This is part one of a two part series highlighting some of the best places to check out on a South American snow tour. You already know what to bring thanks to this piece done by Brigid, and this series will help you focus your dreams on where to visit during your travels.
While it’s easy and quite common for North American travelers to access the goods of the longest continental mountain range in the world-the Andes-from Buenos Aires, Argentina, flying into Santiago, Chile puts you right at the foot of several ski resorts less than an hour away. In fact, Valle Nevado, La Parva and El Colorado are all less than 30 miles away ensuring that even with the smallest of windows of time you can get quick, easy access into the mountains. Just remember that as of a few years ago, the Santiago international airport charged an entry tax to visitors from the states in the amount of $100. It helps to be aware of the fee especially if you’re a budget traveler.
While the three Santiago area resorts make for a great visit getting out of the Santiago region opens up a world of possibilities for the intrepid ski traveler. Chile is actually one of the better countries to see by bus. The country maintains a high quality bus system that’s easy to travel with ski gear and often offers overnight itineraries so you can ski one place on a given day, and be on your way to the next stop that evening.
Your question is do you want to go south towards the endless backcountry options of Termas de Chillan, or north to the world-class terrain in Portillo? Either option will set you up for an “easy” border crossing in Argentina, so it might make the most sense to choose your next destination based on snow conditions and how much time you have to travel. And for the record the border crossings are in fact pretty easy, but the militarized border scene makes the experience feel slightly unnerving your first time.
If you head south Termas de Chillian is a must visit ski center. Staged in a beautiful portion of the country, Termas is a resort that has a little something for everyone. There’s groomed piste and soft beginner slopes for the newbies out there, and some great inbounds steeps and powder stashes for the more versed. However, it’s their backcountry touring that really sets them apart making this a great place for logging in some human powered turns on your trip.
A little further south from Termas is the outdoor adventure center of Pucon. The ski resort is located a few minutes outside of town on a beautiful volcano. While the resort’s managed terrain isn’t anything all that spectacular it’s a gorgeous place to visit with numerous fun outdoor activities to get into beyond skiing. Mountaineering on the volcano is a great adventure to tap into when weather cooperates.
As you cruise further south and enter the Patagonian landscape, Puerto Montt makes for a great stop before heading east into Argentina. It’s a really cool fishing village with one of the freshest fish markets you’ll ever visit. You can also take tours from here, further south, to access the fjords and glaciated landscapes of Chile’s dramatic Patagonia coastline.
You could keep going south from here, but Puerto Montt makes for a good place to get east, cross the Argentine border, and hit up the very Euro feeling city of Bariloche. If you didn’t experience enough pisco sours and late nights in Santiago then Bariloche has got you covered. There’s always some sort of music and gatherings happening at the many local bars and clubs, but more importantly, the Catedral ski resort is also pretty close.
Catedral has gained a lot of popularity in the past several years since Bariloche’s nightlife can also be combined with plentiful powder skiing. Some locals and visitors actually prefer Catedral to some of the other more well know ski centers in South America. The ski resort itself offers all of the amenities of your typical North American resort, but like many great ski centers it’s the sidecountry access and deeper backcountry access that opens up an untracked world for the powder seekers. This is definitely a beautiful place with great skiing that’s worth the trip alone to South America.
North from Catedral, still linking it all up on a bus as Argentina has just as good of a bus system as Chile, most people head straight for the wine country of Mendoza and the epic terrain in Las Lenas. You could go that route, but even if it’s for a day, check out San Martin de Los Andes to venture off the beaten path. It’s a small lesser known resort, but it also holds some of the most accessible, interesting, dynamic terrain I was able to tour in while visiting the region myself. Bowls reminiscent of New Hamphire’s Tuckerman’s Ravine is accompanied by endless chutes and passes to explore while crowds are non-existent.
Heading north from San Martin, take a minute to enjoy the local wine and incredible food in Mendoza, and hop on yet another bus to arrive at what many feel is the best ski area in all of South America-Las Lenas. Having experienced a 3+ foot storm, the world class inbounds terrain, and logged in some backcountry mileage through the truly surreal landscape accessed by the infamous chairlift known as Marte, it’s tough to look at Las Lenas as anything other than the top dog of the south. If you party, like Bariloche, you’ll commonly have the choice to stay up dancing all night and walk right into the powder lineup early the next morning as the sun pops up. The difference? When you’re in Las Lenas and you score it good, you might not want to come home.
You can’t go wrong with a visit to any of these places no matter how your personal itinerary unfolds on a trip to ski in South America. However, Chile’s stunning Portillo ski resort should not be missed, and if you end up traveling a bit later in the season, you might want to head even further south into the real heart of Patagonia.
All photos courtesy of unofficial networks.com unless otherwise noted.
Stay tuned for Part II dropping soon!