In Due Time: Jake Blauvelt and Hana Beaman Explore the Chilean Andes—Photos
Full story originally ran in the December issue of SNOWBOARDER Magazine!
words + photos: T. Bird
We arrived on a Monday. My plane tossed, turned and bucked on the descent into Santiago, Chile as we cut through thick smog before the tires screeched onto the tarmac at Comodoro Arturo Merino Benítez International Airport. After making my way to Customs, I spotted Jake Blauvelt and Gabe Langlois from afar. The gringos in a sea of Chileans maneuvering their way through the crowds to grab their boardbags and stack them in a corner. Hana Beaman was supposed to meet us but a delay in the States had prevented her from making the connection and she had a flight scheduled to arrive the next day, so we made our way to the rental car facility to pick up the truck. Our mission was simple. Find Paulo (also known simply as Audisio"). Who is Paulo, you ask? I'll get into that a bit later, but just know that our objective was to locate Audisio, navigate our way to a sled zone and go ride some deep, Chilean pow at altitude. At the moment, however, we had to get some food, and fast.
We head into Santiago, a city veiled by a thick layer of pollution in the valley of the monstrous Andes mountain range above the foothills, peering down at the madness. It's a bustling, somewhat claustrophobia-inducing affair, as we get stuck in gridlock traffic in a market downtown. It's a sensory-overloading affair involving horns blaring, hundreds of stray dogs meandering, pedestrians crossing and brake lights flashing that we soon deem ludicrous. We were originally headed to the mountains outside of the city, so we abort the city mission, as Blauvelt knows a good restaurant en route to our destination that he's eaten at many times.All systems go. To the mountains we go.
The restaurant that Blauvelt recommended was about halfway to our destination, and our destination is where we would find Paulo, a local Chilean snowboarder that I would soon find out is significantly more than and inadequately described as simply "a local Chilean snowboarder." As we switchback higher and higher into the mouth of the Andes, the hustle and bustle of Santiago quickly fades into silence. We pass through small villages and the two-way road is lined with vendors, selling everything from empanadas to plastic toy sleds and pricepoint winter boots. It transitions from a crisp cool to a crisp cold as we gain elevation rapidly; our ears pop and the truck revs high. We make it to the restaurant, and as Jake promised, it was a much-needed meal after a long day-and-a-half of travel.
It became quite apparent in our travels to Chile that things operate a tad differently down there. They just happen a bit…slower. Things take time. It's not that the waiters and waitresses, hotel staff, convenience store clerks and the like don't want to honor your requests or complete their tasks in a timely manner, it's just that the phrase "in a timely manner" takes on a different meaning in Chile. This was what coined the phrase for our trip, "In due time." For example, when checking into a hotel, the ladies behind the front desk just need to see your passport and then type some information into the computer. Then they need to quickly see your passport again. Then they need to go talk to their boss for fifteen minutes, and then one more time, just quickly check that passport, and maybe hold on to it for ten minutes and then go talk to the maid to make sure the room is clean. Oh, I'm sorry sir, the room is not clean yet. Okay, no problem. We can wait. In due time. And while to some, this may be immediately frustrating, we started to kind of enjoy it as it became a running joke in our crew with any task we were trying to accomplish.
In the cumulative hours we spent just standing around waiting for things to happen, we would just side-eye each other, and murmur "In due time," and have a quick laugh. But furthermore, it was oddly reassuring at times, due to the fact that I would realize that it's simply a cultural difference down there that is completely the opposite of our mentality in the States. The ideology of the US is a dog-eat-dog, get-the-fuck-out-of-my-way approach that we've become so accustomed to. Chile was just a little bit slower. Okay, a lot slower. But we were never really in that big of a rush to begin with, so it was nice to turn down the dial for ten days and just kind of let things unfold as they may, and that's exactly what we did. In due time.
