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Ski the World's Highest Slope Only If You Must

December 09, 1990|JEFF FREES | Frees is a free-lance writer living in Colorado Springs, Colo. and

After that I walked into the shaky chalet, examined the Zermatt and Davos ski posters and searched out water to wash down two aspirin. Our trip leader inquired about cranking up the cable tow.

The run is close by the chalet. It's a slightly doglegged swath of snow that is narrowest at the top and widest in the middle, where it bends to the left. It ends abruptly in a stack of brown rocks. The run is lined with similar rocks from top to bottom. No enchanted forests up there.

The first step on the slope revealed the unusual nature of Bolivian snow. It was like a big carpet of Styrofoam, decorated with the little ripples and lumps that are God-given parts of glaciers. Slope grooming is an unknown practice here.

I couldn't tell whether it was just me or the dull Club Andino rental skis, but I couldn't carve a turn on that styrosnow . It's comparable to skiing what is called "breakable crust" at other ski venues. I had a hard time controlling my direction and speed, both vital on a rock-lined run. In time, I learned that it was best to hold a tight line down the middle, where the two dozen weekly skiers had etched a fairly hospitable path.

It must be reported that the run never reached the soft, pleasant condition that the trip leader had promised.

Then again, maybe we didn't stay long enough. After two hours, most everyone had had their fill. I had a painful soroche headache and was more than willing to stop.

The group sentiment was unanimous: "Vamos a La Paz ahorita!"

The descending microbus was quickly transformed into an ambulance for sick and exhausted skiers. Few words were spoken. I thought of the old saying about ski areas: "You have to ski it to believe it." This does not quite apply to Chacaltaya. After skiing it, I still couldn't believe it.

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