I’m currently down in Argentina with SASS Global Travel, enjoying the winter fun that Catedral, near Bariloche, has to offer.  The backcountry around Catedral is endless, and on a clear day a view out West gives one a true glimpse at the massive scale of the Andes.  Today’s crew, consisting of myself, Daniel Ochoa, and SGT guide Chris Coulter and pro snowboarder Robin Van Gyn, had hopes of touring out to the Zebra Chutes, an hour or so out into the Catedral backcountry.  The four main chutes descend up to 2,000 feet of vertical and are broken up further by hundreds of vertical granite rock formations, giving the appearance of zebra stripes.  The stripes create a maze of smaller chutes, all incredibly steep and with narrow chokes and run-outs.  These epic lines can only come together with the perfect concoction of snowpack, weather, group dynamics, and timing, which is why bagging one of these lines could easily be the best run of any splitboarder’s life.

However, human hopes and ambitions have no meaning to the mountains and the infamous Patagonia weather put a hold on our plans for the day.  While relentlessly pursuing goals and achievements is a good thing for your career and education, this pursuit can be a deadly decision in the mountains.  Fighting for a summit or a run-of-a-lifetime can often be a fatal mistake.  While I was raring to go out to the Zebra Chutes, Coulter, with his wisdom born of years spent traveling in the backcountry, recognized the dangers and made an alteration in plans.  We would stick closer to the resort, while still getting to ride some steep chutes in some decent snow.

After a short hike and traverse across the Laguna sidecountry, we made a bootpack ascent of the steep Sherman Chute, a 200-vertical foot chute no more than 2 to 3 board-lengths wide.  At the top we gained a view of the Zebra Chutes, sitting tauntingly in the mist of passing Patagonian clouds.  After six or seven turns in what would be the best snow of the day, we shot out of Sherman and traversed further out into the backcountry.

After another steep bootpack to the top of a ridge, we decided that the visibility was good enough for a more open run.  We continued to a run dubbed Staff Party, an SGT favorite, that is normally abundant with pillows and windloaded snow.  However, this year’s intimate snowpack created more boulders than pillows, but the views out towards Lago Nahuel Huapi, Lago Gutierrez, and Bariloche were worth the journey alone.

The day before had been warm, and there was a sun crust that had been covered with 3-4 inches of windblown snow.  The turns were fun, and the crust below really gave me an appreciation for my factory-made Gnu Billy Goat splitboard.  The Karakoram hardware made the board feel like a single whole.  It was then time to skin back up to the ridge, for one more run down the Tage (ta-gay) Chutes before heading home for the day.  It was my first day on a factory-made board, and the benefits of the inside edges were obvious on the slick sun crust.

The Tage Chutes, named so because they are easily seen from the SGT lunch hangout, Tage, are formed by several gigantic granite spires hundreds of feet tall.  Here we again encountered the sun crust, but the more sheltered parts of the chutes held good snow from the storm a couple days prior.  This was the longest run of the day, and it delivered us right back into the sidecountry adjacent to the resort.  After a short traverse, we were back into the safety of civilization.

As a resident of Steamboat, CO, a notoriously mellow and below-treeline resort, it was amazing to ride such steep, technical, alpine lines while under the supervision of two incredible guides.  Their incredible leadership gave us some amazing runs on a day that would have most other people sitting in the lodge.  Although I may have to wait until next year to ride the Zebra Chutes, the important thing was that I survived to ride another day.  Sometimes delaying your goals, or abandoning them altogether, can be a life-saving decision.  I’d like to thank you to our guide Chris, Robin, Daniel, SASS Global Travel, Gnu, and Quiksilver for helping me manifest this amazing day.

Dustin Eldridge