Blauvelt's got this program locked. He's been coming down here for a few years now and he's dialed it all in for our trip. We're headed to Dos Tiempos, a snowmobile operation nestled in a vast, untouched valley leading into the looming peaks. The owners of the sled outfit are Christian Wehrhahn and Paulo, two diehard Chilean snowboarders who have ridden for Ride for a very long time. These two have pioneered nearly every snowmobile-accessible zone in the entire country and they are widely considered the founding fathers of the Chilean sled-acces snowboard scene. After years of exploring the endless terrain that Chile has to offer, Christian settled in the valley below the mountains that separate Chile and Argentina in a pristine area called San José de Maipo, where he purchased a parcel of beautiful land, two shipping containers to turn into his home, a slew of snowmobiles, and simply set up shop. Capping off this massive range is the San José volcano, a stratovolcano that stands at a blistering 19,213 feet above sea level. This valley is home to Christian and his wife, Orion, a native American from—of all places—Georgia. It's a beautiful story how they met, fell in love and eventually got married; straight out of a movie, really, with a fairytale ending, to boot. Christian is tall and handsome, with rugged hands from working on his land and his sleds. He speaks perfect English with a heavy Chilean accent. We will come to find out that Christian is highly motivated and very in touch with the land that surrounds him. He knows everything about the area in which he lives, from his own personal property to the peaks that surround it. He's an encyclopedia of Chilean knowledge. He also eats a meat-only diet. And I'm being literal. He doesn't consume anything but meat, and as ludicrous as it sounded to me at first, over dinner, Christian would do an incredible job of trying to convince us as to why it made sense by claiming that vegetables "hurt your back." But ultimately—especially in Blauvelt's case—it didn't work.
After a two-hour drive, we arrive at El Morado, a newly-constructed hotel funded by a German investor that—like Christian and Paulo—are trying to build equity in the Andes and draw tourists and citizens up into the mountains. Before the hotel was built, Blauvelt tells me that he used to stay in an abandoned mining building with zero amenities. It was a place to rest your head after a long day of sledding and shredding but nothing more than that, and when that valley wind got whippin' after the sun went down, those were some long, cold nights. Such was not the case with this hotel, however. El Morado provided us with much-appreciated cozy beds, hot showers, a full bar, breakfast, dinner, and a very friendly staff. Helicopters took off and landed throughout the mornings and nights, shuttling skiers and snowboarders throughout the valley and up into the mountains. We'd later come to find out that one of the groups staying at the hotel was a film crew for Warren Miller, and we'd share stories of our day over a beer, talking about the snowpack, where we went, and how much damn fun we were having down in Chile.
The new hotel is walking distance from Christian's house, which is the operations HQ for Dos Tiempos, where we found ourselves on a crisply chilling morning, standing in Christian's driveway surrounded by stray dogs, goats, his bear of a pup Johan and the sound, smell and smoke of snowmobiles being awoken in the faint light blanketing the valley floor. This is when we finally met Paulo. Now, I could tell you about Paulo's bellowing laugh. The kind that proves that you truly earned that chuckle. Or I could tell you about the fact that he's a mover, a shaker, a hustler. He has a hand in everything down there, from sled ops to heli outfits to guiding some of the wealthiest Chileans in the country on private backcountry excursions. It could be mentioned that he is quite literally the best story-teller that I've ever met, and the tale of him getting punched in the face by a kangaroo (complete with photo evidence of him posing with the kangaroo right before it socked him) is one of the funniest that I've ever heard. I could get into the fact that he's seemingly given everything for free, no matter what it is. I could also get into the fact that he snowboards more than anyone on earth, riding all over Chile during our summers and then heading to Stevens Pass all winter long once the Chilean riding season is wrapped. I could tell you a little story that has become Chilean legend, where Manuel Diaz's (yes, that Manuel Diaz's) father once wrote Manuel a letter stating that he was disappointed that Manuel didn't follow in the famed footsteps of him and his siblings by becoming world-class skiers and mountaineers. Instead, Manuel gave into the "pull of Audisio" and crossed over to the dark side of snowboarding. When pressed on the story and whether or not it's fact or fiction, Paulo looks at me out of the corner of his eye and says, "I have a copy of the letter. We laugh about it now." It could be talked about that Audisio lives like a king, because in his home country's snowboard scene, he is one. I could get into the fact that he is single-handedly the most interesting human being that I have ever met in my travels, but I'm going to bank on the hope that one day, either at Stevens, down in Chile, or really anywhere at any given time, you may just cross paths with Audisio, and you will have the absolute pleasure in indulging in a few cold ones and a shitload of incredible stories with him.
