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Bed bugs, computer bugs, stink bugs. Bugs often get a bad rap. But the travel bug is one of the good ones. That urge to get out and see something different can change your life for the better and Ian Gil wants to help you make that happen. Ian was born in Chile, but moved stateside at a young age, forging his way into the East Coast snowboard scene in the late 90s — the hey day of the Killington halfpipe, the US Open and an industry that gave a fuck about Vermont. These days, he’s operating Steep and Deep tours — open to anyone with a couple grand and an urge to check out Chile in all its splendor. From the mountains to the beach, to the seedy underbelly of the city (if that’s what you’re into) Ian will take you there and show you the real Chilean experience, so read on to see if it’s really worth the money.
How is Steep and Deep tours different from the average Chile tour guide you might find on Google?
First off, I am a native Chilean. All the other guides are American. Nothing wrong with that, but if you go to a country it’s nice to hang out with a native and all my friends and family still live there. The other thing too, is that I am a snowboarder. All the other company owners are skiers, not that there is anything wrong with that either, it’s just another thing that makes it different.Â I like to teach people about Chile. About my culture, about what goes on there other than what’s going on in the mountains. Along with that, I’ve been riding Chile for 20 years so I know the mountains like the back of my hand.
What is your favorite mountain in Chile?
It used to be called Termas de ChillÃ¡n, it’s now called Nevados deÂ ChillÃ¡n, but I’m old school so I still call it Termas.
What’s riding there like?
The majority of it is above tree line. Termas, for example is 3/4 above tree line and then you get down to the trees and it’s really nice and spread out. It has 20-30 minute runs. Powder top to bottom sometimes. It’s a semi active volcano, and has geysers sticking out everywhere.Â If you go to Southern Chile you are riding on really active volcanoes. Last season I worked on an article with Snowboard Canada — nine of us in a van touring around for three weeks. We hiked a few volcanoes with like 6 hour hikes to the top — one of them was active with smoke coming out of and everything. That one was epic. Then we did another one where the volcano was not active and the huge crater, you could actually ride into it. The article came out last month.
So that’s what you do in the summer, what do you do in the Winter?
Right now I’m trying to get this [touring business] going as much has possible. It started off as my — I don’t know about hobby — but my side thing other than owning a shop. The shop closed down so, I kind of put all my eggs in one basket and decided to leave the East Coast and tour around America stopping at all the core shops.
Wait, actually back up. How did you end up in the States?
My parent’s came here in ’84. My family left Chile with 1,000 dollars and we lived in the ghettos of Jamaica, Queens. When I went to first grade there was one white kid in the whole class. I remember my dad walking into school and seeing kids with huge beatboxes breakdancing, and my first friend in the states was a kid named Kevin, who’s brother was addicted to crack. My parents are artists who make leather art and my mom didn’t like the city. They knew an Argentinian couple that lived near Cooperstown, New York. We went up there to visit them and across from their house there was a house for rent with a barn and a garage, and it was cheaper than what we were paying for the apartment. We were the only Latin family in the whole town and I went from first grade all the way to senior year with the same 30 or 40 kids. As soon as I was done, I got the fuck out.
And you went to Killington?
I wanted to go to Colorado. Breck or something but my mom convinced me to stay so I circled all the ski resorts on the east coast and went road tripping to the nearest colleges. I didn’t even look at the majors, I just chose a school based on the proximity to Killington.
This is a personal question because I am always trying to tell people and I need someone else to back me up. Can you explain why Killington was such a rad scene in the early nineties to the early 2000′s?
I was a snowboarder in central New York and I learned how to ride on this tiny little mountain, 700 feet vertical. We got tons of snow and I thought I was a good snowboarder. So I moved to Killington because that was sort of the mecca at that time. Their team was ridiculous. They were on the covers of magazines, and that was a time where they actually put articles in magazines about the east coast. Also the scene was really friendly. Being an 18 year old and not knowing anybody I remember Mark Reilly and Dick Nessover, being on the cover of Transworld and then being so nice to you and being like, “hey come ride with us.” The camaraderieÂ was just ridiculous. You’d have a crewÂ of twenty people riding together on Great Eastern.Â It doesn’t get better than that, you know? Going through the park five feet apart from each other, or right next to each other. Pissing people off, being bad and having a good time. The friendships that I made in those years I still have. Those are some of my best friends.
The level of riding too.Â Nobody hikes pipe anymore. We used to sit there with a 12-pack of beer and hike pipe all day and it was awesome. Everybody pushing each other and nobody gave a shit if one person was better than the other person, you know? You were proud about your friend being in a magazine, not pissed that it wasn’t you.
Don’t forget about the week before the Open when everyone would come to town!
Yeah, the level of riding was ridiculous. I remember sitting there and Brian IguchiÂ sits down next to me. To have one of your legends sit and talk with you and give you pointers is crazy. I actually ran into Brian this summer in Chile and we shot the shit for a while and I asked him about that and he said he remembered me. I couldn’t believe it. I thought he was messing with me, and he was just like “no man that was awesome, it was great day of shredding.”
Kids don’t care about 90′s lets talk about the modern times again. Who are some of the people who have come to Chile that you have toured around?
Biggest name might be Curtis Woodman. I have been friends with him for about six years. When I first moved out to Tahoe he hit me up and said let’s go down and shoot some photos and have a good time and so we did. We linked up with Jason Robinson, Alex Yoder, Blake Paul, Tim Eddy. The best day that we had in the three weeks there was about three feet of powder and their camera broke. I got to show them around what I know of the mountain and it was amazing. Getting to go to spots and sayingÂ “there, there there” and then watching all these amazing riders just destroy it. And then at the end of the day that all say, man, that was a great day of riding.
