This is part two of a two part series highlighting some of the best places to check out on a South American snow tour.
If you somehow made it out of Las Lenas and are trying to get back to Santiago it only makes sense to hit up Portillo to check into Chile’s best-known ski resort. Heading north from Las Lenas try and hire a bus that will get you through the border crossing into Chile and on to Portillo that evening. If you can’t make that happen there’s a very small ski area located right near the border called Penitentes. Honestly, it’s fine to skip it, but if you’re keen to check out another spot on your travels, use the sparse lift system and go on a tour. The views are breathtaking, but the local hostel I remember staying at was one of the most undesirable nights I’ve ever spent traveling, even from the perspective of a dirt bag. That said you can always uncover a gem with the right mentality in such a range as the Andes, the thing is coming from Las Lenas, Portillo is just about the only place that will keep your stoke factor as high.
The one issue that’s half amazing and half not so amazing is when you show up to Portillo it’s expected that you stay there. I wouldn’t be surprised if something more budget friendly has popped up in the past few years, but even the modest accommodations in Portillo a few years back were pretty spendy when compared to the rest of your expenses in South America. That said the amenities that come with staying in Portillo are five-star. Quality dinners with other visitors staying at the Portillo compound, hot tubs, yoga classes, late night parties-there’s always something going on, and it’s pretty cool that Portillo is so deep in the mountains when the bus drops you off you really are “stuck” until you decide to bail.
There’s plenty of interesting terrain accessed from the lifts in Portillo, but like many of the best South American ski resorts it’s the backcountry access that makes it stand out the most. One such adventure is skiing the infamous Super C Couloir. If your skills are sharp enough this is probably one of the top backcountry tours to lock into on the continent. The mission starts with a thrilling ride on the Rocka Jack poma lift. If you’ve never ridden a lift like this before then you’re in for a treat, or make that an experience. After surviving the questionable lift ride it’s a strenuous 2-3 hour bootpack depending on snow conditions to reach the top of the line. The crux of the climb is crossing above what’s known as the “Toilet Bowl”. A tight walk characterizes this short section across a very exposed section of snow. Falling would not be good as one would end up getting “flushed” down the toilet, which is actually a steep ramp that ends in a closeout cliff. Keep it together, make a little boulder move around the rock, and from there it’s smooth sailing to the top of the beautifully walled line that spills for close to 6K+ vertical feet. The views of Cerro Aconcagua-the tallest mountain in the world outside the Himalaya- are unreal on the hike up.
Once you’re at the top the couloir it’s pretty self-explanatory, although as you make your way down several variations to exit exist. When in doubt you’ll know your time in the Super C is coming to a close when you hit the fat apron-just make sure to hook a left to hit the lower lift back to Portillo…or if the snow is good and you have a plan to get back up the road, you can just keep on skiing.
While a majority of North Americans who make their way to South America for a trip usually post up in Portillo, Bariloche, or Las Lenas, the further south you travel the more wild the landscape, opportunities and adventures become. When you’re headed this far south it might makes sense to look into domestic flights-they could end up being cheaper than a bus, but again that depends on how much time you have and what you’re looking to get into.
While skiing in such regions as Chile’s Torres del Paine and the Argentine mountain centerpiece region of El Chalten are more for expedition type ski mountaineering missions, these are easily two of the most beautiful places you’ll ever have the fortune of visiting whether you get to ski or not.
The climbing, hiking, wildlife, scenery, food and amazing people make this region of the world one of the highest rated travel destinations on the planet. If you make it down this far think about anywhere from a day to a multi-day tour of Torres del Paine, and posting up at one of the awesome hostels in El Chalten for as long as you can.
The weather is as unpredictable as it gets in this region so it’s better to have more time than less if you make it this far south. If you’re fired up to keep on traveling, then you really can’t get too much farther south than heading down to the southern most city in the world in Ushuaia.
Ushuaia is a trip of a destination being the place most international travelers visit as a departure point for Antarctic adventures. There’s also the incredibly diverse landscape in Tierra del Fuego National Park to check out, and some surprisingly good skiing on the nearby Martial Glacier. I have not had the opportunity to ride the lifts here, but surprise, surprise, the ski touring is amazing. With new snow falling as late in the year as November, a trip to the tip of the South American continent can include quality skiing very late in the year.
From less than an hour out of the airplane in Santiago, to the tip of the continent, South America offers amazing opportunities for just about any style of ski traveler. It’s a trip that should be on every ski adventurer’s list to experience at some point in their ski lifetimes, and chances are after your first trip, you’ll be doing whatever you can to make it back the following summer.