Sunny winter days, wide open horizons and acres of groomed ski slopes, all within hours of the city. Although this may sound like a North American powder paradise, believe it or not you are actually in Chile.
Andean snow, at its best, is renowned for its dry powder, and within a short distance of the country’s capital Santiago, there are several top-notch ski resorts that make for a perfect day trip – or a few days’ snowy getaway.
Set high in the skinny mountain chain of the Andes, these resorts offer fine skiing between June and August or September. They can get packed on weekends, but visit during the week and you may find the perfectly groomed slopes all to yourself.
Just out of town
The mountainside of Farellones is only 30km east of Santiago, and the ski village can be reached in 45 minutes when traffic allows. It is at 2,430m above sea level and only has handful of lifts, but it is well connected by shuttle bus and ski lifts with the neighbouring resort of El Colorado, where the skiing goes as high as 3,333m. Between the two, you will have access to more than 70 pistes.
Farellones was Chile’s first ski resort – founded in the 1930s by European immigrants – and the ambience is certainly of the Swiss ski chalet variety. One of the oldest and loveliest places to stay is the genteel Hotel Posada de Farellones – all wood and stone and roaring log fires. In a good snow year, you might just be able to ski all the way to the door.
High altitude ski network
But Farellones is only the start. Another 15km along the same road takes you to La Parva, perhaps the smartest of the ski bases close to Chile’s capital and where the country’s elite have their mountain homes. Set at 2,670m above sea level, the resort has 1,200 hectares of terrain in a wide-open, sunny bowl, with plenty of good skiing for beginners and families.
Just 12km east of La Parva is Valle Nevado, the largest area of skiable terrain in the southern hemisphere with some 3,000 hectares and a variety of runs to keep skiers occupied. Valle Nevado is renowned for dry, powdery snow, and at an altitude of 3,669m, the season can run all the way into September, by which time the pistes are getting mushy – or even muddy – at La Parva and El Colorado.
Perhaps the most amazing thing about Farellones, El Colorado, La Parva and Valle Nevado is that they are all connected by lifts and ski runs. Though some of the connecting slopes are best left to advanced skiers, transport is also available between the resorts. Together they form a vast high altitude ski network to rival those in the European Alps – but arguably with better snow conditions.
Towards the border
Slightly further from Santiago – about 160km to the northeast, deep into the heart of the Andes and close to the Argentinean border – is perhaps Latin America’s most emblematic ski resort. Portillo is set at 2,880m above sea level and receives some 6m of dry powder every winter. This is the playground of Latin America’s smart set, but you will not only hear Spanish and Portuguese spoken here. Portillo is the summer training ground for many northern hemisphere ski teams (the US, Canadian and many European teams have all trained here) and you can watch them in action on the most technical slopes. There are a few accommodation options: the sunny yellow Hotel Portillo , set breathtakingly on the edge of ice-blue Laguna del Inca; Octagon Lodge, which has comfortable bunk-style accommodation and a handful of family cabins; and Inca Lodge, a very basic youth hostel-style hotel. No matter where you stay, you have access to the hotel’s salubrious public areas, including the outdoor heated swimming pool with its incredible mountain views.