Skiers and snowboarders love the idea of an endless winter. South America is an ideal way to accomplish this counterintuitive goal because it not only offers snow in the summer months, but a great cultural experience as well.
Seven years ago, Drew Tabke went to Chile for the first time—initially to learn Spanish—and hasn’t been able to get enough. Now he’s a regular local; found skiing on any and all volcanoes, talking like a Chileno, and enjoying every second of it.
Tabke is constantly venturing further into the Andean wilderness and broadening his understanding of the Chilean culture. I had a chance to catch up with Tabke recently about his love for Chile, and how we can all be a part of sharing the love of skiing with more people–all over the world.
How many seasons have you been coming to South America? Or, how did you first find your way down here?
I’ve been here six or seven times, four of them full seasons (three months). I first came to take some Spanish classes in Valparaiso through the University of Utah/Universidad de la Catolica de Valparaíso, and to travel for a few months.
I know you were a ski instructor down here, where did you work and for how long?
I coached a junior free skiing club through Club Tres Valles at El Colorado for two seasons, the last two seasons I’ve taught all-mountain/off piste ski clinics at Valle Nevado, and I’ve guided at Valle Nevado, La Parva, and Ski Arpa.
Did any of your clients know that your nickname is “The Flyin’ Hawaiian” and that you are an skier of epic proportions? Or were you more Clark Kent style?
It depends on the job that needs to be done, how many lives need saving, what super villains I’m going up against.
Did you speak Spanish before you came to Chile?
A little bit from studying in high school and college. Which is no doubt an important foundation for anyone hoping to speak the language in Chile, but there is no substitute for spending lots of time here, as the Chilean dialect is definitely not what you learn in class.
How much plata (money) do you think you have spent in your lifetime using the public baños (restrooms)?
Jajaja! (Hahaha) Yeah, pay bathrooms. Definitely pretty standard in all the bus stations. The busses are really nice, efficient, and affordable to travel on but I try to get a ride with friends more often these days, thus avoiding the pay toilets as much as possible.
What’s your favorite Chilean food/meal?
Curanto al disco. This is basically a big shellfish + chicken + sausage paella cooked in a huge iron skillet over fire. You can add whatever you want to the base, which normally consists of potatoes, onions, and white wine. With some ensalada chilena (tomatoes and onions) on the side.
Where is your favorite place to ski in Chile for resort access? General favorite place for backcountry?
I’ve based out of Farellones for the last several years, and El Colorado is my favorite place to ride in that area. The resorts are all quite “resorty,” but Farellones is a true mountain town where people live. I can grab one of the Colorado lifts across the street from my house. If I’m touring I try to get up to Cajon de Maipo, where the real mountains are.
Have you seen the level of Chilean/Argentine freeriding/skiing/snowboarding improve in the past few years, and if so, why?
Yes, a ton! There are more visiting riders coming to Chile to ski, and Chileans are traveling all over the world. This results in more chilean riders with a world-class standard of riding. And the next generation is coming on even stronger.
Compared to when you first started to come to Chile, have you seen an increase in people’s general backcountry knowledge?
Absolutely. But if you look at the ski industry in the states, and the explosive growth in backcountry equipment and knowledge over the same period, I would say its a pretty universal trend.
Do you feel that programs like the South American Beacon Project, AIARE’s avy courses, and other guiding enterprises are addressing the idea of backcountry avalanche education for Chileans?
The existing programs are doing invaluable work in Chile, and are for sure saving lives with the skills and knowledge that they are equipping people with. But all of these programs are basically administered by foreigners. What is still missing is a locally established national Chilean standard for avalanche education, mountain weather forecasting, and information on snow/avalanche conditions.
Skiing is obviously an expensive sport, which is why most likely it’s not practiced by the majority of Chileans. However, for the Chileans who do ski (and love it), what do you think are the major obstacles that prevent the development of the backcountry skiing culture and resources (gear, education, experience) in Chile?
The ski industry in Chile was developed relatively recently, and it has been focused on the following: attracting wealthy foreign (mainly Brazilian) tourist clients; selling exclusive houses/apartments to wealthy Chileans; use of the ski areas by collegiate Chilean ski clubs with a focus on alpine training; offering international alpine teams options for summer training. These are all lucrative, traditional and well-established modes of keeping the Chilean ski industry profitable. Freeride, off-piste, or backcountry skiing are slower to develop as they lack the more direct profitability of selling a product to a client. I believe that many of the ski areas would prefer to not have any off-piste terrain or backcountry access at all, as they believe it to be more of a liability than a profit-maker for the business. The ski industry in Chile is thoroughly, 100% privatized. Therefore, as no support for the recreational use of the mountains will be forthcoming from the government, ski areas will only begin to offer more access and better infrastructure if they see that there are sufficient clientele interested in that type of skiing. Places like Ski Arpa and Puma Lodge, and the numerous guiding ops in the country have made it their focus to offer powder skiing to interested clients. Long story short, people need to come skiing in Chile! And demand access from the ski areas for the type of skiing they want! And in return, the ski areas need to lower their prices for people who are there for the mountains and not the resort lifestyle.
Everyone loves to travel–what are some things that Gringos should know before coming to Chile to pursue their dream of chasing winter?
Learn some Spanish! Try hard! And use all you know when you get here. That’s it, the rest will fall into place.
How can gringos be a part of responsible tourism in Chile, or is there such a thing?
Just come! The mines and the hydroelectric installations have control over an incredible percentage of the mountains, glaciers, and rivers. The more that people recreate in the outdoors, the more impetus there is to push for public access to the mountains and for protection of these resources.
Completo or Italiano?
Both make me want to puke during regular human hours, but are acceptable to eat on the street in Plaza Italia at 5am.
What is the number one thing you miss about home when you are in Chile?
1: My girlfriend. 2: Regular hot showers. 3: International food.
What do you miss about Chile when you are in the Northern Hemisphere?
Greetings. in Chile when you arrive to a get-together, you shake every man’s hand and kiss every woman’s cheek. In the States the awkward high-fives to some of the group while not acknowledging the rest drives me crazy.
Please use: filete, cachai, weon, chucha, and po in a sentence.
¿Cachaste la wea filete po, weon? ¿Que chucha? Or another favorite, “Que weon weon, weon.
Favorite thing to do in Chile when you’re not in the mountains?
Plan my immediate return to the mountains by visiting the Instituto Geografico Militar in Santiago, where you can get cool maps of the entire Andes.
Any shout outs to people in Chile who make your visit special everytime?
Philippe Bouteille, the entire Diaz family, Sol Giuffrida of El Colorado, Max Meza and Tomás Philipps of The North Face Chile, Claudio Vicuña, Jota Hernandez, Sebastián Goñi, and so so so many more. ¡Abrazos grandes!
Here is a link to a recent story that Drew scribed in Powder Magazine about the rise of backcountry skiing in Chile and how the local authorities are reacting.