Southern Hemisphere’s best tree skiing go Cerro Catedral

It’s the best season since 2007 and the Southern Hemisphere’s best tree skiing in and around Cerro Catedral outside Bariloche is going off.

Nothing much beats bombing through the silent lenga forests, where the snow collects deep and (on the right aspects, at the right times) dry amid the majestic bearded old trees.

Sure, especially after some bushfire ‘glading’, Australia has its tree moments like Buller here and other places too.

In New Zealand the thick bush makes tree skiing pretty rare and limited. Weirdly, the South Island is the same latitude and the treeline is at similar altitudes as this part of Patagonia in southern Argentina and Chile. Even some of the trees are virtually identical – the antarctic beech survived the Gondwanaland separation to be present in both with very minor differences after all these millenia.

Southern Hemisphere's best tree skiing, Cerro Catedral Argentina
Big trees, big times © Daniel Olivieri

But it’s the lenga trees that make the difference. And the bigger the better.

Depending on the aspect, and the latitude, there’s a sweet spot zone for them from 1200 – 1600m above sea level, with the higher half of that being too high for the dreaded caña, or South American bamboo, which makes the undergrowth tougher going lower down. Or usually it does – this season our local spy Daniel Olivieri reports the caña is buried too.

Olivieri is a longtime member of Argentina’s ski instructor demo team, who speaks 5 languages and has taught and guided and coached all over the snow World, including many seasons at Whistler. But he calls Bariloche and Cerro Catedral home, and rates the tree skiing there when it’s good his favourite.

We rate it Southern Hemisphere’s best tree skiing, certainly the best lift accessible – there are plenty of similar zones around the region where hiking or even cat and sled skiing will get you similar goods. But here there are lots of options, include many in-bounds and more around the edges of the main resort that can be lapped if you are lucky and know where and when to go during and after storms.

After several false starts (as we reported earlier) Cerro Catedral is finally set to open lifts next week. Local powder chasers like Dani have not been able to wait, skinning up to take advantage for several weeks. Even a couple of arrests didn’t deter them.

The forest in these pictures and clips from this week is normally readily accessible from the top of the Condor line of lifts, with a cut out track at the bottom all the way back around to the resort base. A few years back I was skiing out on that about 30 metres behind Dani and his client when a massive condor popped out of the caña scrub just above his head, as they do.

Well not quite, normally they soar low over the ridgelines, especially in spring; neither of us had ever seen one that close. With the World’s 2nd largest wingspan (after an albatross) they are a tad scarier than a Kea or Gang Gang doing similar in NZ or OZ. In big storm cycles they can get driven down to lower altitudes. Shame the batteries on everything were already flat .. missed the money shot!

For anyone who can get down to Bariloche now it’s set up for a huge season with a great base to the bottom so you can enjoy the full 1130m vertical, and get out of the trees easier than in leaner seasons.

For a more detailed run down on the tree skiing options check out our feature on that here.

Shredding the trees a few years back © Owain Price