Santi Sabe

“There are no ski bums in Argentina. They just don’t exist.” So, the preface had been set, as told by Argentine skier, Santiago Guzman. This was the first night he stayed with us in Glacier. The first of twelve nights of ski bumming. 

In the small town of Glacier, near Mt. Baker, everyone I know is a ski bum. They don’t work a regular job, but instead listen to reggae, play guitar, remedy life’s events with herbs and supplements, and ski everyday. Santiago fit into the scene in Glacier, demonstrating his penchant for living in a way Argentines describe as “tranquillo”. After the true summit of Mt. Herman, a skin-track covering avalanche from the Northwest Couloir (while attempting a summit of Mt. Shuksan), in-bounds pow, more out-of-bounds pow, pillows, jumps, every form of skiing, Santiago was christened. Or was he? Although proclaimed as an Argentinean non-ski bum, Santi, as we started calling him, already knew this life. And in some ways he taught me better ways to live it---As I discovered, Santiago sabe. 

One night at dinner, Santi sat with the large grin of amusement. I came to know this expression well, always smothered across his face as if he had no choice but to have it there. He had just cooked his first meal in the house---a dinner of pasta on his second to last night in Glacier. Out of the depths of his grin and ephemeral aura of seriousness, Santi pronounced, “J.J. sabe.” Who was J.J? J.J. turned out to be one of the wild characters that everyone in town knows. The guy who is always out riding, rain or no rain, and had discovered the clandestine pow stashes of the Northwest’s woods through a process of going into places that no one else considered sane. Consequently, this guy lived in his own reality. A world evoked by years of ski bumming. And on one particular day, this world brought him Santi, for one run in Mt. Baker’s sidecountry. Santi laughed at his fortune of meeting this character in the woods and as a household we came to understand the words of this Argentine skier. “Sabe” translated as “he knows”, paired with someone’s name, describes a disposition, a nature or eccentricity, which allows someone to identify with tranquillo living. 

The phrase won’t be understood by all Spanish speakers, but will only translate with meaning to the circle of friends that surround Santiago Guzman in his home of Bariloche, Argentina, the closest town to Cerro Catedral ski area. At the base of Cerro Catedral is the home of CAF, or Club Argentina Freeski, which Santi started at age twenty-two. He now employs his Mom and has over fifty kids participating in the program. As the head coach, his skills from big mountain riding to huge backcountry booters, Santiago could easily present any North American pro skier righteous competition. 

Growing up as the child of two Argentine ski instructors, Santi spent a few winters in Italy, time in Whistler, and numerous other major ski destinations. He had never been to Mt. Baker. His first day, he arrived in the upper parking lot after a long drive from Utah to Washington with a random Facebook rideshare the day before. Unaccustomed to the focus on sidecountry touring at our little slice of Pacific Northwest heaven, Santi came unprepared for hiking. We quickly found a pair of borrowed skis with Dukes and skins. In a rush, we set out on a long mission and Santi’s first day. 

“I don’t think he has ever skinned before,” said Matt Squatch (a pseudonym for longtime local skier Matt Stienman) as all six feet, five inches and 240 pounds came cruising by me on the skin track. I looked back to find Santi moving like a cat forced to walk through puddles---nervously moving each foot in an uncomfortable fashion. He looked like he was struggling. But everyone kept moving and so did Santi. “My skis don’t like forward,” explained Santi, about an hour into the journey, “but I go to the top anyway.” The Santiago Guzman test was born. After an hour of hiking with no complaining and an impermeable motivation to ski the Mt. Baker sidecountry, Santi realized his skins were on backwards. 

After passing his newly created namesake examination, Santi was relentless in his willingness to discover what the Cascades had to offer. He skied everyday with us for almost two weeks. And not just wake-up, go to the ski area, ski from nine o’clock to four kind of days, but waking up hours before sunrise, skinning for miles, and skiing from the summit of the Cascade peaks kind of days. He was amazed at the amounts of food we consumed, but by the end of his stay, Santi was eating Matt Squatch like portions. It doesn’t matter what country you are from, when you are skiing that hard, your body will gladly accept the food. 

We learned from him that brownies could be referred to as “humid” instead of “moist” and that to speak another language you just have to be willing to get into character. He never tired of laughing at us as we butchered the romantic sounds of his first language with our mundane English accents (Santi spoke Spanish as his first language, in addition to English, German, and Italian). And we never gave up on trying to practice with him because we undoubtedly had plans to ski with him in South America at some point. 

Not one night did we take him out on the town or to anything that might resemble a social event because every evening we came home late, ate dinner, and fell asleep to the sound of Santi playing the guitar, only to wake up the next morning and repeat the cycle. But the lack of parties and dinner out was of no consequence to Santi---he had come to ski. He quickly learned the nicknames of our favorite lines and the faces and names of the local population. After losing a Go Pro, shovel handle, and hours of sleep to the powder skiing of the Northwest, Santi left a satiated skier. His lasting impression on our house and the community still permeates the air of the mountain. It is undeniable---Santiago sabe.