Skiing Sand in the Desert of Peru // Part 1: Huacachina
The life of glide is an addicting one. I have chased that feeling to places I never thought would be possible growing up. The desert is the last place I would have dreamed the worlds of skiing and backpacking to collide. But one day in Peru, these two loves of mine slammed into each other seemingly out of nowhere.
My favorite part of the whole Peru sand skiing saga is that it wasn't sought out in the slightest. It happened because I was just not loving the Huacachina “oasis”. So I did what I always do when it's time to clear my head, I went for a walk. Wandering around the little desert town I spotted a pair of skis that had no sensible reason to be sitting in a desert shop. An iconic pair of Factions, the white and yellow graphic is unmistakable. I’d seen these skis for years on cliff hucks, freeride lines and park sessions alike. No mistaking them. A shop that is putting true blue free ride skis on sand dunes? Ya, it piqued my interest. That simple little moment would send me flying into a sequence of days I still have trouble wrapping my mind around.
Upon entering the shop I met the owner Dito. Dito is one of those guys who just has an electric aura about him. After about 5 minutes of talking I was quick to realize why. The guy was a bonafide badass. Certified. Put a stamp on it. Dito is a snowboard cross racer and represents Peru on both South American and European circuits. A whole lot of badass in one package. After talking for about a half hour Dito revealed that those beautiful skis in the window had a backstory rich enough to make any rider drool.
The skis were from the famed Audi Quattro commercial where the french skier (and outright legend) Candide Thovex skied ridiculous places all around the world (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zVmQ60_8Oks). Part of the video was shot in and around Huacachina. Apparently after struggling with getting the skis to properly slide on the sand, they contacted Dito to help them out. He sorted out their issues, removing the base and slapping on his time tested bottoms that allow you to shred snowless mountains. When their time in the desert wrapped they left their token of the absurd with Dito. Now there was a 0% chance I was not going to ride those skis in the desert. Put tracks down on sand, riding the legend Candide’s desert sticks?? No was not an option.
When I returned that afternoon I met Max who would be in charge of ensuring maximum dune shreddage. Max was a French boarder who had found his way to the little desert town, met Dito and ended up getting sucked into the Sandboard life. You would be shocked at how quickly it grows on you. Max rocked up with his giant Dr. Suess looking hat and from the jump was an easy hang. Something about people who chase the sensation of speed and glide, they tend to be sound.
It became the Mad Max/Warren Miller combo I’d never known I craved. After walking through the small tourist town fully kitted with skis and boards, drawing the confused gaze of all that saw us, we jumped into the menace of a dune buggy and tore off into the desert. These buggies are mean machines: open engine, massive tires and reinforced frames. Throwing a pair of skis into the back put a big ol’ smile on my face long before we even started riding. This was totally ridiculous in every way. The dream.
We spent the afternoon shredding the desert (never thought I'd be able to say that in my life). The open engine of the buggy roaring as we bounded through the flats, building to an outright scream as we battled to the top of each dune. From there we would jump out, boot in, carve up the face of the dune, and then meet the buggy at the bottom. We’d toss our gear back in and do it all over again.
There is elegance in simplicity, and for me that is why skiing is so fun. It can be complicated and overhyped as much as you want, but at the end of the day it simply is REALLY fun to slide around fast. And as with most things, it only gets better when you do it in places you aren't supposed to be able to.
By sunset we had reached the biggest dune of the day, the driver dropped gear and floored it across the flat of the desert. The whole buggy shaking, we slammed into the dune and climbed the walls of this literal sand “castle” in the middle of nowhere. Just as it seemed we were about to lose momentum and slide backwards, the driver cut the wheel hard. We all scrambled from our seats, grabbed our gear and started the assault on the last 150 feet of sand.
Standing at the top of the dune as the sun was setting, the full view of the desert surrounding us, the truth crystalized. This couldn't be a one off. This was too ridiculous and way too fun to just try for one day. I pitched the idea to Max. It was simple, if we had a small crew of people who were willing to wait for me to set up and would drop when I screamed DROP, there was no way we wouldn't come out with some amazing shots. We agreed to talk to Dito upon our return. Mental gears already churning with the endless possibilities, I clicked in, pointed down and sent it. Milking open “piste” turns for all they were worth.
Alone on a dune, laying it out in the middle of a waterless ocean. Life can be grand.
We piled back into the buggy as the sun set and temperatures dropped. Bounding through the endless mounds with the crisp early evening air running over my smile that wouldn't budge. We got back to the shop and pitched the concept to Dito. Just like that, wild ideas started to form reality.
Funnily enough, before this outing I'd had full intentions of leaving the desert. My plan was to head out right after the sand boarding, and take a night bus to Lima. Therefore, I had no accommodation to enable further adventures in the Oasis.
After leaving Dito’s shop I ran into the only other hostel that might've had room and got the last bed. In the beautiful way momentum can just keep building, some of the Sandboard guys were living at the hostel while they worked at the shop. I came out of the shower to find them in the kitchen, a full ceviche being brought to life. I couldn't say no to an offer to join.
Max had gone out and dug up some good French wine (some stereotypes exist because they're true) and his friend Kfir had brought out his traveling spice bag. This had to be the best kitchen in Huacachina that night. The ceviche was perfection. A dish using the intense citrus of Peruvian lemons to break down the fibers of fish, squid, or octopus. It is so light and zesty but so tender, I miss it to this day. We all hung out until the morning eating, drinking and talking. This is part of travel that I have learned to love the most. Conversations deep into the night with strangers who jumped to lifelong friends in a matter of hours. The people you meet in pursuit of the absurd are like no other.
When the clouds lifted off the desert the next morning we rolled out. Four guys, Israeli, French, Venezuelan, and American, heading into the desert strapped with gear. Proudly rocking the factions over my shoulder, we walked to meet the driver and his mean machine dune buggy. Dito had lined up the best buggy I'd seen, and it was all ours. We would be basically alone in the desert all day, the engines of the other buggies only brought to life come sunset when the other tours went out. Our little dirtbag crew alone in a giant sand playground with the only intention of riding the biggest dunes we could get under our feet.
We rode for hours and the stoke never waned. I would click into my skis, perched on the ridge of a wide open face of sand, and repeatedly have the same thought, “there is honestly nowhere on this planet I'd rather be right now.”
A day prior I never even knew this was an option, life can come at you fast if you are prepared to say “yes” to it. A lesson I learned a long time ago. It is not always about planning, it is about adaptability. Those who are willing to turn on a dime, adapt, and chase down the weirdest of ideas will be rewarded with the wildest of days.
I had no idea this would prove even more concrete within the afternoon. Momentum was in my favor and it was building faster than I knew, momentum that would carry me out of Huacachina all the way to Nazca by midnight. All the way to the inanity that was Cerro Blanco.