Skylar in the thick of a South American cloud cover... time to hit the trees
There are seasonal snowboard guides, and then there are the guides who eat, breath, and live for snowboarding year round. It’s a no brainer that Skylar Holgate represents the latter, and in doing this he’s found a way to stay on snow during just about every month out of the year, including August and September where he holds the Head Guide position at both SASS Argentina and SASS Chile. Between his adventures across the globe, we got a chance to catch up with Skylar on Argentina, Chile, snowmobiles, and more…
You must have been young when you started. How hard was it for you as a young guide in a world dominated by experience over all else?
I started rock climbing and mountaineering with my dad when I was 6. I was climbing at a very high level by junior high. I got my first summer job at 13 working for the local guide operation in Durango. I continued guiding for them through high school. I mostly guided rock climbing trips. During the winter when I had breaks from school I would tail guide ice climbing trips. Then I moved on to guiding mountaineering trips. I started gaining guide experience at a very young age. Being that I was young, I was always paired up with much older guides who taught me a lot and commanded respect.
What year is this for you guiding in South America?
This is going to be my 14th season and my 13th at SASS Argentina.
After 13 seasons in SA, are there any differences in guiding there compared to guiding in NA at Silverton Mountain or with Silverton Mountain Guides in AK?
The mountains really don't care what part of the world you are in, they always have the ultimate say. As a guide you have to look at all of the objective and subjective hazards constantly and then make, and often change, your plan. The snow pack is typically more stable in the Andes then say, the San Juan's in Colorado, but there are also other hazards like the extreme weather that can sweep through Patagonia at any time.
Skylar in his element. Photo: Ben Girardi
You must have a ton of stories... What is your favorite memory of your time in South America?
Oh man, so many amazing memories! All the really good ones probably are not appropriate for here. Haha. Having the most amazing on snow staff to work with makes for some great memories! I've worked with some for over 10 years and fun times have been had to say the least. I get to work with my best friends everyday!
After so many years in Argentina, what enticed you about heading across the border to shred in Chile?
I’ve always wanted to explore more in Chile, but once things really got rolling for us at SASS Argentina our seasons got really busy. I guess one problem was that I always thought the best shredding in Chile was based out of Santiago. I’m from a very small town and big cities intimidate me. There is shredding in the North at Portillo, but it’s all Alpine and that does not always mix well with the storms and wind that the Andes are known for. This was a big reason we moved from the high Alpine of Las Lenãs to Cerro Catedral in Patagonia. Having trees to ski during storms is key! A good friend of mine, Jerome Boulay, had been trying to get me to come visit the zone he was living in by Volcan Lonquimay in Chile for years. Finally in 2014 I had some time before our busy SASS Argentina season to visit the guys. Fellow guides Chris Coulter and Mauri Cambilla came with me. The set up at Sled Chile could not be better! It is like a Chilean version of my own operation back home at the Bonnie Belle cabin in Silverton, CO. The guys instantly became family and I am so excited to see this partnership grow.
As the head guide and the one in charge of on-mountain operations at SASS Chile, what are your responsibilities day to day?
There are a ton of logistics going into sled assisted shredding. Just leaving the compound in the morning all the machines need to be prepped for the day and if we are not heading off in the backyard zone, loaded up on the trailers. Once we are in the field minimizing risk is top priority from riding the machines to snow safety. We cover an enormous amount of terrain in a day, so that dynamic is always changing. Communication between all the guides is always going on and I’m kind of like the human repeater everything bounces off me first. A lot is going on each day. We can have a group touring up one of the volcanos, while another crew is building a jump, or hot lapping with the sleds. So it’s very important to our program to always have each other set up for success, and have backup if they need it so that our guest have an experience of a lifetime.
Skylar eyeing up Sled Chile’s badass machinery. Yes, these sleds will be at SASS Chile
Snowmobile skiing can be a pain, what is it about the terrain that makes it so doable?
In Patagonia the vegetation is extremely thick. To be able to shred cool terrain you need to be in the old growth trees or be in a zone that has been cleared out, like the ski area at Cerro Catedral. The Lonquimay area is unique because when the volcano erupted it filled the two joining valleys with lava. The Lava flow covered all of the vegetation, leaving what what is like a glacier of rock. It is perfect for traveling via snow machine as you are able to access endless alpine and the old growth magical Araucaria trees. We scouted the Lonquimay area via sleds and helicopter and discovered the endless amount of easy access terrain.
How does your experience on snow machines help operations of SASS Chile?
Between myself, and guides Chris Coulter, Andrew Burns, Cesar Gibert and Carlos Leighton, there is well over 50 years of combined experience on snow machines. This allows us to teach proper technique to all our guests and to keep the level of risk low and the quality of the experience high.
Everyone has their own style, what is the "Skylar Holgate Philosophy of Guiding"?
It's all about your guests, your personal agenda is for your days off. It's your job to keep risk and hazard low and the quality of the experience high. Nothing beats being back at the lodge at the end of the day and hearing the words "Best Day Ever!"
Skylar and crew look out on the endless options in Chile
You must get a ton of people saying "You live the life man, I wish I could do that." What is your typical response and what advice would you give people dreaming of a career like yours?
I feel really blessed to be doing what I do all year long. I have made a ton of sacrifices in the past two decades to get to where I am today. For those young guys/gals, I would say you have to put your heart into it. Practice your craft and absorb all that you can from mentors, peers, and most importantly the mountains. Never stop learning or improving your skills. This takes a lifetime. You can't just throw money at a certificate and think you're going to be at the top. You might fool an employer with it, but the mountains will always call you bluff.
Ok… The age old question: Chile or Argentina?
Haha Both!! The best part about the region of the Andes we ride in with SASS is, when we are on top of peaks in Argentina you can see an ocean of mountains all the way to Chile. Then, when we’re in Chile, you can see the all the way to Argentina! As far as the cultures, both are so amazing. There is a huge amount of pride and value in family, friends, and love of the Mountains! This is usually celebrated by Asados (BBQ’s with huge amounts of meat), wine, Pisco (Chile), Fernet (Arg), laughter, and telling stories around the fire. I’ll let the locals of both countries tell you who is better at futbol haha!
Take it from Skylar, or take it from us, you don’t want to miss Argentina and Chile during the heart of the North American summer. Hit the links below to get more information on the best way to spend your summer…