Skiing in the Andes is an exhilarating combination of Latin culture and nightlife and the exciting terrain served up on the world's longest exposed mountain range. Aprés starts late, very late, with dinner often served around 10 or 11 p.m. and dancing at midnight. If you like to combine your love of party with your love of snow, don't expect to make first lifts.
Lets begin in Chile.
A few hours from Santiago sits the three valleys of Valle Nevado, El Colorado, and La Parva. Combined they have over 40 lifts. La Parva serves up 30 runs across mainly intermediate conditions with about a third of the resort for advanced and 10 percent for expert.
El Colorado is one of Chile's founding ski resorts and at its peak sits 3333 metres above sea level with 1,000 hectares of skiable terrain and a 900-metre vertical drop. The resort averages five metres of snowfall a season and with it's high altitude the snow is dry and light. It's generally more suited to intermediates.
Valle Nevado is one of Chile's more contemporary resorts. The resort's 9,000 hectares has played host to the Snowboard World Cup. Add 102 trails, a terrain park, and a half pipe and it's one of Chile's most versatile resorts. Heli-skiing is also offered from Valle Nevado throughout the winter season.
Portillo sits on the Chile-Argentina border a couple of hours from Santiago. This resort is a self-contained ski area with the famous yellow Portillo Hotel that offers three standards of accommodation from shared dorms to the Octagon shared rooms to private rooms in the hotel building itself. Guests stay from Saturday to Saturday and with just 400 beds, there is never a queue for the ski lifts.
Further south of Santiago sits Termas de Chillan, a resort built on two active volcanoes with some exceptional hot springs to soothe the tired ski and snowboard muscles at the end of the day. Snow is bountiful in Termas de Chillan with some fun terrain complete with steam floating up from the thermal springs beneath the volcano.
Pucon, also on a volcano, is a smaller family resort and good for snowboarders due to the mountain's natural lava half pipes. The Gran Hotel Pucon services the resort's 20 ski runs with accommodation.
Getting to and from and between Chile's ski resorts is not always easy and the South American culture that makes it such a fun place to visit can also test a traveler's patience, so pack lots of it. The trek will be worth it though as most of Chile's variety of ski and snowboard fields come with a good dose of heartfelt hospitality.
The roads can be closed for days when storms hit, especially at Portillo. It may cause some obstacles in your journey, but when the sky clears, there's nothing like skiing or boarding Chile powder under a blue canopy sky.
On to Argentina.
Most of Argentina's resorts have ski in, ski out accommodation so there's not far to walk to the lift in the morning.
Las Lenas is known for its lift accessed back country with steep pitches, deep powder snow and some seriously white knuckle runs. The vertical drop at Las Lenas is 1200 metres, or 1.2 kilometres and the resort has 230 hectares of inbound skiable terrain.The resort does offer some excellent intermediate skiing, but it really comes into its own for those at the advanced end.
The resort town of Bariloche further south is an alpine tourist Mecca on the shores of a lake with the Andres thrusting skyward. It's a modern town akin to Aspen, but with a European influence and feel. There's an airport making Bariloche easily accessible from Buenos Aires. Some of the country's finest lodge and hotel resorts are found in Bariloche and from there, it's possible to ski a number of resorts including Cerro Catedral.
Cerro Catedral is named after the peaks that form a cathedral formation with breathtaking views of the lake and surrounding Andes from the piste. Cerro Catedral has 600 hectares of skiable terrain inside the Nahuel Huapi national park. It's possible to stay in Catedral at the base of the mountain in the local village with a variety of hotels and lodges or at Bariloche, 19 kilometres away.
The alpine region of Villa La Angostura is home to Cerro Bayo ski and snowboard area, which offers 200 hectares of terrain complete with tree runs. You won't find the lift queues of Catedral at Bayo.
Further south again is Chapelco ski area sits in the country's southwest region near San Martin de Los Andes. With 140 hectares of terrain, it's a boutique style resort, smaller and more intimate with a good blend of gentle slopes ideal for families and some backcountry adrenaline runs for those willing to hike.
Cerro Castor is the southernmost ski field in the world. It's elevation is low from 195 metres to 1,057 metres and it's close to the sea so the snow, while plentiful, is not as dry as up north.
Las Lenas to Bariloche takes 16 hours in two different buses, so allow for travel times. There are however enough resorts to cater for all sorts of skier or boarder and if there is some travel time it will be well rewarded with Argentina's unique approach to skiing and snowboarding where style and a love of life combine.