In South America, ski while others summer
Las Leñas ski resort in Argentina is internationally recognized as the country’s best ski destination. (Christian Aslund/LPI/Getty)
With the Andes mountain range cutting through South America, the neighbouring countries of Argentina and Chile offer some of the world’s best skiing terrain and conditions. And since snow falls south of the equator between late June and early September, many powder hounds flock to these austral resorts for the chance to ski while most of the world summers.
Although South America has always drawn skiers and snowboarders, the region is still recovering from having a near non-existent season in 2011, after Chile’s Puyehue volcano erupted at the start of the ski season in June, covering the area in a cloud of ash that prevented flights from entering or leaving the region. Thankfully, the 2012 season brought back the winter sports enthusiasts, and while hikers, climbers and bikers have taken over the slopes for summer, officials are looking toward the 2013 winter season.
But where you want to ski within the region also depends on what you want to do off the slopes.
Hot springs and cool snow
There is little more than fresh powder and hot springs in Nevados de Chillán (previously known as Termas de Chillán) a ski resort located about 500km from Santiago near the small Chilean town of Las Trancas – but that is exactly what visitors want. More far-flung and secluded than many of South America’s ski destinations, the resort encompasses 10,000 hectares of skiable terrain with 35km of groomed trails, including South America’s longest run, Las Tres Marias, which skiers can schuss down for 13km. Plus, cross-country skiers are rewarded with stunning views of the mountains on a 37km-long trail system located 1.6km above sea level.
The village contains only a few lodging options, including the grand dame of the options, the five-star Gran Hotel where guests have access to the property’s thermal spa and multiple thermal pools. The Hotel Nevados de Chillán also operates a spa and thermal swimming pool on the grounds. The town’s volcanic warm waters are considered by many to facilitate healing, the ideal antidote to hours of traversing the trails.
Aprè-ski wine tours
Las Leñas ski resort in Argentina’s Mendoza province is internationally recognized as the country’s best ski destination (and one of its most expensive). Many northern hemisphere-based professional skiers even select Las Leñas for their off-season training. With a base located more than 2km above sea level and runs that reach almost 3.5km in length, the powder is the stuff of skiers’ dreams, and for extreme skiers and boarders the off-trail terrain is top notch.
Those looking for ski-in, ski-out lodging can bunk up at the Aries Hotel, Acuario Hotel, Escorpio Hotel, Piscis Hotel and Virgo Hotel, all large-scale luxury accommodations located at the base. The theme is not coincidental, as the resort’s trails and lifts have also been given astrological or mythological names.
For an après-ski activity, travellers can pair the trip with a jaunt through Mendoza’s wine region at the foot of the Andes, known for its malbec production. Two of the region’s most developed municipalities are Maipú and Lujan, located less than 20km away from the city of Mendoza, which is just a few kilometres from Las Leñas. Valle de Uco, a slightly more removed up-and-coming area 75km away from Mendoza, is home to a few new resort and property developments alongside wineries, such as The Vines Resort and Spa and Las Moradas de los Andes. Some of the region’s most notable wineries include Bodega Catena Zapata, credited with making malbec popular worldwide, and the historic and respected Bodegas Nieto Senetiner, which has been in operation for more than 100 years.
A Swiss ski town
The postcard-perfect San Carlos de Bariloche, often referred to as simply Bariloche, is located in Argentina’s Patagonia Lake District, attracting trekkers in the summer and skiers in the winter. The small city, situated on the shores of the cerulean Nahuel Huapi Lake, was settled by Europeans, and as such, much of the downtown resembles a Swiss ski town, including the strip of artisanal chocolate shops lining Mitre street near the Civic Centre, the city’s central square.