"We don't have the greatest cities but we have the greatest mountains and the greatest coastline. Everybody's in the city, but I always figured that if you're gonna live in Chile, this is the place to be," says Christian. Audisio agrees, as he simply nods his head in silence from the comfort of Christian's living room. I must agree, as well. The range that these two have chosen to call home is phenomenal, gargantuan, awe-inspiring. The road to the sled spot is an old mining road, and though it's a rutted out dirt road, Christian tells us that there have been many improvements to its condition in the past few years, with hopes that if the road is gentler to tourists, more city folk will come up to enjoy the mountains. The morning sun is blinding when the dust from Christian's rig kicks up, so we keep our distance as the morning light fills in the valley. The sled spot is about a fifteen-minute drive from Christian's house and as we pull in and park, Christian comically looks up at the first part to navigate—a veritable boulder field with slight patches of snow and ice—and quips with a grin, "It's a little sketchy, but after this it's mellow. A little sketchy though." Tanner and I nervously laugh and pull the sleds to life. Turns out, Christian was right. A little sketchy is all, and surprisingly easy to get through, and in about ten minutes, we're full-throttling across the high alpine valley and headed straight into the most gorgeous range I have ever seen. From there, it's a veritable amphitheater of terrain. Audisio bolts, hill-climbing different zones to check snow conditions a little higher up while Blauvelt and Beaman doubled up and searched for features down near the valley. Blauvelt found a little terrain park of rock features and windlips and went to town on the first few days while Beaman got exploratory and built a little kicker directly underneath a three-hundred-foot-tall serac that creaked, cracked and popped so loud that Gabe and I could hear it from our angles for the shot. It's a vast expanse back there and it will allow you to go up as high as the sleds will take you, though you'll find that they start to sputter and cough a bit once you reach a certain altitude. For a week straight, we had access to Chile's best terrain in incredible conditions, and the photos speak to that.
The terrain that the Dos Tiempos boys have at their fingertips is hard to explain. From wide open glacial fields in the high alpine to pinner-tight chutes and couloirs zigging and zagging down the faces of these peaks, it's remarkable what they have access to on a daily basis. Blauvelt and Beaman were equally impressed with the terrain, and it showed in their productivity. What I remember most vividly was unloading the sleds at Christian's house and heading inside to him making us piping hot cups of coffee and tall pours of Chilean red wine, feeding us local fruit, cheese and olives and telling us stories about the Chilean snowboard scene while old Mack Dawg videos like Simple Pleasures and Stomping Grounds looped on his television. "When the snow is good, I like to watch these movies to get me stoked," Christian said with a smile. And in turn, I simply smiled back and sipped my wine.
The terrain that we rode in Chile was equaled only to the company that we kept there, as both were nothing short of world-class. Christian and Audisio spared no expense and catered to our every need, whether it be guiding us around Santiago or acquiring an extra sled to shuttle our crew to the zone. And when we weren't riding, we were having the god damn time of our lives with them. Be it partying in Farrelones with Audisio rocketing back Piscolas at warp speed or dining with him in Santiago where he claimed that Chilean hot dogs were "world famous," when in reality, they're just hot dogs COVERED in mayonnaise. The trip was full of laughter, amazing snow, great friends and adventurous travel, and ultimately, that's all you can ask for, right? Well, that's what Dos Tiempos does, the sole reason that they're in business. Audisio and Christian are two incredible snowboarders but more importantly, they're two incredible human beings, and if you ever feel the urge to experience a few days in the life of these Chilean legends, look up Dos Tiempos, book a ticket to Santiago, and the rest is written for you.