In the Andes
A ski guide to Chile, the roof of the Americas
Chilean ski resorts are the largest and best-equipped in the southern hemisphere, with options for all skill levels within easy striking distance of the capital and largest city, Santiago.
Wednesday, June 15, 2011
Chile can claim to be the best place to ski in the Southern Hemisphere. (Photo: Turismo Chile)
It should come as no surprise that Chile, running nearly half the length of the world’s longest mountain chain, should also be the southern hemisphere’s premier ski destination.
Huddled at the feet of the snow-tipped Andes, Santiago is the primary launching pad for Chile’s most popular ski resorts, and offers some of the best infrastructure for skiers of all skill levels. Farther south, ski the slopes of active volcanoes and relax by night in natural hot springs.
With slopes open during the Austral winter months of late June through August, Chile allows devoted snow-bunnies to hit the slopes year round.
Where to go
Four of the primary Chilean ski resorts - Farellones/El Colorado, La Parva, Valle Nevado and Portillo - are located on the barren slopes of the Andes just outside Chile’s capital and transportation hub, Santiago. They can be easily reached either independently or through several companies that organize full trips to and from the resorts.
Just 22 miles (36 km) from downtown Santiago, the twin resorts of Farellones and El Colorado can be reached in approximately one hour. Smaller and at slightly lower elevations than resorts like Valle Nevado and Portillo, these two resorts are ideal choices for families and beginning skiers. A full day adult ticket during the high season at El Colorado and Farellones runs CP$33,000 (about US$70).
A short drive to the north along a turn off near Farellones brings you to La Parva, one of the region’s best resorts for skiers of all levels. The mountain’s diversity of slopes provides many options for advanced and expert skiers. Connected by trails both to El Colorado and to Valle Nevado, a trip that begins at La Parva can include access to three of Chile’s most popular valleys. A full day adult pass for just La Parva also costs CP$33,000 (US$70), while an extra CP$16,000 (US$34) grants additional access to either Valle Nevado or El Colorado.
The highest of Chile’s resorts, Valle Nevado sits 12,000 ft (3670 m) above sea level and is the most popular of the resorts near Santiago amongst advanced skiers. A full day adult lift ticket for Valle Nevado costs slightly more than elsewhere, at CP$34,000 (US$73).
Somewhat farther afield, Portillo is perhaps the most scenic of Chile’s ski centers. Alongside picturesque Laguna del Inca near the Argentine border, Portillo sits 102 miles (164 km) from Santiago, roughly a two hour drive away through dramatic Andean scenery. Nearly 11,000 feet above sea level, Portillo’s powdery snow and jagged landscapes are sometimes likened to those of North America’s Rocky Mountains.
Full day passes here also run CP$33,000 (US$70), though given its distance from Santiago, multi-day trips are advisable. Prices for a full week stay, including all meals, lift tickets, and accommodation, range from US$850 per person in basic, hostel-like accommodations to US$5,200 per person for a suite in the main hotel.
Pucón, Antillanca and the south
Of the resorts in the south, Ski Pucón in the Lakes District offers the best infrastructure, as well as the unique opportunity to ski on one of Chile’s most picturesque volcanic cones, Villarrica. Day passes here cost CL$24,000 (about US$50), with accomodation, equipment and restaurants available.
Further south, Antillanca resort, 61 miles (98 km) east of the city of Osorno, offers views over the region's incredible volcanic landscape with its towering snow-covered peaks. Located in Puyehue National Park, visitors can ski or board on the sides of Casablanca Volcano. An adult full-day pass costs CL$21,500 (about US$45).
Other centers in the region include Arenales, Las Araucarias, and Nevados de Chillán amongst others.
How to get there
From Santiago, several companies run all-inclusive single day trips to Valle Nevado, La Parva, and Farellones/El Colorado. Most of these companies will pick you up early in the morning from your accommodation in Santiago, and transfer you to a ski shop within the city to gather equipment rentals and any other ski gear you may need before continuing along the route to the resort. The price of the trip includes a lift ticket and return transit to your hotel in Santiago. Some companies that offer this type of service are Skitotal, Ski Van, and Ski Ahorro.
Alternatively, it is possible to rent a car and drive independently to the resort of your choice. Though the roads from Santiago to the resorts are all well-maintained and quite safe, it is always good to take precautions on mountain roads. It is best to make the journey in a 4x4 in case of inclement conditions, and to travel with chains for your tires.
Pucón ski resort can be reached by shuttle transfer from the town center of Pucón, itself a 10-hour bus ride from Santiago.
For independent skiers who prefer not to visit the resorts through a tour, most major ski resorts offer rental equipment on site for about US$25-50 per day for a full set of adult equipment. If you prefer to buy accessories or equipment, most resorts have their own shops, though for a broader variety of options and prices it is best to do your shopping in Santiago. Stores like Mall Sport, Nautisport, La Bolsa del Ski and Andesgear are good options in Santiago. Most of the companies that run tours to nearby ski resorts also sell basics like hats, gloves, goggles and other necessities.