hard. It sluffed quite a bit and I nearly came unstuck on my last turn when my sluff caught up to me and took out my uphill leg but I held it together and skied out the bottom pretty happy.

Nic waits to drop – can you spot him?

Caleb followed with a nice line down the side of the main chute, and by this time the others wanted to skin up the other side of the little basin we had skied into and down a different valley to the one where Refugio Lopez is located.

I was having stomach problems by this stage, thanks to the virus from Refugio Jakob two weeks before that hadn’t completely gone away, so I skied down the main face to the refugio while the others skinned up for some more lines. I was gutted, but I had nothing in the tank.

We stayed that night in Refugio Lopez, I had my Radix Nutrition freeze-dried meals which have been a blessing on this trip when I need nutrient filled meals I can trust. The others had spag bol from the refugio (the refugios normally operate with both included simple meals or use of kitchen options), and after a few beers we were in our sleeping bags about 10pm.

Refugio Lopez in winter
Refugio Lopez – not flash, but a great location © Nic Lawrence

The next morning I woke up feeling worse than the day before, so I sat in the refugio contemplating my rotten luck while the others did another lap up to the top of Cerro Lopez. We skied and hiked out the trail just after lunch and finished the day with a BBQ sandwich from Colonia Suiza (which was bloody fantastic I should add).

Another Refugio Lopez view © Ramiro Calvo

I got home gutted with myself for not being able to ski as much as I normally would, but also at how I hadn’t gone to Cerro Lopez earlier.  The place is so easily accessed and has amazing skiing.

It doesn’t get as much publicity as its sister Refugio Frey because it’s not as picturesque, or accessible heading out from the resort at Cerro Catedral, but the skiing is arguably more varied and you also have fantastic views of the lake and Bariloche itself, not to mention cellphone reception.

Next time I’m in Bariloche this is the first place I will be returning to. I left way too much of it unskied on this trip!

From chutes to spines to rolling bowls, Cerro Lopez has a great mix of terrain © Nic Lawrence

For guiding contact Ramiro Calvo – drop him a DM to his insta account

For more on the amazing back country and refugio options around Bariloche and northern Patagonia check these: