Austral Aspirations: McKenna Peterson talks surfing, political protests and skiing the Super C Couloir

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 beginning to accumulate.

For our next installment of “Austral Aspirations,” we talk with Freeride athlete McKenna Peterson, who hopped a jet to Chile in mid July to film with Outside Television. While she was there, the La Niña skies opened on Portillo, and she was able to experience the Andes in knee-deep powder. Here is what she had to say about her recent trip.

McKenna Peterson tees it up on an Andean line. [Photo] Courtesy McKenna Peterson

McKenna Peterson tees it up on an Andean line. [Photo] McKenna Peterson

Backcountry Magazine: Tell me about why you went down to South America.

McKenna Peterson: We went to Chile to film a TV show for Outside Television called “Expedition Chile.” While we were down there, we went surfing at Punta De Lobos and then spent a few days at the Matetic Vineyards winery. Afterwards we traveled to Portillo, which was the biggest chunk of the trip. We were there for five days.

BCM: What were the conditions like while you were there?

MP: It snowed a little over two feet while we were there. Someone from Portillo came and picked us up in Santiago. The Chile side of the pass to get to Portillo was open, but the Argentinian side was closed at the border.

On our first day, it hadn’t snowed in a while, but everything was really filled in, so it was a good day to get our feet under us. A lot of the mini couloirs that are inbounds were filled in, wind buffed and chalky, so the skiing wasn’t fresh, but it was super fun.

We didn’t film that much that day; we just went out and did laps to get back in the groove. It was a beautiful blue-sky, sunny day so we were able to see everything [out of bounds] that we wanted to ski during the rest of the trip.

The snow stacks up outside the windows at Portillo. [Photo] Courtesy McKenna Peterson

The snow stacks up outside the windows at Portillo. [Photo] McKenna Peterson

On the second day, a storm came in. We woke up to a foot and a half of fresh snow. I was frothing at the mouth. But Portillo ended up not opening the resort that day. We were so excited that we got all of our gear on, and Julian Carr put on his ski boots because he thought that it would be good luck, and he ended up wearing his ski boot from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. We were all just hanging out in the lodge, and it was the worst powder panic I have experienced in a while.

The following day the resort opened limited terrain, but we were able to get on first chair and get some knee- to thigh-deep snow.

TK skis toward Lake TK above Portillo. [Photo] Courtesy McKenna Peterson

Julian Carr skis toward Inca Lake above Portillo. [Photo] McKenna Peterson

BCM: What was the highlight of the trip?

MP: Our last day there, we went and skied the Super C Couloir. It was incredible to get to ski such a well-known couloir. It had been an objective of mine well before I got to Portillo. Conditions lined up and avy danger was minimal—we knew that the couloir would be filled in. We were the first group up there after the storm, so it was completely untracked.

BCM: What was it like getting up there?

MP: The bootpack took us five hours because the snow was so deep. We were basically swimming up the mountain. We definitely earned those turns. It was 5,000 vert of two feet of fresh snow and definitely is one of my favorite runs I have ever done.

TK conceals the mountainous backdrop with a spray of powder. [Photo] Courtesy McKenna Peterson

Todd Ligare conceals the mountainous backdrop with a spray of powder. [Photo] McKenna Peterson

BCM: What were some of the cultural highlights from the trip?

MP: Being in the surf community was cool, because it is foreign to me. I don’t know much about it. So it was great to meet people and see the way the local surfers live—it is very similar to how we live in mountain towns.

Our final day we went to Santiago and ended up in a riot. The local university students were protesting the government taking away funding from institutions. They were just kids, ages 17-25 and were holding a major protest. It had been going on for a few weeks when we arrived. We walked down to the middle of it, and there were armored cars and the Chilean version of a S.W.A.T. team. They were tear gassing students and shooting water cannons at them.

It was really interesting to see how much passion there was [among the Chileans] from the surfing to the skiing, to the food, to the riot. Everything was done with full passion. They were 100 percent in it.

Related posts:

Speak Your Mind