South America Skiing – Chile & Argentina

For years, ski friends had encouraged us to go south in summer, South America, to extend our ski season. The long flight, the unknown of Chile and Argentina, and our love of summer sports – boating and biking, we hesitated. Now we get it! There’s nothing “cooler” than a ski trip to Chile from mid-June into September – pun intended.

South America’s Andes Mountains are the longest mountain range in the world (4,300 miles) with the 2nd-highest peaks on the planet (Himalayas #1). Skiers can find incredible mountain scenery, amazing snowy ski slopes, a vibrant Latin culture embracing food and wine, and more winter for North Americans and Europeans.

Chile and Argentina are divided by the grand Andes where you find several world-class ski resorts. Of the 12 countries in South America, only Chile and Argentina have ski resorts, Bolivia and Peru no longer have operational ski areas.

Visiting South America, be prepared culturally for an “emerging nation”, Santiago is huge and busy (7 million people), the outskirts are rural and poor. Ski resorts, wine country and major tourist hotels are safe with English-speaking staff, still knowing a little Spanish is “gracious” and welcome.

Our first ski trip to South America, we skied Portillo in central Chile, blessed with snow, sunshine, scenery and high-elevation. We love Ski Portillo – it’s remote, with an inimitable alpine vibe, it’s hard to get to, and harder to leave.

Chile Skiing:
Ski Portillo is the oldest South American ski resort, 2.5 hours from Santiago. Portillo feels like an exclusive resort, with 1,252 acres, from 9,000 to 11,000’, 13 unique lifts and 35 slopes, plus tremendous side-country easy-to-reach extreme skiing. All this high-alpine, super scenic terrain is shared by about 400 hotel guests. You’ll want to stay ideally at the centerpiece Hotel Portillo for a ski week. The best skiers in the world converge on Portillo, including national ski teams and famous freeskiers. Ski weeks at Portillo are traditional, like the good-ole-days Club Med ski weeks of the Alps. Everything is included: lodging, lifts, activities, and 4 lavish meals daily. Portillo is usually sunny (80% sunshine) with incredible views of Lake of the Inca and the surrounding towering Andes.  But when it’s dumping snow, Portillo is a white out, all above-tree-line with no definition, and you can get stuck here as the road with 29 switchbacks closes.

Ski Portillo offers ski lessons with some of the best ski instructors in the world, daily activities for kids including ski camps and evening fun, and plenty to do après ski for everyone. Portillo’s resort Hotel is like a cruise ship on snow only with fit fun active people. Ski Portillo also offers its guests some of the best add-on Heli-Skiing in the world. We have skied over 270 ski resorts, and nothing compares to Portillo!

Chile’s other ski slopes include Valle Nevado, La Parva, El Colorado, Nevados de Chillán, Antillanca – Los Lagos, Corralco – Araucanía, and Pillán – Villarrica.

Argentina’s best known ski resorts include Cathedral Alta Patagonia – 20 minutes from Bariloche, Las Leñas in the Mendoza region, Chapelco and Cerro Wayle near Neuquén, and La Hoya in Chubut.

Chile Ski Resorts:
Valle Nevado, Chile has big terrain variety, skier amenities and hotels, with easy access just 90 minutes from Santiago. You can even see the capital city from the summit on clear days. Valle Nevado is the most modern in South America, and among the busiest with day trippers, and IKON pass holders. Valle Nevado offers 7,000 acres of ski terrain from mellow groomers to glades, less challenging terrain than Portillo. Valle Nevado is connected to La Parva and El Colorado by lift – creating Chile’s Tres Valles ski area. Valle Nevado was recently acquired by Purgatory owners in Durango Colorado, so stay tuned for changes.

La Parva is one of the easiest resorts to get to from Chile’s capital city of Santiago, which also makes it busy. Still you have the Andes scenery of the neighboring high peaks, up to 15,000′ feet’. La Parva is an intermediate’s paradise, well-suited for a family ski trip, and its connected to Valle Nevado and El Colorado. Ski friends of ours recommend staying in Farellones near all three ski areas.

Nevados de Chillán offers 35 km of slopes and 14 ski lifts situated between 5000′ and 7,800′ m’.

Argentina Skiing:
Las Leñas, Argentina is reputed for consistent snowfall, convenient lodging, terrain variety, backcountry skiing, and its remote location.  Les Leñas has 15 lifts and 32 runs, but claims 39,000 acres of skiing – the majority is off-piste, reached by TS Marte summit chair which is often not operational for wind and weather. When open, Las Leñas drops over a mile of vertical from over 11,000 feet. Most of Las Leñas terrain is high-alpine, above tree line. Las Lenas is hard to get to, and snow is unpredictable. But you can combine it with a wine trip to Mendoza.

Cathedral Alta Patagonia near Bariloche Argentina is Argentina’s largest ski resort with 3,000 acres of skiing served by 38 lifts, plus incredible backcountry hike-to chutes and bowls. Bariloche skiing is 12 miles outside San Carlos de Bariloche, reached via Buenos Aires. Bariloche’s base alpine village offers lodging, dining, après, and legendary late-night Latina nightlife.

In South America, 4- 10% of the population speaks English, higher at resorts and top hotels, the percentage is much higher. Chileans are particularly friendly, but not overly. Roads around Chile and Argentina can be rustic, while wine country and cities are more-developed, however urban South America is poor, so stick to tourist areas, and be mindful.