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The Rocky Mountains may have melted, but I knew that somewhere below the equator — in the impossibly distant, sexy and expensive ski resorts of the Andes — the lucky ones were strapping on a snowboard, freshly fallen powder under their toes. It didn't help that my old college buddy Dan, a hard-core skier, would call me up each June and egg me on. It's too far away, I would tell him, too extravagant.
And anyway, I had a full-time office job. Finally, in the time-honored tradition of a ski bum, I quit my job. So last June, I called Dan. To explain my change of heart and my financial situation , I invoked Argentina's economic crisis, which had made the country affordable, even for unemployed snowboarders.
Dan didn't need much convincing. We quickly put together a trip that was part "Sideways," part "Endless Winter. Along the way, we would stuff ourselves silly with beef, wine and empanadas. Hanging off the southern lip of Nahuel Huapi Lake is one of Argentina's two main ski centers: Bariloche, comprised of the quasi-Alpine town of Bariloche and its mountain, Cerro Catedral. Bariloche is also the faster-growing. To date, more than five lifts and gondolas have been added, along with a terrain park and half-pipe for snowboarders, and more are planned.
What's more, Bariloche has a reputation for living large. There are hostels for backpacking boarders and five-star hotels for nanny-toting Continentals. There are populist steakhouses and upscale bistros. And everywhere in between are rowdy bars, slick nightclubs, casinos and even brothels. In short, there are all the amenities demanded by the cosmopolitan South Americans who pour in every year from Buenos Aires, Santiago and Rio de Janeiro.
And so, last August, Dan and I found ourselves on the Sextuple Express lift in heady anticipation of our first descent from 7, feet. Five days of snow had laid a foundation of packed powder below the spirelike peaks that give Catedral its name. The sky was clear, the Nahuel Huapi glistened below us, and frosted mountains edged the horizon in a jagged rim. Dan shuffled nervously in his steel Volant skis while I strapped on my Burton, and then we hit the snow.