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adventure & travel

Las Leñas | A love-hate relationship

Love for a moldy skibum apartment full of colorful characters, hate for the elevator driver

by Zach Paley 10/09/2018
Our globetrotting Skibum correspondent Zach talks about life in the "Corvus" apartment, a rotten vacation home in the chronically muddy part of Las Leñas, behind the garbage containers of the big hotels, where a sworn crew of Las Leñas enthusiasts meet up year after year. But: the future of the Corvus family is uncertain because the lift operator is making life increasingly difficult for freeriders.

The past few years have involved a similar pilgrimage around mid-August. The trip isn't to some holy mecca, though it is a place like-minded skiing devotees return to year after year.

It's nothing luxurious. In fact, quite the opposite. Start by being one of six people in a 40 square meter, two bedroom, one bathroom apartment. One gets numb to the fact that smelly ski gear is always hanging around the apartment. Every Friday, the Argentines who don't live in the resort come up from Mendoza for the weekend and turn the apartment into a discoteca until two in the morning. Wearing shoes inside is mandatory due to shards of broken glass that get scattered throughout the apartment.

Inherently, an apartment that is used so much has a lot of wear and tear. The shower from the apartment above leaks into your place. The wind blows through the windows. Unless locked, the door regularly gets blown open.

Why return and stay in the place defined as the 'Gringo Ghetto'? Where the couch has been peed on multiple times, and the mattresses aren't in much better shape. Where trash and dust are blown around outside and in the apartment like wild west tumbleweeds. Where the septic system backs up into the parking lot outside, making the place smell like what you last flushed down the toilet. Where in the spring, the water in the taps turns brown and you have to boil it before drinking. Why tolerate this? For the devotees of skiing, this can all be tolerated when the mountains above are more interesting and less skied than anywhere else in the world.

Here, instead of fighting over space, the skiers bond together. In addition to the 'Gringo Ghetto', it is also referred to as the 'Corvus Family'. After a long ski day, you can almost guarantee when you return to the apartment that someone will be there with a cold beer to hand you, already cooking food. If that isn't happening, you gladly take the initiative as the first one back. Any competition for powder is a friendly one, and you regularly might ski with several different people throughout the day. If the rare day happens where most of your turns were alone, you can rely on running into the 'family' at the base area, drinking beers in the sun at one of the several decks frequently visited for après.

Sounds like a paradise no? A dusty, dirty, smelly, trash filled paradise where wine is the closest you will come to eating fruit and beer is the closest you will come to eating a vegetable.

It tests devotion. Many people have visited the Corvus apartment never to return. Not simply to Leñas, but to Argentina altogether. Those that do return are welcomed back each year, members of the 'family'.

I constantly tell people not to come here, that the lifestyle is terrible and the skiing is hard at best. To be fair, these are true statements. But also, it's been an attempt to keep this small place to ourselves.

This sorry excuse for habitable living has been the home to many family members over the years. The walls are covered in stickers and memorabilia of those who have returned year after year. Unfortunately, it seems the time for this place is coming to an end.

The administration of Las Leñas has been sabotaging efforts to ski around here. I now advise people to not come here because it really does suck now. All of the skiing included in this post was achieved by hiking because everything else was closed. Most of the lifestyle shots were taken from previous years when the 'family' still assembled here. Despite having chairlifts that take one to amazing terrain, we were never allowed to ski that terrain this season.

The administration isn't set up for success as it is owned by a non-skier. This means there is zero understanding of what it takes to run a successful ski resort. That's just the start of the problems. The Argentines have taken an interest in off-piste skiing, which is great. It should mean all the more reason to open things. However, this means less experienced skiers are entering the off-piste, and a greater number of injuries occur. In an attempt to combat this, the administration is putting pressure on ski patrol, who in turn have been less willing to open the off piste than ever before.

Though usually being open until closing day, all of the off piste that was lift accessed was closed over a month before the season ended here. There was plenty of snow, ski patrol simply didn't want to open it. The off-piste one could hike to was kept under strict regulation, and opened sporadically. Ski patrol were giving reasons such as "carton" (windbuffed snow) as to why they kept everything closed. Tensions escalated on the last significant powder day of the season, when the ski patrol opened several off-piste runs to only themselves, and those who hired guides. Several days later, a group had their passes pulled because they returned from the off piste late in the day, after the exit gate was closed. Their reason for turning back: a medical incident involving altitude sickness, and they deemed it unsafe to continue to their intended peak.

The stories continue and get more perplexing with each one. My blood boils as I write this. Such a wonderful place that has brought me so much good skiing, happy memories, lasting friendships, all thrown away by the powers that be. They want to keep their power, so there is no sign of change. Those that have historically returned year after year to ski here have stopped coming. Slowly but surely, the 'Corvus Family' has dwindled. Personally, I will visit next year, but not with intended commitment to stay. I'll hike the piste, poach where I can, and encourage others to undermine the administration in a similar way. As for the rest of my time down here? Other mountain adventures in the Central Andes have long since been attracting my attention. It seems an appropriate time to pursue them.

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This article has been automatically translated by DeepL with subsequent editing. If you notice any spelling or grammatical errors or if the translation has lost its meaning, please write an e-mail to the editors.

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