Whether you’re living in Chile, studying, or just traveling through, there’s no doubt that proximity to the Andes – along the country’s entire, skinny length – is one of its biggest draws.
Summer brings hiking, rafting, climbing and biking, but winter (June – September) is when the world’s longest mountain range really comes into its own for skiers and snowboarders.
And the fact that Chile’s winter comes during the northern hemisphere’s hottest months, providing a snowy haven for Olympic teams and backpackers alike, is just the start.
The Andes are a winter sports destination like no other. Here, This is Chile highlights the five biggest surprises about skiing in Chile.
1. That view
Maybe it’s because the Andes are just so long that the sight is so spectacular, but the view of snowy mountain tops from the chairlift will take your breath away. A carpet of peaks stretches on and on as far as the eye can see, one rising up behind another as if the horizon curved up, not down. It’s an otherworldly landscape that reminds us we’re not in North America any more, Toto – no, we’re at the end of the earth.
The unique experience of skiing on the slopes of a volcano is a huge draw for visitors, with the conical perfection of Osorno and Villarrica in the southern Lakes District drawing thousands of adventurous skiers every year.
But, as we all now know, volcanoes can be something of a beautiful nuisance. In 2011 it was Chile’s turn to disrupt the international skies as Puyehue Volcano erupted, making for gorgeous sunsets but frustrating many travelers on their way to Chile’s southern slopes. The moral of the story: check the news before booking your trip, get travel insurance and be prepared to keep your plans flexible.
3. Ski on a budget
Skiing in Chile can be a surprisingly economical experience. Lift passes are cheaper than in Europe and North America, costing around US$50 per day at Valle Nevado, one of the largest resorts in Chile. Two-for-one deals and other discounts are also common on weekdays at many of the main resorts – check center websites.
Adult ski equipment (skis and boots) can be rented at resorts for around US$45, or slightly less in Santiago. And with many of the major resorts within two hours drive of the capital, you can avoid shelling out on the expensive week-long ski packages so common in Europe. Many visitors and locals sleep in Santiago and head up to the slopes on the days that suit them. Transportation includes daily buses (about US$27 round-trip from the capital to Valle Nevado) and rental cars (about US$80 per day, plus US$20 for snow chains on icy days).
4. Oh so quiet
Clean, groomed, almost-empty slopes are, for many skiers, such stuff as dreams are made on – but hard to find in the busy high seasons in Europe and North America. Not so here in Chile. Locals flock to the mountain on weekends but tend to stay away during the week, meaning weekday visitors can take advantage of wonderfully spacious runs and smooth, even snow: especially useful if steering around other skiers isn’t your strong point.
5. ¿Hablas español?
Spanish on the slopes is one of the great delights of South American skiing. In contrast to North America and Europe, where English is everywhere and you can get a job in the French Alps without speaking a word of French, Spanish can be heard in day-to-day life throughout the Chilean resorts.
English, of course, is ubiquitous, spoken by staff and used widely on signs and literature. But it’s more than a little refreshing to hear a ‘gracias’ when you show your lift pass to the lift attendant and a ‘¡cuidado!’ when you slither off at the top. We are, after all, in stunning South America – and why did we come here, if not for a little challenge and adventure?
Click here for This is Chile’s guide to Chile’s main ski resorts.
By Clare Bevis