LUGARES MAGAZINE Nro. 56
Pag. 94 - 101
Por: Soledad Gil
Fotos: Gustavo Castaing
CHAPELCO & SAN MARTIN
There is nothing like the highest peak of Chapelco to make one feel close to the Lanín volcano. One week is the perfect dosage of snow, mountains and exercise.
To arrive on a direct flight and to stay in a snug little room or a cabin with a welcoming fire in the hearth. To open one's suitcases, unpack and organise one's equipment, then to wait for the following morning to launch oneself at the slopes - the ski slopes of course. The first day was full; up and down all day.
To go out at night and enjoy the smoked meats, pates and trout in La Tasca and Mendieta, to make new friends, and meet in the Pradera del Puma the following day.
To descend from the summit of the Teta mountain, to enjoy the setting of the sun and then choose a pasta restaurant like Pionieri or the ethnic cuisine of Avatares for the night. Thus non-stop skiing and fun inevitably comes to the final day of a ski week that is worth two. With its airport, its tarmac roads, its fully functioning infrastructure and all the town's services at your feet, San Martin de Los Andes is a favourite with Argentines. Chapelco is quite literally the reason to exist in Neuquén territory winter. The skiers take over the place and their bonhomie overwhelms the wide streets.
In the very heart of the town, on the corner of San Martin and Elordi, the Centro de Atención receives enquiries and dispenses passes for skilifts and skiing lessons and hires skiing equipment. A brief stop here is the best way to begin. If you are on foot there are two companies that run shuttle buses from the bus terminal to the foot of Chapelco Mountain.
But, if it is to be a lazy day, if everything hurts too much, or if you go in your capacity as a skiing companion and have never dreamed of putting on a pair of skis, you are also in the right place. A stroll to the Lácar - the town's lake - past the shop windows on San Martin, especially Origen, La Oveja Negra and Raíces - and a trip to the Chachín Falls are alternatives to the slopes. A visit to the latter means taking a full day's trip to Hua Hum that departs at ten in the morning. It is an ideal excursion on which to enjoy the araucaria trees - Neuquen's emblematic provincial tree - following the snowy paths with the sound of burbling water in the valley below.
A shorter option, of only half a day, is to take the walk to Quila Quina, the well-known Mapuche Indian settlement that has today been improved by the many summer houses built there. Meanwhile, on the mountain, skiing has been joined by snowboarding, snow-mobiling, snowshoeing - hiking on things like tennis racquets, dog sledding and pony trekking amongst other activities.
In every case, white dominates the scenery and clouds of steamy breath are synonymous with the contagious enthusiasm of the people who arrive with the first snow flakes. That is the magic of Chapelco, it is suitable for everyone no matter their level of achievement or the amount of skiing paraphernalia they have.
There are individual or group classes, creches and schools for the children, first-aiders, refuges and restaurants. Also this year there is a Family Plan offering a 10% discount for the first child and 20% for the second off all ski passes, equipment hire and skiing lessons. Additionally, the low season has been extended until the first week of July and a snowboarding school has opened to encourage teenagers to take up this rapidly growing snow sport.
Among the new attractions of the town, one certainly worth mentioning is the Redbus, a London double-decker bus that now offers daily city tours from the Plaza San Martin. Additionally the prices have fallen drastically, not only on the mountain, but in the hotels and restaurants as well. This year the presentation of a ski-pass is sufficient to earn one a 20% discount on accommodations and food. If one adds to this the large number of new cabins - from those at the foot of the mountain in the Los Techos style, to the more remote but first class ones like those at Paihuen, and the wide choice of different price bands available this season, one can enjoy a fairly economical holiday.
Being able to eat out and take the occasional special trip makes a skiing holiday now very different to the expensive luxury is has been in recent years. Why you can even hook your ski-week through the internet! The 2000 calendar has already marked the Chapelco Eight Hours (a non-stop ski race with some of the best skiing couples in Argentina competing alongside entrants from the United States, Austria and Spain) on 2 July. Friday evenings on the illuminated slope 63 are also worth catching, first eating in Antulauquen and then making the descent either by cable car or taking part in the wonderful torchlight ski descent.
Suddenly the week is over all too quickly. Only a week, but a week lived to the full.