In the years before high altitude glacier-skiing became popular, Ushuaia, Argentina, was an occasional summer sparring grounds of international skiers and biathletes. Now, though the cross-country skiing remains some of the best in the Southern Hemisphere, the area is relatively unknown to the outside world. After all, who would believe that cross country skiing could possibly exist in Argentinaâ€”a land known for its polo, cattle and gauchos? Though even more obscure a sport in Argentina than in the United States, cross-country skiing does, in fact, exist and even manages to thrive in a small tight-knit community at the tip of South America.
Ushuaia is famous for its status as the southern-most town in the world (any further and you might fall off) and for its trout fishing and hiking. During the summer months tourists are as populous as the penguins. However, in the long dark winter Tierra del Fuego becomes relatively barren of visitors and converts into an island that only a skier could truly love.
For cross-country skiers two main training options exist. The first, Francisco Jerman, only 5 kilometers from the town center and with 15-20 kilometers of trail, contains the most challenging terrain and is approved for international competition. From its perch atop the Martial glacier the Jerman trail also provides spectacular overlooks onto the Beagle Channel, which can only really compare with one other place in the Americas: the Coastal Trail in Anchorage, Alaska.
Since it is the only place to cross-country ski in Argentina, the town of Ushuaia has, perhaps, more Olympians than any other area in the country. Three can be found working at the oldest and most traditional of the ski centers, Tierra Mayor. Two are the children of Gustavo GirÃ³; a pioneer of Antarctic exploration and tourism who built Tierra Mayor and with the help of the famous Francisco Jerman introduced cross-country skiing to Argentina. His daughter Maria GirÃ³, a veteran biathlete in both the Lillehammer and Albertville Olympics gives ski lessons and cooks renowned lentil stew in the lodge. His son, Gustavo GirÃ³ (junior), went to Calgary, also in biathlon, but has now converted to racing dog sleds and running tourist excursions. The only Olympian left at Tierra Mayor still able to balance his work with serious ski training is Luis Arjel. It is essentially his passion for the sport which keeps the many kilometers of trails open in a place without any formal grooming arrangement and non-existent government funding. Despite methods of setting track as primitive as a sled weighted by a person and towed water-ski style behind a snow mobile, Luis maintains the best and most consistently groomed trails around Ushuaia
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