Vans and Volcanoes: Road-tripping and logging vert through Chile


Rice laps the very active Villarica. [Photo] Courtesy Aaron Rice

Traveling in a foreign country is often thought to be the pinnacle of freedom—just you and your pack, free to go wherever you please. But reality can be a bit different, as I experienced this year while chasing vert and powder in South America.

Bus routes limited destination choices, hostels only existed in the main towns and language and cultural barriers proved difficult to overcome. And, for skiers like myself, the “standard” tourist itineraries were limiting—when ski areas shut down the already limited public transport at the end of their season, options dwindled. Hitching with skis was a difficult endeavor and was nearly impossible as I headed toward less-traveled destinations. My solution? I rented a campervan. With both transportation and sleeping arrangements taken care of, it was just me and the open Chilean road.


Rice’s setup for a month of volcano skiing with Osorno looming in the distance. [Photo] Courtesy Aaron Rice

I picked up a van in Puerto Varas, bought some food and headed straight to the closest volcano. My plan for October was to ski as many Chilean volcanoes as I could, or at least ski a few as many times as I could.

On day one of my campervan adventure, I got socked in with clouds and spent the night in what I assumed to be the parking lot for the closed ski center, halfway up Volcán Osorno near Puerto Varas. The next morning was beautiful and clear, so I skinned up a few hundred meters from the summit using ski crampons but stuck to the lower slopes for a few laps due to icy conditions up high. I called it a day with a total of 8,966 feet of vert.


Smooth turns cut a line down Volcán Osorno. [Photo] Courtesy Aaron Rice

Better prepared the next day, I brought boot crampons and successfully summited Osorno. It was a bit spicy through the crux right before the summit, but I skied a second lap back to the van and ended up logging 8,359 feet of vert.


Rice ascends Volcán Osorno with a blue sky background. [Photo] Mike Dahlquist

Storms proceeded to plague the next phase of my journey—volcano skiing in inclement weather was not ideal, due to low visibility and no features to provide contrast. In these tough conditions, I skied shorter days and then tried to salvage the situation by heading to the smaller volcano, Casablanca.


Rice chips away at the long approach to Volcán Lanin. [Photo] Rylan Cordova

On this more approachable peak, my plan was to lap a small slope until I was tired, but when the sun started breaking through, I decided to make a push for the summit.

This ended up being a bad call; halfway up the main volcano the clouds rolled back in and were twice as thick. With heavy snow and wind, I finally stopped 150 meters from the summit and transitioned for the descent. In the whiteout, I had to ski 100 meters, look at the map app on my phone to make sure I was still in the right drainage, and then repeat this process until I was down. Needless to say, it was a long descent and I only logged 5,974 feet that day.


A cap cloud on Volcán Lanin creates a natural halo. [Photo] Courtesy Aaron Rice

When the storm lifted, I drove back to Osorno to meet my new friend, Mike Dahlquist. With great weather and descent snow, we were able to summit Casablanca, and continued logging vert over the next couple of days.


Rice grabs a snack half way up a windy Volcán Lanin. [Photo] Courtesy Aaron Rice

The favorable forecast continued, and Mike and I decided to make the five-hour drive north to Pucon, where we headed up to Lanin, the tallest volcano in the area—3,700 meters. After 8,631 feet of climbing, we were treated with stunning weather and a lunch break on the summit. The next morning, Mike left for the states and my buddy Rylan Cordova took his place as my vanmate for the next week.

Alongside 500 tourists, Rylan and I climbed the volcano Villarica in perfect conditions. The wind was in our favor, and we were able to look into its crater and inhale some hydrogen sulfide. Unfortunately, the lava lake was low and we didn’t get a chance to view the magma. The snow, however, was perfect corn, and we went for a few laps to end the day.


Rive peers into the smoking crater of Villarica. [Photo] Courtesy Aaron Rice

Even though I had just left Lanin, weather looked good in that region, so we hopped back in the van and spent the night at the base of Lanin. After a casual 8:30 a.m. start, we moved quickly throughout the morning, but my legs were definitely tired. I lagged behind Rylan, and as we climbed, the winds got stronger. Two thousand feet from the summit, we couldn’t think, we could barely communicate and could hardly stand. It wasn’t the day to summit Lanin, so we pushed a bit farther to a better descent route without topping out. Our reward was skiing 4,000 feet of frozen crud, but we did slash few soft turns at the bottom.


Rylan Cordova enjoys off day activities. [Photo] Courtesy Aaron Rice

After that day, I needed a rest. We headed to a hot spring to recharge for more volcano ascents in the upcoming weeks. Approaching the record of 2 million human powered vertical feet, I found that the volcanoes provided an amazing way to “crush vert” in a stunning location. But the constant battle with weather conditions wore on me. I was constantly trying to push myself as hard as I could on the sunny days so I could rest of the rainy days. The record of skiing 2.5 million vertical feet in one year is within sight, so I was pushing myself to the limit and that behavior takes its toll.

As Aaron Rice stacks up vertical all year long, he’ll be sharing his stories on under the tag and title 2Point5Mil. Find more about Rice at, through his Instagram feed, @airandrice, and on Snapchat at airandrice. You can also track his progress of monster touring days on Strava.

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