Alpenglow is thrilled to be offering the Ring of Fire Ski Expedition. Our high altitude guides are also big mountain ski mountaineers. The combination of their expertise and high-end logistics that have been a priority of Alpenglow’s for over a decade, has us uniquely positioned as the first guide service to offer international, high altitude ski expeditions. We created this program as a perfect segue for backcountry skiers looking to gain the skills that will enable them to ski higher and more technical mountains. This program is for the backcountry skier who wants to become a ski mountaineer, and the ski mountaineer looking to progress to high altitude peaks.
Alpenglow Expeditions’ guides have been climbing and guiding in Ecuador since 1994 and believe it is unparalleled for learning the essential skills of high altitude climbing while also exploring a friendly and interesting culture. These mountains are also the ideal place for bringing your backcountry skiing to the next level. On the Ring of Fire Expedition, we focus on teaching you technical skills that you might not have needed in the backcountry settings you’ve previously experienced. You will be utilizing ropes for glacier travel and on exposed terrain, while also managing the effects of high altitude. Incorporating these elements and skills with your backcountry skiing experience is a significant step in your progression from “backcountry skier” to “ski mountaineer.” Throughout our attempts to summit and ski both Cayambe at 18,997 feet (5,790 meters) and Cotopaxi at 19,347 feet (5,897 meters), we will be preparing everyone on the team with the skills and knowledge needed not just for these peaks, but for bigger peaks around the world.
Our ski expedition begins in Ecuador’s capital of Quito. The city, surrounded by four glaciated peaks, sits at 9,500 feet (2,896 meters), so your acclimatization begins immediately upon arrival. We spend the first day exploring the old colonial center of Quito and enjoying fantastic food and hospitality. We continue our acclimatization by riding the local telepherique to 14,000 feet (4,267 meters) on Rucu Pinchincha and then hiking to its 15,700 foot (4,785 meter) summit.
After spending time in Quito, we move to the town of Otavalo, which is known for its local markets and beautiful culture full of textiles and amazing food. We base out of Otavalo for a couple of days as we continue our acclimatization on day hikes, before we move up to the base of Cayambe.
Once we are settled into the hut at the base of Cayambe, we spend a full day discussing and practicing high altitude climbing and skiing skills on Cayambe’s lower glaciers. This day is essential in becoming a competent team member on this ski expedition. We will cover crampon and ice axe techniques; traveling on a rope team; snow and ice anchor placement; companion rescue; and advanced skinning techniques.
At this point, we are ready to put our skills to use on Cayambe. We wake early to begin our climb and ski. We’ll scramble on scree, skin on mildly glaciated terrain, beginning with low angle touring, and progressing in steepness to the point of transitioning to crampons for the final section to the summit. Cayambe’s terrain will push everyone to utilize their complete skill set, while still allowing us to take in the beauty of the glaciated volcano. Once we ski down, we head back to Papallacta and visit the natural hot springs in the cloud forest of the Eastern Cordillera.
Once we settle into the lodge inside Cotopaxi National Park, we prepare to wake early for our climb and ski descent of Cotopaxi. This is a long day of climbing during which we will spend more time in crampons than we did on Cayambe. This also means that on our descent we will be able to put our more technical ski mountaineering techniques into practice, including belayed skiing. The climb and ski on Cotopaxi are much more demanding than on Cayambe and the team is rewarded with a long technical descent and unmatched views. After skiing Cotopaxi, we head back to Quito for a final day of celebration before departing for home.
One or more of Alpenglow’s AMGA certified lead/ski guides will guide our Ring of Fire Ski Expedition. The AMGA (American Mountain Guides Association) certification is the highest possible training available to guides and only the most experienced and dedicated attain it. Our lead guides have also traveled and climbed extensively in South America and know the Ecuadorian volcanoes intimately. Our guide’s knowledge of Andean culture and mountains, and their passion for teaching others to become competent mountaineers, guarantees that your experience will be one to remember.
We combine our ski guides’ experience with the local expertise of our close friend, guide, and expert Ecuadorian logistics operator, Jaime Avila. Jaime is one of Ecuador’s most respected climbing guides, and he guides with Alpenglow around the world. Our small team size and low ratio of skiers to guides (3:1) ensures that you stay healthy and strong, and are able to enjoy each component of this unique experience.