Absolute, overwhelming euphoria.
The rush of adrenaline from skiing a steep, exposed spine is a part of it, yes—but you already know that feeling from everything else you do for a hit of adrenaline. You've been visualizing this for the better part of a decade, since you first saw a video of your childhood heroes doing it. Not just any spines, and not just any volcano: these spines, on this volcano, that you've just climbed and skied.
And it was every bit as good as you've imagined for all these years.
"You want to go up there—now?"
It's Tuesday evening, and we'd be watching the tail end of a gorgeous sunset if it wasn't raining. We're at the restaurant-homestead that serves as a check-in point and trailhead for Volcan Puyehue, and the storm seems to be lightening up. The place is closed, and the host is concerned: people don't usually show up at sunset saying they want to hike in the snow at night, and we don't seem like we know that.
For some reason, when we tell him we're visiting from Canada, his face lifts, and he seems much less concerned. We begin to suspect that Canadians have a reputation for a skewed sense of what's normal down here.
The trail is steep and our packs are heavy, but we make it to the Refugio at treeline in good time. When we enter the cabin, our headlamps illuminate a table of Argentines and Chileans who stare at us like deer in the headlights: it's 11:30pm, it's windy, and it's well below freezing. They're wearing puffy jackets indoors, and three dudes wearing long johns and t-shirts just walked in.
"You're not cold?"
We say something about how you can't get cold if you don't stop moving, and when they figure out we're from Canada, everything makes sense and they go back to their conversation. Our suspicion from earlier is confirmed.
The darkness of night is giving way to the rising sun, and the wind is absolutely howling. Our 5am start turns into 8am real quick. By 11, we're nearing the caldera of the volcano. We all know what it looks like (we've seen the photos) but for now, it's still just a big pile of rock and snow.
As we crest the rim of the crater and see 360 degrees of steep, shreddable faces unwrap before our eyes, we watch a guy drop into the crown jewel of the zone: a series of spines the locals call "mini-AK." Couldn’t have timed it any better.
We gently roll some our camping stuff down into the crater (read: throw our sleeping bags as far as we can off a cliff) and make for the top of the zone.
Two beautiful days of skiing and one incredible night sky later, we head back down. We’re buzzing about all the phenomenal terrain and snow we’ve skied in the volcano. I've repeatedly lost my shit about how stoked I am, about how I'm frothing that we're here and that conditions are this good. For me, this isn't just a couple of great days of skiing: it's the accomplishment of a lifelong goal—something I've dreamt about countless times and spent many hours imagining. I've had a very specific desire to ski these spines, on this volcano, in pretty much exactly the conditions found them in, since I first saw the segment in All.I.Can and the Salomon Freeski TV episode filmed here nearly a decade ago. That we got lucky enough to do it—with blue skies, good snow, and calm wind—is almost unheard of. Apparently, weather here doesn't usually line up with whatever time you have for any given objective. I'm over the moon.
Cam and Hunter have a flight to catch, and it's time to go if they want to be back in Santiago in time. (They do.) ...but before we go, we’ve got one last long descent back to the Refugio—and the sunset is absolutely firing!
So what happens when you finally accomplish something you've looked forward to for so long? By an incredible stroke of luck, it was every bit as amazing as I had been imagining for the better part of a decade. Now, it's something I'll be able to fondly look back on—but at the same time, I've lost something I had always been looking forward to. If only I had an actual list, where I could put a check mark next to an old goal, and write down three more goals in its place...
That night in my sleeping bag, I made that list. The things I have to do as a skier before I kick the can. I've always had it in my head, but written down in my notebook, it feels way more tangible—now, instead of things I'll do one day, that list represents choices for the next adventure. Of course, it's not an exhaustive or exclusive list. Right now, there are about 10 things on that skiing bucket list... and it'll only ever get longer as I tick them off.