The headlines make it sound pretty grim:
“Chile volcano ruins Argentina ski season”
A National Geographic photo collection shows the apocalyptic scenes following the June 5 eruption of the Puyehe volcano.
At Cerro Bayo, a ski area near Bariloche, a meter of ash was reported - ash skiing anyone?
The photos make it look pretty hopeless - grey, ash covered streets where pristine winter whiteness should be. Some ski areas have delayed opening indefinitely.
This YouTube clip shows a woman walking out of a café in Bariloche, one of the most famous ski areas in the southern hemisphere, into a blizzard of ash. She says: “I thought it was snow, but it appears to be some kind of sand storm. It’s four in the afternoon and it’s pretty much pitch black.”
The Epicski blogs hold depressing questions like: “Anybody have news on how much ash is being dumped on Las Lenas or Bariloche? I fear this season could be a bust. :( Can you ski Vancouver in July or August?“
Others are more optimistic, with skiers posting hopeful comments about the cloud-seeding effects of ash in the atmosphere and anecdotal evidence of big ski seasons following big volcanic eruptions – but nobody knows.
However, in this era of real-time on-location reporting from anyone with a camera and an internet connection, things are often worst than they appear. Las Leñas web cams show a perfectly white ski area. The slopes look a little bony in early season, but there is no sign of ash. The Cerro Catedral webcam, trained on the upper slopes of the resort above Bariloche, one of the worst ash hit areas, shows slopes that are covered with white goodness, albeit not enough to ski on just yet.
It is perhaps a stroke of luck for the Argentine ski industry that they have not yet received much snowfall this season so the ash fell on dry ground in many places rather than on the snow. Had the volcano erupted six weeks later, after the snowpack was in place, the ski season might have been truly ruined. My best guess is that new snow will fall over the ash and within a few big storms even the worst hit ski areas should be up and running.
Any CMH heliskiers on a ski trip in South America who can share more firsthand information?