Verbier resident and Independent Snowboard School founder, André Sommer, gives photographer Yves Garneau and skiers, Giulia Monego and Marja Persson, a lesson in ritual mechanics and deep powder skiing in Argentina.
André Sommer carefully guided his forty-year old beige and brown bus through the parking lot with a rumble that shook the windows of the bus terminal in San Carlos de Bariloche. The reverberating exhaust pipe, the diameter of a small pancake, created a sound wave fierce enough to set off nearby car alarms and liquefy the pin-sized snowflakes that were beginning to fall. Marja, Giulia and I gathered our bags and walked towards the sticker-covered bus, as onlookers dissected the scene with fascinated stares.
“Welcome to Bariloche my friends,” André said stepping out of the bus. “This is Bondi,” he continued, nodding towards his beast with the pride of a parent introducing a child. “This will be your home for the next two weeks.”
For many years now, the melting spring snow in Verbier has signified the beginning of André’s annual migration to the southern hemisphere. His wife, Sofia Martin, grew up in Bariloche and still has most of her family living there. Over the years André has honed his Spanish and mechanic skills to a level where he can host groups in search of adventure and exotic skiing in the Andes. By the looks of Bondi, we were not the first to adventure in his comforts, nor would we be the last, but our tale is one that even André admits was special from the rest.
The biggest storm of the season had set in and was blanketing all of central Argentina in a thick white coat
Forty-eight hours into our stay in Bariloche, we had already skied about as much good snow as I had hoped to see in our whole trip. The biggest storm of the season had set in and was blanketing all of central Argentina in a thick white coat. We skied trees from beginning to end, barely crossing a track for the first two days. On the third, the storm paused and we were released into the high alpine by the patrol who were nervously controlling the access points. With the local knowledge of André and Sofia, we embarked on several of the most memorable laps through Bamboo-laden forests and alpine dotted with towering red rock spires.
Not long after we distanced ourselves from the bustling hub of Bariloche and the faint sounds of car alarms that we set off on the way out of town, the skies opened up again. We headed out onto the plateau where the heavens regained their vibrant colours and the desert boasted its infinite shades of gold and brown. Bondi was now towing a trailer André had built the year before to accommodate his two newly acquired sleds. Andre’s business is all about delivering people to the fresh lines in style and this was how he was going to ensure he never failed. With two twenty litre kegs of beer hooked up and a fridge full of food, we were a self-sufficient party bomb traveling through van Gogh’s dreamland.
We became familiar with Bondi’s routine maintenance stops about as fast as we got used to seeing André in his blue coveralls, hands covered in grease. None of it phased us though. In fact, the ritual preparations Bondi required to get on the road made us appreciate the adventure all the more.
As we approached the mountain oasis of Caviahue with the sound of Jimmy Hendrix blaring in Bondi’s innards, we felt we were in luck. Thick storm clouds enveloped the little ski town littered with Araucaria trees, a species dating back to the Mesozoic period, giving us the feeling we were in the winter version of Jurassic Park. Two days later, when the skies cleared, we fired up the sleds and rode out into the backcountry, where we skied countless fresh runs on the Chilean boarder. It was one of the highlights of the trip.
For the final leg of our trip we headed towards San Martin where it was now nuking down. “This is the Santa Maria storm everyone’s been talking about,” André told us, as we pulled in and parked in the resort town of San Martin. After our second day of skiing bottomless powder in the trees, we hitchhiked down to where Bondi was parked and went through the ritual of preparing her for the final drive. The weather was looking good for the following day, our last, so André wanted to drive Bondi up the hill to the resort and sleep next to the lifts, to be first in line. With so much snow, André had to chain up Bondi to ensure a definite arrival. Every time André exited the bus, he’d open a new compartment that we didn’t even realize was there. One for the generator, one for the 300 litter water tank, one for the gas bottles, another compartment with several drawers he’d built to accommodate the extensive tool kit he required for maintaining Bondi, three big holds to store the skis and bags, one for the kegs of beer, another for the waist water and finally, a hold for the chains and shovel.
For our final meal on the bus, Giulia pulled off the best Alfredo South America had ever seen, as Marja prepared a ruthless apple crumble. All the while, golf ball-sized snowflakes were burying Bondi in the empty parking lot of Cerro Chapelco at break neck speed. When I crawled out of my bunk the next morning and opened the curtain to let the sun shine in, I was dumbfounded to see that Bondi was enslaved in a sea of snow. A cornice fell from the roof as André opened the door to see how much was lying on the ground. He stepped off the last step and sunk past his knees with a smile. “It’s going to be another chest-deep day in Argentina,” he said, transforming his smile into a sarcastic frown as he looked to us. I laughed, watching him head out into the snow wearing nothing but his shorts and a t-shirt ready to tinker with something in one of Bondi’s compartments, knowing I had realized my dream of skiing deep powder in Argentina before returning to Verbier – ready for another winter.