I’ve also been friends with Jp Solberg for a while so through him I have become friends with DCP, Romain, the Yes. crew. They are always down there so I meet up with them. Oh and way back, like 8 years ago, I met Travis Rice, Scotty Wittlake, and Travis Parker in the parking lot. Oh! and Nate Bozung too.
Pre face tats and off the deep end huh?
Ya, I really just walked towards them because I heard them speaking English and at first I didn’t realize it was them.Â I was like let’s go ride, and then we get into the park and I am kind of like, shit, these guys are really good. So i’m trying to push myself and end up eating shit and hurtingÂ my ankle. They told me to come eat lunch with and Scotty takes his beanie off and I’m just like, “that’s Scotty Wittlake.”Â I told them I’d show them the mountain so for they next couple days we just rode around and I pointed out different things and watched them. I remember taking a pipe run where it was Travis first, Parker next, me, wittlake and bozung and I almost end up falling mid air because I am staring at Rice doing some crazy 720 Rodeo. It was an epic day.
And now it sounds like you’re are on the ultimate snowboard road trip. What have been the coolest things you’ve gotten to do?
The coolest thing about the trip has been seeing old friends and getting to ride with them. To me, that’s probably the most important part about snowboarding: the relationships you make with people and the days you have and there is nothing better than meeting up with one of your old college roommates and getting to go ride for a couple days like you used to. Going to Park City, Sundance was really cool. How many people get to use MFM’s pass for a week, you know? And stay at his house. (laughs) Another highlight would be doing the Baker Banked slalom, and getting my name announced next to Terje’s. First day I dropped before him and the next day I dropped after him. I would never in my wildest dreams think that I’d get to do a contest and get to go right after Terje Haakonsen.
Damn, how did you get in to the LBS?
You mean people really win the lottery?
Yeah. One of girls from the crew I worked with this summerÂ hit me up the day before the deadline and was like “did you sign up for the Banked Slalom?” So I put in the five bucks and got the email a couple days later saying I had won the lottery. I was jumping for joy.Â I had to decide between the class that I would do, you know masters, pro masters, pro men, orÂ amateur, and I said go big or go home and did the pro men.
Awesome. So were you ever a pro snowboarder, or sponsored?
I used to get stuff when I was younger and I used to compete. I mean I still compete. I do boarder crosses and races now. I did an Olympic trials this year, just on a whim — all my friends dared me to and I get there and I was like “holy shit man,” this is serious. I was the third oldest one, there were only four of us with normal snowboards, not those racing boards or whatever. I was the only one without full padding and a face mask thing, and everybody had coaches. When you show up there hung over it’s just like, “what the hell? what happened to boardercross?” [laughs] It was 150 people. i placed in the middle which was a really cool experience.
And you didn’t die!
No. It was one of the scariest things I’ve ever done. People were complaining to Killington that they made the course way too gnarly. They carted six people off the course and I saw one dudes arm break right through the jacket.
Hmm maybe stick to tour guiding then. Do you ever get people in to sketchy scenarios down there or do you keep it clean down there?
I always try and keep people as safe as possible.
What if they want to get into sketchy situations?
The first day, if I don’t know them, is all about seeing how good of a rider they are. Because usually people talk themselves up, you know? I was a snowboard coach for a little while, so I always try and push people, but I also like to pick good spots. If people aren’t used to dropping cliffs and cornices then I point them towards little 5-foot cornice with a good powder landing and give ‘em the, “hey, go off that.” They’ll go off it maybe crash ,maybe land, and turn around and just be stoked like, “aw that was just a 20 foot cornice, soo crazy!” I just try and keep them stoked.
What about in the City? If someone wants a Chilean hooker can you make that happen?
If you really wanted to, I could get them two. [laughing] for a deal!
How much does it cost to hire you for your services and go on the whole trip?
It all depends on the group size. The more people, the cheaper it’s going to be. Then it’s about their budget, their dates, and how many days they want to go. There are certain dates where it will be cheaper. Through that I talk to them about what they want because days on the mountain are much more expensive than days off the mountain.Â It really just depends on how people want to split up their trip. The cheapest you could do would be for a group of five for around 1,500 bucks. Nobody has ever taken that option though. The high end can goes as far as you want when you start taking into account heli’s, sledding, snow cats and nice hotels. On average most people choose the middle one, which is $2,000 – $2500 bucks, and it includes everything except lunch and booze and airfare. I pick them up at the airport, all the transportation, lodging, lift tickets, breakfast and dinner in included. Some hotels throw in lunch in as well. I also shoot photos, give them the history lesson of where they are and really try and make them feel like they have experienced Chile.
Do you stay In Chile all summer?
Yeah, I have lived in constant winter for about 10 years now and I never get sick of it. I think around my third or fourth year I got a little tired of it But then I hung out in 95 degrees and 100% humidity for three days and was like, “get me back to winter.” I hate lying in bed not being able to sleep because it’s so hot.
Â So why would you recommend going through you instead of one of the camps down there? Gimme your sales pitch.
Well, the camps are gonna go a little more on a freestyle line, and coach you through that. I like to do more touring and exploring. My favorite thing is the Backcountry. there is nothing better than dropping cliff or doing a chute. You know, throwing a 50 foot turn and unleashing a wave of snow. That’s the best thing on the planet. So I show people the whole mountain and educate people about where they’ve been, what they’ve seen, what they are doing. Along the way I do try and coach people and if you want to ride the park we go in the park. [laughs] I’ll still launch jumps though, 50 or 60 feetÂ is my limit.
For more info on Ian’s tours, check out www.sndtours.com
More photos and stuff are here www.iangil.net