While the Northern Hemisphere bakes in the hottest summer on record, savvy skiers are headed south to hit the slopes in Chile’s icy Andean highlands. These glacial mountains and snowcapped volcanoes are topped with more than 20 ski centers, ranging from posh resorts to community-operated spots and everything in between.
Many resorts are an easy drive (or even shuttle trip) from Santiago, the capital, making your southern ski adventure as easy as it is epic. The season runs from mid-June through October, with the best conditions from mid-July until early September. So what are you waiting for?
1. Altitude Awareness
Chilean ski resorts may be at an even higher altitude than you’re used to, some topping out at over 3,500 meters (11,480 feet). Be prepared for great views and a short breath; consider taking it easy the first couple of days.
2. Lift Anxiety
If you’re used to top-of-the-line infrastructures at posh European and North American lodges, you may find some of Chile’s chairlifts slow, surface tows long and “slingshots” (five-person drag-lifts specially designed for Portillo’s steep and avalanche-prone slopes) nerve-wrecking. Relax and remember that while you may be “roughing it,” you aren’t paying Swiss prices either.
3. Snow Bored
Snowboarders aren’t always catered to, so plan ahead to find a resort with slopes geared to you.
4. Just for the Heliski of It
If you’ve got a taste for adventure and the pesos to pay for it, several operators offer heliskiing in the Maipo Valley, and around Portillo, Valle Nevado and La Parva resorts. Take a helicopter to altitudes topping 5, 000 meters (16,400 feet) for seriously challenging downhill runs.
Where to Go:
These are just a few of Chile’s top ski spots; check online for more options. Remember that Argentina’s excellent slopes are just a short plane ride away.
The best ski resort in Southern Chile is arguably Anticillanca, 98 km (61 miles) from the city of Osorno in Los Lagos and more than 1,000 km (620 miles) from Santiago. This smallish ski center is best known for its excellent out-of-track runs, but also offers solid beginner slopes at the ski school and much steeper, longer runs (for snowboards, too) on the skirts of Casablanca Volcano.
2. El Colorado
This massive, full-service resort offers some 70 runs, ski schools for all ages, great nightlife, a range of accommodations and all for a good value. It’s popular with Santiago skiers who happily make the 50-km (31-mile) trip from the capital, to enjoy slopes rated from beginner to expert. Budget travelers who want to enjoy Chile’s great skiing without shelling out for all the luxurious extras (several inexpensive Ferallones hotels keep the final tab even lower, if you can resist the festive club scene) have found their destination.
This plush, petite (400 ha) ski resort appeals primarily to wealthy skiers from Santiago and international travelers in search of luxury, next to primarily easy and intermediate runs. Just 50 km (31 miles) from the capital, it offers a pretty, festive little ski village and family-friendly diversions.
Perched atop a group of three volcanoes, this resort, known for its healing hot springs and beautiful spa, as well as its 33 ski runs with a vertical drop of 870 meters (2,854 feet); the fabulous, five-star spa resort makes for one of the plushest ski vacations in South America. Old lava flows make for a fantastic topography that will challenge expert skiers as well as beginners. The resort is located 407 km (252 miles), about 5 hours by car from Santiago; public transport is available.
World famous for its epic downhill runs (where world records have been set) and awesome powder, this is not just Chile’s best ski resort, but one of the finest on the planet. There are slopes for beginners, but most of the 23 trails at this former site of the Alpine Skiing World Championships cater to expert skiers. Portillo is located 160 km (99 miles) from Santiago near the city of Los Andes. While other options are available, stay at the iconic yellow Portillo resort hotel, with great packages and an international party scene.
Headed south? Perhaps to one of the world’s southernmost cities? In winter, no less? With fantastic views over the Straits of Magellan and Tierra del Fuego, not to mention easy access to the Antarctic, these two resorts have 24 runs between them, and little international traffic.
Chile’s only non-commercial ski center, operated by the Club Andino de Chile since 1933, is located just 52 km (32 miles) southwest of Santiago. The small ski spot lies at 2,200 meters (7,200 feet) and has 13 different slopes ranked from easy to expert.
8. Ski Pucon
Popular with snowboarders, this sprawling, family-run resort lies on the slopes of active Villarica Volcano close to Temuco, 670 km (415 miles) from Santiago. The smoking crater (a 2-hour hike from the highest ski lift), with magma still bubbling at the bottom, is responsible for old lava flows that have left behind natural half pipes, cornices, wind lips and other formations perfect for free-styling on the center’s 22 runs and accessible back-country. Nearby hot springs and the festive town of Pucon, with a range of accommodations sweeten the deal.
South America’s largest, most modern and arguably best resort offers all the creature comforts including a new gondola added for the 2012 ski season. Just 67 km (42 miles), it’s a popular spot for Santiago elite and wealthy families from all over South America. Powder is deep and abundant, slopes are generally intermediate and the vibe is elegant. If it’s not enough for you, they offer multiple-resort package tickets with nearby La Parva and El Colorado. Enjoy!