Ben Girardi

Hopping hemispheres is common practice in snowboarding, but we often default to Australia and New Zealand, leaving the Andes mountains of South America on the backburner. But the area is a true gem and well worth the much-shorter plane ride to access its terrain. The Andes is one of the longest mountain ranges in the world, brimming with established ski resorts and endless backcountry, not to mention the homebase for camps like SASS Global Travel. Madison Blackley joined the SASS crew in Argentina this season and headed down to South America for the first time. We caught up with Mads between travel days to talk about her endless season and her new-found fandom of asado. – Ally Watson

You just got back from the South America season, how does it feel to be back in SLC?threeIt feels great to wear a t-shirt again, but I was only home for 3 days before I headed out to Ireland for a family trip!

Okay, you’re really packing it in. How was the travel home from Argentina? Did you have a smooth trip?
For the long, crazy travel itinerary I had on my way back, it was shockingly smooth and comfortable. It helps not counting the hours or legs and just taking them as they come. Airline lounges also help.

p: Ben Girardi/SASS

Airline lounges definitely save the day. So, you went down with SASS who has been running camps and programs down there for fifteen years. How did you get involved with them?
It was actually pretty last minute, they were looking to add some new female energy who wanted to get into the guiding scene, and I had recently met one of their lead guides, so when they reached out to a few people for recommendations my name kept popping up through a few connections. I thankfully have a super flexible summer restaurant job that supports my snowboarding and any opportunities that come up, so when I got a call to bail down south with not much advance notice, I was able to jump on it.

What’s a typical camp day look like?
Wake up at 7am, coffee, guide meeting about the avalanche conditions and group plans for the day to get the best snow and terrain. Most Argentines don’t eat breakfast, but they make some for us. Then we head up to the resort, which is a short walking distance. We hike to our zones if conditions allow and spend the day getting the steeps, deeps, views, couloirs, and any other challenges we can find. After that full day, time to chow a finca burger and a cerveza with the local stray dogs who are all super nice and eating very well. Tea time happens shortly after, with some more snacks, dessert, coffee, and by this time I’m ready for a siesta before dinner. The earliest you’ll find dinner is 8pm and by the time that happens, I’m ready to pass out and do it all again the next day.

What were your favorite zones?
SASS is in Bariloche and so we were based at Cerro Catedal. There is some insane terrain to ride that you can access by hiking or splitboard in a zone called Laguna. Not only is the riding amazing and fairly easy to access for most newcomers to the program, but also from the backside, it has the best view of the Andes. Even on the “busy” days back there, you’re still getting fresh tracks.

Madison Blackley snowboarding in Argentina.
p: Ben Girardi/SASS

Sounds amazing. How was the season down there in general? Looks like day one you were slashing your heart out. 
Day one was insane: bluebird and fresh pow. The weather down there is pretty variable and unpredictable. Unfortunately, with the warming of the Pacific, a lot of storms are coming in warmer than they should and it ended up raining some days. I love a good slush day, so it’s still a great time, but on the other hand, when it predicts two cm and you get a foot, it is also a nice surprise. There isn’t the same forecasting down there like I am used to in the US. You have to prepare for anything.

This was your first time in South America. How did you like it?
Absolutely loved everything about it–the region and the people, the food, the views. It felt like I could stay forever and to be honest, didn’t really think of coming home until the last day.

That’s what you want when you’re traveling. How’s it feel to ride powder and backcountry in your typical off season?
Going back into those conditions after a summer break was much nicer on the body than the typical icy, low-snow preseason. Was this even preseason or was it an extension of last season? Hard to say. But it felt so right and natural to go back into the mountains and not only have to relearn to jib to start of the season, haha. 

Favorite foods?
Thankfully my ideal diet is that of Argentina, but I could use a few more vegetables. Just decadent baked goods, so much cheese and potatoes, and insane meats and coffee.

Helpful Spanish words or phrases you learned while there?
I’m trying to remember what the word for strap-on is. Cinturunga. Haha. We kept getting some of the clients to use that when ordering the check and it was hilarious. Basically it translates to “dick belt.” And buen dia because they shorten everything there more than regular Spanish. Never bueno dias. And all “y” and “ll” are the sound of a “j.” Hoya is pronounced “ho-ja.” Oh! Asado! That’s Argentinian bbq.

So, are you going back next season?
Now that I have been, I can’t see myself not going back. I’d love to go for longer and enjoy as much of the summer boarding as possible if SASS would like me around for that much time. 🙂

If you had to choose summer sessions on Hood or summer sessions in Argentina, what would you pick?
Oh man, they don’t even compare to each other. I couldn’t choose one. They both offer such different experiences. Ideally, I’ll go to Hood for couple of weeks because I’m truly a trick boarder and just want to hit all the features. The sun and warmth is exhausting to do more than that, so then get a couple weeks of true summer and then then a month of Argentina. Dream life, really.

Sounds like a dream for sure! Thanks Mads!