Ski racing isn’t just a job. It’s a lifestyle. A tiny little bubble of a traveling White Circus family gallivanting the globe looking for gold. We’re a multicultural family who shares hotel rooms, holidays, hard drives (so we can Netflix and chill), and sometimes even toothbrushes. For the curious circus folk, though, it can be so much more. This lifestyle offers us a golden ticket to see the world, and if we take the opportunity to do so, we can experience rare cultures, mountain ranges, sunrises and sunsets, food and people.
Traveling nine out of 12 months of the year, and filling the time I’m “home” in Park City, Utah, with even more travel, I do just that. Over the last three years, I’ve worked as press officer for the U.S. Ski Team, traveling hundreds of thousands of miles via train, plane, and automobile… and automobile train. I’ve eaten a lot of baguette and salami sandwiches. I’ve unsuccessfully hitchhiked in New Zealand. I’ve lived in an RV called “Westward Ho” outside of my office. I’ve become intimate with every car I’ve owned in Europe – spending more one-on-one hours with them than the humans who played a romantic role in my life. I’ve worn unicorn masks and done the worm in finish areas from Chamonix to Santa Caterina. Along the way, I’ve found the best off-the-beaten-path espressos and hot springs available. I’ve also amassed my fair share of speeding tickets. Oops.
Having lived previously in Prague, Czech Republic, England, and Sweden, I’ve always had a gypsy soul, but this job has taken me to over 15 countries – including seven new countries. In between my travels, I’ve also done a solo sojourn to India. I can’t seem to stop. Traveling isn’t a novelty; it has become a way of life. So, travel with me this winter, starting with my experiences in the Southern Hemisphere (“SoHo”) ahead of a competition season full of time on the road. The good, the bad, and the unknown gems await.
Chile was uncharted territory for me before this August. The plan was originally Portillo, but my yellow submarine Portillo dreams were shattered when we learned that the snow situation there this year was not conducive to training speed. Bummer. That made for logistical challenges galore, especially since those camps fell over the Chilean holidays on Sept. 18-19. My backup plan was to spend a week on the coast traveling solo before heading to Corralco, La Parva, El Colorado, and Valle Nevado for work. That plan unraveled a bit too. Improvisation is a vital travel attribute. So, I improvised. Went south. And in a country that spans 2,670 longitudinal miles, there’s a lot of room to travel. Ready? Here we go.
It’s the starting point to any Chilean adventure, but it doesn’t just have to be just that. Santiago offers some of the best Chilean cuisine and culture and is worth checking out before skipping out of the city to the coast for some surfing or cultural exploration.
Stay: Hostal Rio Amazonas – it’s clean, quiet, comfy, centrally located, and has really good fresh-squeezed juice and homemade yogurt.
Play: From Hostal Rio Amazonas, it’s only a 10-minute walk to Barrio Bellavista and a 15-minute walk to Barrio Italia. Take a jaunt up the hill for a lookout. The drinks are good, and the Pisco sour is where it’s at. Check out the cocktails at The White Rabbit. There’s a vineyard near Santiago. It’s a big one, but it’s still worth a trip: Concha y Toro. I didn’t get a chance to visit the rooftop at Azotea Matilde, because I resembled a homeless person and didn’t make a reservation in advance, but I’m told that it’s worth booking for the view and the cocktails. What else? Boca Nariz and Chipe Libre. Chilean wine and Pisco sour are muy muy rico. Dive in. Get tipsy.
Grub: Though it was a holiday and many spots were closed, there were a few places I could enjoy. Peumayen Ancestral Food was one of them. If you only go to one restaurant in Santiago, go here and get the multi-course menu. Yum.
Bonus: Rub-A-Dub-Dub – Muscles sore after your ski or surf getaway or looking for some relaxation before your flight? Book a Thai massage with Aldo and his Thai wife at Arokaya Natural Living & Healthcare. He gives good hugs too: www.arokaya.cl.
Note: Uber is alive and well in Chile. Use it, and abuse it.
As one of Pablo Neruda’s homes (La Sebastiana), Valparaiso for me was a place to remember and feel love in all its highs and lows. With its rainbows after the storm at the port, cobblestone streets, and buildings and businesses littered with street art beauty, it’s easy to find inspiration in Valparaiso.
Stay: Hostel Voyage, located in Cerro Alegre, a.k.a. “Happy Hill,” an area within walking distance of a ton of good street art, restaurants, boutiques, and a wine/beer shop with a sign that reads “Beer as cold as your girlfriend’s heart.” That’s sufficient enough for me.
Play: A walking tour with Wally is worth your time to get your bearings. I wasn’t in Valparaiso for nearly enough time, but had I been, I’d check out Neruda’s home and dive into the art. I met an artist named Cuellamangui on Paseo Atkinson. His art is rad and depicts beautiful creatures emerging from the underworld. Lots of unique shops in this area, including one called “Docena.” For beer, Casa Cervecera Altamira by the Ascensor Reina Victoria.
Grub: For breakfast, check out El Desayunador. Good coffee, good ambiance, and good huevos. There are good restaurants all over the place. Explore. Check out Fauna for a good steak and a glass – or two, or three – of Carmenere. The Carmenere grape is a wine grape derived from the Medoc region of Bordeaux, France. Lodging options look fancy at Fauna too.
