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
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
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
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
Cerro Catedral, located less than 20km from the city and within the confines of the Nahuel Huapi National Park, is the area’s most extensive ski
resort, comprising almost 40 lifts and 1,200 hectares of terrain, about half of
which offer off-piste skiing. Many visitors bunk up in town and bus out to the
slopes in the morning, especially those looking for a vibrant nightlife scene.
A more secluded stay is available 25km outside of town at the Llao Llao Luxury Hotel and Resort, perched on a foothill looking out on
the Nahuel Huapi Lake and surrounded by woodland.
Skiing to the edge of
In the far reaches
of South America, just about where the continent comes to a point near
Antarctica, is Ushuaia, the southernmost city in the world and the capital of
Argentina’s Tierra del Fuego province. Ushuaia also contains the southernmost
ski resort in the world, Cerro Castor, which butts up to the Beagle Channel. The near-Arctic location affords
the resort the longest ski season in South America, stretching from early June to
late September, and skiers can try their hand on 28 trails a mere 200m above
sea level, with the summit reaching an altitude of about 1,000m.
Los Cauquenes Resort and Spa is a luxury lodging option, located right on
the lapping shores of the Beagle Channel. The smaller 10-room Hotel Austral, sparsely decorated but hospitable
and comfortable, is located in the centre of the city. As a side activity,
visitors can hop the Tren del Fin del Mundo (End of the World Train) from Ushuaia to the coastal Tierra del Fuego National Park just
11km away, to explore the forested area via multiple hiking and climbing trails.
Slopes near the city
In operation since
the 1940s, Ski Portillo in Chile is one of South America’s oldest ski resorts, one of the
closest to Santiago and also has some of South America’s finest conditions. The
resort’s elevation of about 3km above sea level nests it high above the
timberline, low humidity keeps the powder fluffy without sticking, and staff
limit the number of skiers and boarders on the slopes’ 35 trails and 13 lifts
so they can carve and turn without the crowds. The resort is also considered to
run one of the hemisphere’s best ski schools.
Bus services regularly run between the resort
and Chile’s capital city, which is about 160km away. Those who want to stay
on-site rather than in Santiago can bunk up at the lofty Portillo Hotel. Snow sport enthusiasts who stay
here are serious about hitting the slopes – rooms do not even contain