Austral Aspirations: Donny Roth talks guiding in Chile

The Northern Hemisphere is well into summer and most backcountry devotees have swapped their skis out for dirt-oriented gear. But there are a dedicated few who never want the backcountry ski season to end. These are the die-hards who travel south where the snow is just beginning to accumulate.

For our next installment of “Austral Aspirations,” we talk with AMGA Guide Donny Roth who started out in South America as a ski instructor. Thirteen seasons later, Roth is now the owner and operator of Chile Powder Adventures, a guiding business that customizes ski trips into the Andes.

Roth has years of experience in the Southern Hemisphere, so we caught up with him to talk about Chile’s backcountry and guiding scene. Here is what he had to say.


The Andes make an alluring ski canvas. [Photo] Courtesy Donny Roth

Backcountry Magazine: What first brought you to South America?

Donny Roth: I started going to South America in 2004. I went because I was offered a job as a ski instructor at Portillo, which is a ski resort north of Santiago. It was a place I have always wanted to teach skiing, and I hopped on the opportunity.

BCM: What kept you returning?

DR: The first year was a terrible, terrible snow year—almost no snow—and I still had the best time ever. Everything about the country itself, the people, the culture and different experiences made it so much fun. I figured, if I could handle the worst snow year that I had ever seen and still have a great time, then I definitely would want to come back for a great snow year. And the next season was one of the best snow years I’ve ever seen, and I’ve been hooked ever since.


Nina Hance explores the cordillera of the Andes. [Photo] Courtesy Donny Roth

BCM: What made you decide to start your own guiding business there?

DR: I started my guiding business in 2008. I just saw a need. Nobody was doing what I wanted to do and I had a client base that was willing to explore with me and be forgiving of me learning the way as they followed along. It all just grew from there.

BCM: What’s the best part about guiding in Chile?

DR: The adventure of it all. I don’t operate near the ski resorts and there’s no place that offers such adventure and so many unknowns. It can be really challenging at times, but it can also be really rewarding. There’s just this amazing sense of exploration.


In September, Roth moves south to ski and guide in the region of the volcanoes where the skiing is much more intricate than the conical peaks would suggest. [Photo] Courtesy Donny Roth

BCM: What are some of the challenges of guiding in Chile?

DR: It’s the unknowns, it’s the variables and the things that we generally don’t deal with in places where there’s better infrastructure and there’s more information. Nothing is easy in South America. There’s no part of the day that goes smoothly and is predictable, easy and familiar.

BCM: What are your plans for the future of Chile Powder Adventures?

DR: I’m exploring an area of the Andes right now that I think has a lot of potential to offer some really great skiing. I don’t want Chile Powder Adventures to ever become a huge business with lots of different guides. I want it to stay personal like a small, family business. I don’t have big growth plans, but [ want to explore] new areas, new trips and new offerings.

BCM: What is different about the backcountry scene down south?

DR: It’s more remote. The access is more difficult in most places and there is no infrastructure. There is no public avalanche bulletin. There’s no network of guides exchanging information and telling each other what we are finding. There is not a scene [with the] established ethics [that] we have here in the U.S.


Karin Kirk drops into the caldera of the Puyehue volcano. [Photo] Courtesy Donny Roth

BCM: What do you love about the culture?

DR: The people are the nicest people in the world. When you go there, you’re really invited into their culture. You’re allowed to explore and participate in it and for me it doesn’t matter what my mood is or what my general state of being is when I head down there. As soon as I arrive, I’m happier and in a good place.

BCM: How has the culture shaped and influenced your guiding business?

DR: A big part of what I do is to bring [my clients] to the best snow possible and share the best mountain experience possible. But because I have been going down there for— this will be my thirteenth season— I feel like I’m sharing my home with my guests. I want to take them to great places and share that culture with them. They want to feel like they’re immersed in something, and I can do that for them.

BCM: Do you do any educational programming for the locals there?

DR: I’ve helped some other guide services, training their local guides, and I have helped with some avalanche education. In the coming year— and hopefully years to come— I’m going to be working with a local school that is trying to become high school. Presently the school only goes to eighth grade and the local community there wants it to become a high school. Their best way of doing that is for the high school to have a particular focus. They want it to be an outdoor education, environmental studies and tourism [institution]. I’m really excited about it and it’s such a neat little community in a beautiful spot.

Donny Roth is an AMGA-certified ski guide and professional skier. He writes about his adventures at Learn more about skiing with him in Chile at

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