Published on November 24th, 2015 | by gatsbyadmin0
Donny Roth – Interview
Grimey Gatsby contributor Jacob O’Connor, recently spoke with Donny Roth, a backcountry ski guide who works in Chile, to discuss how climate change will affect ski culture in the beautiful and unique country.
GG – Can you describe your backcountry ski guiding operation in Chile?
DR – Yeah. Chile Powder Adventures is 4 years old, formally, but I’ve been skiing/working down there since 2004. The company provides human powered skiing experiences in Chile.
GG – During a recent trip to Chile we attempted to ski into the crater of the renowned volcano, Puyehue. We dealt with variable weather the entire time, with rain on the approach, sleet at the hut and blowing snow up high. I know you often bring groups to this zone for the 360 degrees of Alaska-style lines. Were you able to ski there this season?
DR – I didn’t end up skiing Puyehue but I’ve definitely been there on those days. That’s the way it goes.
GG – How do you deal with the unpredictable weather patterns as a backcounty ski guide?
DR – That’s basically how I’ve built my business is understanding the weather patterns and making sure I do my best to put people in the right place at the right time but its tricky and actually it gets trickier every year.
GG – Why do you think it’s getting trickier to understand weather patterns?
DR – Honestly 10 years ago the weather pattern that I was accustomed to in Chile was so much more normal. You could count on weather patterns. You wouldn’t ever consider going to the South in August because it would rain every day. When September rolled around it would be a mixed bag with more sun than bad weather and October would be the nicest month of the year. You could count on it. That is totally shifting now.
GG – How will this change of weather predictability impact your guiding business?
DR – From an industry perspective as a business owner, for me, I’m lucky because I’ m really nimble. I’m a one man operation and I only offer custom private trips. I try to build flexibility into it so that I can accommodate for [changing weather patterns] but it’s still not foolproof. Obviously I can’t control the weather but I still want my clients to have a good experience. Worst-case scenario: I’ve got a group, and we’re scheduled to be in one place, say were scheduled to ski in Puyehue, I can say screw this, it looks like its gonna be like this for 5 days straight, lets go north. I always have that backup plan in place.
GG – Sounds like your operation can be a little bit more resilient because you have more options for location and time. Are other Chilean businesses in the snow sports industry being affected by this changing climate.
DR – Arpa, the cat skiing operation, is a classic example of that. Last year they didn’t open. This year they were only open for three weeks. I’m sympathetic to Arpa. They are victims of poor circumstances.
Portillo this year was so excited that they were calling it an “epic” snow year but they got 5 meters of snow all year. When I worked there in 2005 we had a 14-meter season. The record is something along the lines of 21 meters of snowfall throughout the whole season. It’s sad to watch. Portillo is a small family-run operation and Henry the owner has been there in 1951.
GG – How do you foresee climate change impacting ski culture in Chile? Where can the snow sports industry go without snow?
DR – There are going to be some losers and some winners. The northern resorts like Tres Valles, Arpa or Portillo, they’re not doing well right now. Those resorts, particularly the Tres Valles region are a very important piece to Chilean ski culture. That’s where Chileans learn how to ski. That’s your feeder operation. If you don’t learn how to ski, then you’re not going to go backcountry skiing. So your feeder operation is suffering, presently. If that doesn’t change then where are you growing all your skiers? It’s hard to do that, impossible to do that. So then you’ve got a place like Corralco, which is the little ski resort at the base of volcano Lonquimay. They are investing because they still get snow. With climate change or at least current weather patterns they are getting more good weather. 10 years ago it would have been foolish to build a full scale resort on Lonquimay because September would have been your only good month there. August it rained all the time. There would never be any visibility up high on the mountain; there’d be no good skiing. But now going skiing in august in Corralco, and places like this, is a totally viable option. It can be pretty good you can actually ski a little pow at times. And so it’s shifting, but those places are still far away from Chile’s main population center. 7 million of the 17 million people that live in Chile all live in Santiago. You can imagine if Summit County, Loveland and Vail all closed or offered really shitty skiing and didn’t offer skiing some years. All of a sudden everyone from Denver had to go to Telluride or Jackson Hole. A lot fewer people would ski at that point. And this is at a time when the sport is just starting to get some traction. The country is just getting to the point, where there is a big enough middle class in Santiago that can actually afford to ski. Skiing is a harder choice now because it’s a much bigger proposition at this point. Whereas they can surf, they can mountain bike. There are other options that are available to them at a regular basis. Or they can go to the mall. It’s definitely going to have a negative impact on the ski industry in Chile.
Written by: Jacob O’Connor @jahcobo