Story by Nick Russell
Over the past three years I have been working on a film project with Wyatt and Cory Stasinos, entitled FREE. With an old Arriflex 16mm camera and Nizo Super 8, we have set out on a journey to document our version of modern day DIY freeriding. Between film costs, safety and mountain travel with heavy gear loads, we are forced to take things at a slower pace than the average film production. The project has taken us several seasons and along the way we’ve collected a lifetime worth of memories as we’ve lived out our personalized version of freedom in the hills in Alaska, Japan and all over the Lower 48.
The FREE crew: Wyatt Stasinos, Cory Stasinos and Nick Russell. Photo - Cory Stasinos
An unexpected illness shortened my season last spring so we looked to finish up the project this summer with a shred trip to the Southern Hemisphere. Rumors of a hearty season shaping up in the Andes focused our attention on Chile and Argentina to shoot the final film segment.
Last week of July I jumped on a redeye flight to Santiago, Chile. Sleeping on and off, I woke just as the plane descended through a blanket of clouds and into a stunning sunrise illuminating the snow capped peaks I had come for.
Wyatt and Cory were due to arrive first week of August to start filming, so I spent my first couple weeks in Chile testing new Jones boards with Jeremy Jones and Forrest Shearer at a resort south of Santiago called Nevados de Chillian. With somewhat of a Baker vibe, Nevados rests at a relatively low elevation with a fluctuating snow line. I felt some of the most powerful weather I have ever experienced those weeks - sustained gale force winds, snow and some rain for days on end.
Prototype testing in Nevados
With the testing trip complete, I headed North to the town of Farellones to link up with Wyatt and Cory. Farellones is a small mountain town, found high above the smog and chaos of Santiago. It’s close proximity to an international airport and three major ski resorts makes it a popular and accessible destination for city dwellers and snow craving foreigners alike. The road to the snow line is one of stark contrasts. Cactus and unusual high desert plant life line the roadside and wild horses and cattle seemingly run free amongst the foothills. After roughly 40 abrupt switch backs on a narrow road you pop up onto a plateau that’s surrounded by snowy wilderness with towering peaks still above.
We chose to base out of La Parva resort just outside of Farellones. The terrain behind La Parva is nothing short of paradise. Waves, ramps, couloirs and hidden rock passages provide a spectacular freeride playground. Each ridge gained held views for the next day’s objectives. Opting to shoot with Super 8 cameras rather than with 16mm (the 16 is simply too heavy for splitboarding), both Wyatt and I would perch atop rock outcroppings to film each other.
Line scoping behind La Parva with the most knowledgeable guide on the mountain. Photo: Cory Stasinos.
As we neared a summit on our first morning of shooting, a dog appeared out of nowhere. With no one else in sight, he followed me to the drop point and sat patiently while I transitioned to board-mode. As the last ratchet on my bindings was secured, the mountain dog began barking in excitement. It was clear he had done this before. Our new Amigo climbed and rode several lines with us, some quite questionable in terms of safety for a dog. As quickly as he appeared, he trotted off, breaking his own trail back towards the resorts. We were able to sneak in another line and skinned back to the resort as the sun was setting. Upon reaching the saddle I saw Amigo, sitting alone and shivering. His paws were so scraped up from running in the snow and ice that I had to break out the first aid kit to patch him up. Still a long ways from the comfort of town, we all took turns carrying the heavy shredder down the shaded icy groomers. Accepting that Amigo needed a warm place to sleep and rest for a few days, we went to the store to purchase snacks and water for the new addition to the crew. While I sat outside holding Amigo with a makeshift leash using a ski strap, two locals greeted us. "Julio! Como estas?" Learning he lived just down the street, my hopes for a new traveling buddy were dashed. Apparently he can be found within the boundaries and the surrounding backcountry of La Parva on any day of the week. I later learned from Jeremy that they had come across Julio while in the same area, three years earlier.
Testing out the new Explorer split 159 behind La Parva… It passed with flying colors.
Julio takes a power nap atop the second line of the day. Photo - Cory Stasinos
The world class sunsets viewed from Blue Tambo are reason enough to come to Farellones. Photo: Cory Stasinos.
For five days straight the stars aligned in perfect formation. Stable snowpack, high pressure and for the most part, minimal winds. Essentially a dream scenario for filming. After several 10 hour days in the boots we needed some rest and right on cue, the clouds began to roll in and temperatures rose. It was time to move on.
We decided to hop on a 20 hour bus ride across the Argentinian border to the town of Bariloche. There we would connect with Argentinian Jones rider Iñaki Odriozola and visit the legendary Refugio Frey in the Parque Nacional Nahuel Huapi.
We started the hike into the refugio in steady rain. The route traverses at a very mellow grade alongside the length of Lago Gutierrez, a disgustingly beautiful stretch of pristine nature. Recent and ongoing rainfall has flooded the trail, giving ever more freshness to the vibrant landscape.
Wyatt makes his way across one of the many flooded out sections of the trail.
Bushwacking through bamboo reminds you how far from home we really are.
The silence of rambling thoughts was broken only by the occasional waterfall or shin deep mud puddle. The growing weight of my pack and board on my shoulders had me wondering if we will ever get to snowline but soon we start to see patches and then finally there is enough to start skinning. At this point, we are beyond soaked. Fortunately, it was still raining so our gear wasn’t freezing, but unfortunately, it seemed to be raining quite high. Still hopeful for the remaining vertical gain to provide quality snow, we trudged on. Our slow progress from the valley floor delivered a moment of despair among the crew but positivity prevailed and we caught a second wind that powered us through to the Refugio. Our perseverance paid off, as despite the rain, the high elevation terrain provided more than adequate snow quality for our five day excursion.
Wyatt and I peacefully making our way through el bosque. Photo: Cory Stasinos
Virgin views of the refugio are a mixture of shock, awe and relief. Pinnacle spires rise in the west above our shelter, as if entering the gates to the kingdom.
Getting a feel for the snowpack in Argentina. Photo: Cory Stasinos.
Where’s Wyatt? Here he is finding his entry into a sneaky line through the rocks. Photo: Cory Stasinos
The weather moves quick in Patagonia. This particular morning we woke before dawn under a starry sky. As we reached the base of our intended line, clouds appeared out of nowhere, placing us in a total whiteout. Wyatt and I opted to tag team this warm up line for a little more definition. Photo: Cory Stasinos
First and foremost, terrain and snow are the main priority for any snowboard trip. But what has made these last few years of travel truly memorable is the people and new cultures we come across. Never have I felt so at home in a land nearly 6,000 miles away from my mailing address. Each and every person we met throughout Chile and Argentina shared their secret stashes, mate and welcomed us to their country with open arms. Thank you to everyone who had us over for dinner, gave us rides to the bus station and let us crash at their homes.
A warm send off from the Bariloche crew. Facu, myself, Cory, Inaki, Wyatt and friend.
Throughtout the course of filming this project our perception of freedom has evolved and matured. We’ve come to see the limitless possibilities for adventure around the world and that the time for living is NOW. Whatever it takes, follow your heart and make it happen. Sacrifices will be made along the way. Perhaps sometimes the reward seems intangible, but I guarantee you won’t regret it.