Skiing at the End of the Earth Made Easy

FasterSkierJuly 8, 2003

Ushuaia, Argentina by SkiFire and Subaru Factory Team Academies

In 2002, an avid amateur skier named Matt Muir was in the middle of a graduate degree in Spanish, relocation with his wife back to their home, and hankering for a re-immersion in a Spanish speaking country. A profitable home sale, a little bit of vacation time, and an idea hit him all at once: he could go skiing in the middle of August; there must be Nordic skiing in South America somewhere!

Thus began a great internet search which over time always directed him back to a place named Ushuaia, the southernmost city in the world. After making contact with a member of the local mountaineering club, Matt was convinced that, despite the lack of a creative name, Ushuaia (a native word that means “westward penetrating bay”) had everything he needed: winter from June to October, cross-country ski trails, and a challenging dialect of Spanish to test his language skills. After spending a few days on the Internet and making phone calls to faraway ticket bureaus, he arranged a ticket to the end of the world and back.

Ushuaia's landscape rises straight up out of the Beagle Channel (Darwin’s ship’s name) and to the peaks of Tierra del Fuego which top out around 4500ft. While its proximity to the ocean moderates temperatures, the southern location and rapid rise in altitude combined with moisture laden storms off the Atlantic or Pacific cover the region in snow from May or June to September or October. The cross-country ski trails are mostly around 400 feet above sea level and afford an incredible view of the nearby mountains and ocean.

Within a few days of arrival, Matt had skied at the Francisco Jerman area just minutes from town and also the Valley of Tierra Mayor which lies 20-30 minutes away. The terrain and weather were phenomenal. The grooming and infrastructure were inconsistent at best. But then, the week of the Marcha Blanca race arrived and a magical 21km thread of Pisten Bully-groomed trail appeared in the Tierra Mayor Valley. This FIS-sanctioned race is run by the local club, Club Andino Ushuaia (“Andean Club of Ushuaia”), which refreshes the course daily for the 4-5 days leading up to the race.

The skiing was fantastic, and Matt kept having that magical “perfect day” feeling, each day bringing new revelations — of skiing and also of the mysterious politics of cross-country skiing in Ushuaia. Using his Spanish skills to befriend the leaders of the club, he heard stories of the alcoholic man who had a new Pisten Bully parked in the garage, but who wouldn’t use it because the race organizers had not chosen the course he preferred. They told him about the best restaurants, how to navigate the city and unravel the native customs that can confound North Americans. Each day the skiing improved and he had more and more of those “moments” that every skier inevitably has on the perfect day. That's when he decided that everyone should come join in.

One year later, Skifire, also known by its longer name of the Tierra del Fuego Nordic Ski Exchange, is in business and poised to take its first group of clients to Argentina's Land of Fire and August snow. Skifire's services are simple: taking care of all the details required to make a trip to the end of the earth easy and fun. The core of Skifire's services are threefold: One, Skifire partners with and arranges grooming through the Club Andino Ushuaia, guaranteeing daily grooming during SkiFire’s visit at either the Francisco Jerman area (15-20k) or the Marchablanca trail (21k). . Two, Matt stays in the background the entire trip wiring all the basics for clients like good lodging, transportation, where to eat, what to do, translation and interpretation, as well as passing information about what is going on and how to do it. It is, after all, still South America and the logic behind everything is not readily apparent to foreigners. Three, Skifire hooked up with the Swix importer in Argentina and purchased nearly US$1500 dollars worth of premium waxing equipment for its clients. Without this equipment, waxing is nearly impossible to find in or around Ushuaia.


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