Mallin Alto ski Wild Patagonia for a unique snow experience

snow action team 06.08.2017

SNOWACTION was back at Mallin Alto this week enjoying the best wild ski option in Patagonia. Mallin Alto is like nowhere else we have ever skied, an amazing snowmobile &/or quad track bike accessed area that’s definitely one for the all time must ski/ride that list for every adventurous skier & boarder.

Owain Price getting some @MallinAlto © Kao Deyurka

Just getting there is pretty amazing, even though Mallin Alto is only 35km from Bariloche International Airport. You 4wd drive a wild road, ford a wild river, drive the track and ford the river a few more times, then snowmobile or quad track bike in to the base area.
Mallin Alto is kind of like snow camping, but with geodesic domes, wood stoves, a funky wood fired outdoor jacuzzi, unlimited vino, personal chef, and, best of all, sleds or quad track bikes for pretty unlimited hot lap access to an almost unlimited selection of totally wild terrain.

I couldn’t help thinking was I the first person ever to ski some of the lines I skied with Mallin Alto partner and co-founder Kao Deyurka. How often does that happen?

This is living! © Kao Deyurka

But in all probability I was – they have so much terrain it will take years for them to name and bring different lines into the regular menu for guests.
You certainly don’t need to be an expert – I shared the day with a couple of Uruguayan snowboarders, one of whom was on his fourth day riding ever! He was loving some of the more mellow Mallin Alto lines, while I went off with Kao to explore and get a few shots.

Our day had started early, heading up the valley pre-dawn in a 4WD after Kao picked me up from our Cerro Catedral winter base. Two hours or so after leaving Argentina’s #1 ski resort I was arriving at Argentina’s #1 wilderness ski experience – after a bumpy road, a bumpier track and several river crossings, and last few kilometres on a sled through the lenga forest before popping out at Mallin Alto – ‘High Swamp’ around 1600m above sea level surrounded by untracked ranges.
Before diving into that it was time for breakfast at the base, and to meet the overnight guests – sure, the day trip is awesome but if time permits stying at least one night is a much better option to experience the full disconnected wild experience. And enjoy chef Miguel’s wood fire cuisine washed down with as much malbec as you feel appropriate allowing for skiing the next day.

Base camp Mallin Alto © Owain Price

The overnight guests had tied on a big one, the two Uruguayans even manage to convince the lone New Yorker that there was a bar just over the next hill at 1.30am in the morning; fortunately he was too tired to go look, because there is nothing for miles in any direction.
Suffice to say there was no rush to start, and it was mid-morning before we mounted up on the sleds and headed out. With a ratio of one sled per client this day there was no risk of not getting enough runs in. In fact between hiking for shots and sled slaps I was destroyed by mid-afternoon and more than happy to haul in for a late lunch of wood-oven roasted beef followed by a ‘Patagonian onsen’.

Save $USD 50 per person, per day with any Mallin Alto ski/board package in 2017 just by mentioning SnowAction when you book – info/details at www.mallinalto.com
Packages run from full day including transport to/from Bariloche/Cerro Catedral/Bariloche Airport, meals, drinks, guided sled (snowmobile) &/or quad track accessed skiing/boarding.
Overnight packages with 1 night & 1 day, 1 night & 2 days, 2 nights & 2 or 3 days etc skiing/boarding are available and as mentioned the overnight options are the best way to enjoy the full Mallin Alto experience. It’s not luxury – there are two dome bedrooms interconnected to the main dome lodge, providing a private option for couples, and a lower bunk room. Wood fired showers and toilets are in the main complex, and the outdoor hot tub aka Patagonian Onsen, there for you enjoyment.

Patagonian onsen © Manu Frombuerre

On our first visit last September as we drove in along the western bank of the ñirihuau river with Mallin Alto co-founder Kao Deyurka his cousin’s 86 year old grandad, Dionisio Riquelme, born right here in the valley back in 1930, was busy rolling rocks to make a better track on the other side, happy and healthy from his hard physical lifetime as the last settler heading up the valley. It’s only 30km from bustling Bariloche and the international airport there, but they only put in electric light for him in 2016 – he never wanted it previously. He was way too busy to chat to us. A quick shout of “Hola abuelo!” from Kao prompted a return wave, then he was back to rolling rocks, and we were back to rocking and rolling along the trail.
Kao’s cousin and co-founder Lucio Vera’s family have owned the land and ranched it for five generations. Lucio’s great-great-grandfather moved to the Bariloche area in 1881, back when it was frontier territory, and then to the ñirihuau valley in 1900.
It was a chance remark from abuelo that led directly to the area’s discovery as a ski destination; Kao was looking for firewood for his house in Bariloche around the ranch a few years back when abuelo told him to go up the valley into the lenga forest. When he did, and kept going through the forest to the swampy plain above, he saw the hidden ranges up close for the first time and got excited.
As a long time TV and film producer he has worked with plenty of ski clients, including Argentina’s big Quilmes brewery’s snow athlete team making their promotional heliski videos all over Patagonia. So his eyes lit up at the potential for skiing.
In 2012 he snow camped with his cousin Lucio and started exploring the terrain options in detail, a process by no means exhausted 5 years later as there are so many alternatives still available.
“It was such an incredible area, I had been going up the valley for years to fish (the fly fishing for trout is among the best in the World here) and eat asados with the family and never knew all this was here just waiting to be skied!” he explained.
Mallin Alto was conceived that winter, and born the next, with the first dome and lodge building established. Progress has been steady since, with Kao and his cousin deciding from day one to do it all themselves and not seek finance and partners, so it’s a world away from some of the multi-million dollar heliski lodges you can stay at now in Chile for example, where big companies have pumped in big money to deliver upmarket heli options including flights in from Santiago skyscraper heli-pads.
Nice if you can afford it, but plenty of people like things more rustic and wild, and year on year it keeps getting more popular. They gradually add and extend each summer to improve the offering, reinvesting funds.
Patagonia is South America’s answer to the outback, a vast and largely uninhabited region of Chile and Argentina stretching 2000km south from Bariloche – which is the same latitude as Launceston in Tassie, or Wellington in NZ.
In Argentina’s version of the Wild West, the government sent an army to defeat the marauding Mapuche tribes, who used to leave the mountains to raid cattle from populated areas closer to Buenos Aires. The War of the Desert was as brutal and bad for the indigenous population as America’s Indian Wars, but for the ex-soldiers land grants were made available to encourage population of the area.
From that beginning 5 generations ago, which led indirectly to one family controlling the whole upper valley, we have the end result of a unique wild ski experience within easy day trip distance of an international airport and major tourist city, Bariloche, and from Argentina’s oldest and most popular ski resort, Cerro Catedral.
The main area has an endless array of rolling bowls and faces. Plenty of these are so mellow a novice skier can have a shot, and if you are with a partner or friends who don’t ski/board very well they can still enjoy the unique Mallin Alto wild experience. In fact a lot of Brazilian guests come just for that experience and don’t even ski.
The back country area accessed by skinning or hiking is another ballgame altogether, opening up seriously steep lines and big mountain faces for those with the talent and desire for it.

Fresh baked from the wood stove! © Carmen Price