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
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.
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
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
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
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
On the quieter side
Lagunillas is about 70km southeast of Santiago in
the Cajon del Maipo (the Maipo Canyon). Run by the Club Andino de Chile, a
mountain recreation and ski club, this is the only non-commercial resort close
to the capital. Lagunillas has three lifts and 13 runs, a good ski school, a single
refugio (mountain refuge) which can
accommodate some 30 skiers, and a convivial family atmosphere, quite different
from the larger commercial resorts. The only drawback is its snow: because the
resort is only 2,048m above sea level, there is reliable powder only in late
June, July and early August, depending on the season.
Santiago (and Latin America in general) is an expensive business. In most
resorts, a night’s accommodation for two is double what you might pay in a North
American or European resort, while lift tickets are generally a third more. If
you book a ski week in Portillo, for example, be prepared to pay some 4,000,000
pesos for two in a standard room in Hotel Portillo, with meals and lift tickets
included. The same amount might could give you two, perhaps three, weeks of all-inclusive
skiing at the smartest resorts in the Rockies. The low-key resort of Lagunillas
is the exception to this rule. Here a lift ticket is about half the cost
elsewhere and a night’s accommodation in the refugio – with shared bathroom – costs around 55,000 pesos.
If you drive
yourself to the snow, you will need to factor in the cost of car hire and snow
chains – it is compulsory to put chains on before you arrive at the snowline. For
a more affordable trip, shuttle buses run regularly from downtown.