TERMAS DE CHILLÁN AND VALLE LAS TRANCAS
Fed up with the city life and looking to breathe in some fresh air and good vibes, I hopped on a bus to Chillán. The bus system is legit, and it’s about a 3.5-hour ride from Santiago to Chillán. Use Pullman, Eme, or Turbus. From Chillán, it’s about 1.5 hours via shuttle transport to Valle Las Trancas. Nevado de Chillán is a magical land with volcanoes, hot springs, and very strong Piscola drinks (Pisco+cola).
It serves as home to some excellent backcountry skiing as well as speed and giant slalom training (this year for the Canadians), despite the falling of volcanic ash. This year, the snow was deep and the shuttle drivers fearless… as evidenced by my ride up to the Termas de Chillán when my driver did a 180 into the snow bank. All good – no harm, no foul.
Stay: Cabanas y Lodge los Hualles in Valle Las Trancas, just a shuttle ride away from Nevados de Chillán resort. The owner, Francesco, and his wife are the bomb and the spot really is the most value for your money you can get in town.
Play: It’s all about time in nature here. Ski a ton of terrain, especially if the wind is tame and the skies are blue. On a pow day, it’s pretty epic, and you can reach a lot of skiable terrain from the main lift, whose name I can’t remember but it was bright red/orange and built in the 70s.
Grub: Eat at the Cabanas Cafeteria or head over to Oliva’s for grub and live music. Or for one of the best burgers you’ve had (made by a chef who strongly resembles Alan from The Hangover) check out a bar down the road from Cabanas y Lodge. Again, can’t remember the name. Clearly too much Piscola on this trip. For a killer empanada, check out Andina.
Bonus: Rub-A-Dub-Dub – Book a masseuse to your room via Cabanas y Lodge Los Hualles and then head up to the mountain and the Termas de Chillán for some hot springs vibes. There are two outdoor pools and one indoor pool, and it’s worth the $15 for entry.
Oh, Corralco… how do I love thee? Let me count thy ways. It’s safe to say that this spot is the spot that stole my heart during these travels. About eight hours south of Santiago is a heavenly place called Corralco, where pre-historic, sacred Araucaria araucana (“Monkey Puzzle”) trees are scattered around the lodge and you’ll find yourself skiing on the Lonquimay volcano, which is a sight for sore eyes. It’s located in the Malalcahuello National Reserve with 100 percent natural snow and an average of 230 inches of snowfall per season.
The men’s and women’s U.S. speed teams each spent two weeks here this summer and got some world-class speed training in. The French women even joined our American Downhiller crew for their camp and fell in love with the gnarly, 90-second run for super-g and downhill training. I personally just loved experiencing the full moon magic in an unmatched sparkle country.
Stay, Play, & Grub: You can do it all at Corralco Mountain and Ski Resort – stay, play, grub, and more. From the hotel, you have access to a ton of skiable terrain to “Randonnée” or ski tour. You’ll also have access to sled- or heli-skiing. And the views are breathtaking. Snowshoe amongst the Araucaria trees under blue skies and sunshine. If you prefer a more unique lodging experience, check out Hostal Ruta 181 in Malalcahuello, a hostel composed of six shipping containers with a cool vibe by the river.
*Bonus: Rub-A-Dub-Dub – Head into town (Malalcahuello), just a short 15-minute drive from Corralco Mountain and Ski Resort, to check out the Malalcahuello Thermal Hotel and Spa.
Located up a semi-treacherous and stomach-dropping 1.5-hour drive (during snowfall) and about 60 switchbacks from Santiago (if you stay at Valle Nevado, you get to go up all of them), are the “tres valles” (three valleys) of La Parva, El Colorado, and Valle Nevado. Together, these resorts make up South America’s largest connected ski resort complex.
Stay: I stayed in both La Parva and El Colorado in team lodging condos and just skied at Valle Nevado one day. But if I were you, I’d look on Airbnb for spots in the small town nearby to live like a local in Farellones. If you’re there during the equivalent of our Independence Day (known as “Fiestas Patrias”) on Sept. 18, check out celebrations in the local school. It’s like prom for adults, with lots and lots of Piscola. I was probably the only blonde-haired human there. And the dance party got weird (I did the worm in the dance circle, obviously).
Play & Grub: Aside from the awesome ski touring, my absolute favorite place to play (and grub) was La Marmita de Pericles. The owner, Carlos, and his brother also own a restaurant in Pucon called Wed-Wed. Carlos makes the best Pisco sour I’ve ever had during my travels to both Chile and Peru, and the fondue at La Marmita is delicious. Be careful with the Pisco sour intake though, at 11,000 feet of elevation, they’ll sneak up on you. Three is a good limit to walk home to your condo tipsy. Note: waking up the next day might still be a challenge.
Extra Bonus… CLUBS, here’s something to keep in mind – Corralco has played host to Burke Mountain Academy and the Winter Sports School in Park City. With a deep base and six feet of snow falling earlier in the month, it will offer world-class training opportunities to clubs through October. The central region of Chile is all high-altitude skiing. But in Corralco, they get great snow from 1,500 meters up to 2,500 meters. Consider booking Corralco as a training venue to combine elite-level training with a diverse geographical experience.