Jim’s Ski Trip to Antarctica November 2015

Movie of the Ice Axe Expedition to ski Antarctica November 2015 starring Jim Sogi and Sarah Smith, with Glenn Poulson, Otto Hub, Jim Granger, Doug Stoup, Karyn Stanley, Elizabeth Keane, Tekla, Andrew McClean.

The expedition to ski Antarctica  this year went perfectly from the day we left our house, to our return almost a month later.  Although Hawaii is a great place to come back to, it was really hot, raining and muggy, so after returning from New Zealand ski expedition, I had post vacation depression and was in a weakend state of mind when Karyn Stanley of Ice Axe Expeditions email popped up.  Hey, We have openings for some of the best cabins on the trip.   We decided to do it after thinking about it for five minutes.  Sarah spent some time helping her elderly mom to move to an assissted living home near LA.  The ticket to Ushuaia was incredibly inexpensive on Korean Air, and the flight was empty and I had a row to lie down and sleep for the 11 hour flight to Sao Paulo.  The food is great on Korean air and the attendants are pretty and nice.  Sao Paulo GRU is a beautiful, clean and new airport with good food and super clean bathrooms.  The US is falling behind world standards in maintaining public infrastructure such as airports, and public bathrooms.  The Tom Bradley International terminal at LAX is new and nice.

We got to Ushuaia in the morning after 3 full days, 72 hours of travel and were beat. Luckily our hotel gave us early check in a we collapsed, exhausted.  We had gone down 4 days early to be sure our gear made it, and skied a few of the lines that are visible from downtown Ushuaia up on the Martial Glacier.  The peso was at 14 to the dollar. You could get a live king crab dinner with wine for about $20.  Among execellent wines are Sauvingon Blancs, very crisp and fresh, and perfect with seafood.  We skied some steep  bowls and chutes on nice corn snow with a great view of Ushuaia and the Beagle Channel. Ushuaia is a nice town which thrives on tourism.  The people are friendly and work.  Crime does not seem to be an open problem.

Doug Stoup started Ice Axe Expeditions by exploring Antarctica ski lines on a Russian tanker with Kris Erikson 15 years ago, and put together a first class ski trip for the rest of us.  We sailed on Sea Adventurer, a 100 meter, ice hardened luxery ship, with 57 en suite cabins, and room for 117, first class dining, outer galleries and a top notch world class crew ready for adventure.  The ship is in great shape, and is well run by a friendly, and very competent crew.

There were fewer people, and more independent single women on board this trip than last time, and many new guides. They feel comfortable because its a safe protective environment where they can meet people and have fun without having to worry so much about personal safety.   We met many new friends among the fit, healthy and personable world extreme adventurers.  There is a great feeling of commaraderie on board as we’re all sharing the similar dream and on the adventure together.  The expedition team was top notch led by Alex and Doug Stoup. They got up each morning at 4am to scope out new unskiied zones and to find a way off the boat,  up on to the glaciers over the 100 foot icefalls that fell to the ocean.  They are experienced and led us to perfect corn and deep powder.  It snowed for days 4 feet deep, which was unusual, and probably happens once every thousand years, but we scored perfect fluffy powder days.  We had only one weather day, but my tire muscles sure didn’t mind the rest.  A few of the Scandinavian guides were characteristically dour, but the other guides are super friendly, personable and helpful. We go to meet and get to know Kiwi guide Mark Sedon, and famous ski movie stars Chris Davenport,  Andrew McClean, Kris Ericson,  and Todd Offenbacher.

After loading Zodiacs and heading to shore, we would take 3 or 4 runs of about a thousand feet each then head back to the ship for Hors d’oerves, and a 5 course sit down dinner served by friendly Ukranian wait staff.  The bed would be turned down in our cozy and clean cabin with hot showers.  Everything worked well and was clean.

The Drake passage can be rough, but going down was mellow with 30 knot winds and 5 meter seas. The trip back was rough with gust over 100mph and 10 meter seas.  The ship had to tack back and forth to get back to port.

There were so many highlights of the voyage.  We had an incredible sunset over the Drake with scores of icebergs hundreds of feet high stretching into the distance. The amazing Lemaire Channel, an narrow narrow gap with cliffs towing thousands of feet on either side of the ship is one of the wonders of the world.

The “White Party” was wild. Everyone dresses in white costumes, the bar was open, a passenger was a DJ and played EDM and people got down! Great dancing, fun costumes.

The next day was a powder day but no one was even close to ready for the first boat, except us, our group, and we scored first tracks.  My hero of the trip was a gentleman in our group, Otto Hub age 75, who has been backcountry skiing for 60 years from his child hood in Bavaria.  He was a ski instructor at Sun Valley lives in Tahoe.  Glen Poulson was our guide and was perfect for us.  He has traveled the world skiing on all continents but remains humble and soft spoken,  I really like him.

The true highlight of the trip for me was what I am calling Charlotte’s Chute which was an aesthetic couloir with 600 foot vertical and up to a measured 53 degrees steepness.  That is steep! The snow was a foot of soft pow that was stable and barely sluffed.  Good stuff.

It was called a once in a lifetime trip, but now I’m thinking more like every other year at least.  Will definitely go back.  Its one of the most amazing places in the entire world, and closer to traveling to another planet.