Skiing in South America – here’s what you need to know
Summertime in North America marks the beginning of winter season in southern parts of the world. The South American continent is arguably one of the best summer destinations for skiers and snowboarders looking for a never-ending winter.
Thanks to the gorgeous towering Andes mountains, Argentina and Chile offer a skiing paradise from June to October. The Andes mountains make skiing in South America feel like something out of a dream!
If you’re thinking of skiing Argentina, some of the most popular resorts you should consider are Cerro Catedral and Cerro Chapelco. Chile, on the other hand, boasts the premier resorts of Portillo, Valle Nevado, Parva, El Colorado and Nevados De Chillan.
Here are some important considerations to help you plan for your South American Skiing expedition.
Perks of skiing in South America
The South American region cannot offer resorts that compete directly with some of the more popular European and North American ski resorts. They can, however, offer a lot of unique experiences over and above their skiing territory.
Some of these unique experiences include tropical rainforests, magnificent beaches and islands and stunning granite towers. Visitors can also visit the mysterious Polynesian statues as well as the breathtaking Incan ruins.
South America is also home to Andes, the longest mountain chain in the world. The Andes stretch 4,500 miles along the entire western coast of South America. The Andes is home to some of the tallest mountains on Earth.
Due to the fact that the Andres are close to the ocean, the weather is very dynamic. The dynamic weather means that the resorts situated on these mountains are frequently blessed with deep and dry powder. This is due to wet and colder storms on the higher grounds.
The abundance of volcanoes on top of and lakes in between the Andres play host to other exciting winter activities like ice climbing, hiking, and heli-skiing. Heli-skiing is the perfect adventure for those in search of an adrenaline rush and some fine, untouched powder.
Heli-skiing takes you right to the top of a mountain, past the end point of lifts where the views are better with a limitless thrill and adventure. By embarking on a heli-skiing adventure, you get the opportunity to ski on the most remote locations on the planet.
The Chilean and Argentinian economies currently provide a “friendly” exchange rates against the US dollar. This incentivises South America as an attractive tourist destination due to its affordability and great ski facilities.
The Chilean and Argentinian people are very friendly and their culture is one of the most colourful in the world. However, don’t expect to get to bed before 6am as nightclubs and bars are bustling with lots of friendly and party-loving locals and tourists throughout the night and into the early hours of the morning.
Drawbacks of skiing in South America
Although the Andes mountains are considered to be a winter wonderland, South America’s location and the regions surrounding the mountain range give several disadvantages. Some of these regions include deserts and rainforests.
One of the major challenges tourists encounter when visiting South America is the travelling time between South American countries. This travelling time is considerably longer when compared to countries with well-developed transportation links.
Furthermore, due to the fact that the ski resorts are spread out over a vast geographical area, tourists with limited time can only visit a few ski resorts. The Andes are also prone to unexpected bad weather. This is due to their location on the equator and their proximity to the Pacific Ocean, which is largely unpredictable.
When storms hit the mountains, they often sit for a good few days, leaving guests trapped inside, unable to enjoy the slopes or other outdoor activities.
The natural beauty of the Andes hasn’t attracted much development around the ski areas yet. This means that some ski resorts have limited après ski spots or isolated hotels and bars. Guests may need to travel for 1-2 hours to get to the city’s bustling nightlife.
Some of the resorts’ ski lift systems are old and visitor-friendly. This results in the formation of long lines during peak season, especially at popular resort.
Skiing in Argentina
Argentina is a popular choice for many people who wish to spend their vacation skiing on some of South America’s most thrilling skiing spots. With so much to offer, it’s no wonder that tourists turn up every year.
The surroundings are picturesque and magical, just what you want to see when you go on a vacation. Skiing through granite spires as you overlook the beautiful lakes, Argentina is a skier’s most preferred choice.
The skiing resorts in Argentina will offer you one of the the best skiing experiences in South America. You could go on a guided off-piste adventure and explore the terrain of mesmerising Northern Patagonia.
There are over 15 skiing areas around the 2,300 miles of the Argentinian Andes. July is the month perfect for skiing conditions. However, it is best to avoid going to Argentina in the middle of July as that is the time of school holidays and many families book the resorts. You will find the slopes extremely crowded during this time of the month. As the month comes to an end, the holiday traffic dissipates.
Thanks to the favourable exchange rate, you can enjoy mouth-watering steaks served with Argentinean wines after a day of skiing and still have enough budget to stay in a classy hotel and enjoy the Latin culture immersion.
If you are going to Argentina this summer, we would recommend Cerro Catedral as the place to go. Here’s why!
Cerro Catedral is located in the vicinity of the busy township of San Carlos de Bariloche. Known as the jewel of the Andean Lake district, it is the gateway city to Patagonia.
The Cerro Catedral Ski resort is the largest and most developed ski resort in the Southern Hemisphere. The resort’s location is one of the main reasons that this active metropolis is such an attractive ski destination for tourists from around the world.
One of the major attractions for skiers is the esteemed 5-star Hotel Llao Llao. The National Geographic Magazine ranked this hotel as one of the top ten most beautiful places on the planet.
More affordable accommodations and numerous on-mountain hotels and cabanas are also available for budget conscious travellers.
The resort rubs shoulders with the Nahuel Huapi National Park and has over 2,965 acres of skiable terrain spread over three mountains. Averaging 6 meters of snow, there is a wide variety of powdered terrain available for skiers of all experience and expertise levels.
Overall, the resort has 50 marked pistes serviced by 38 ski lifts. Powder hounds will surely love the off-piste at Cerro Catedral as half of its skiable area is off-piste, including the four peaks; Cerro Challhuaco, Cerro Ñireco, Cerro Lopez, and Valle Van Titter.
Although 50% of the terrain is suitable for intermediates, the high altitude of the resort lets beginners learn how to ski while enjoying the scenic views at the base of the mountain (1,030m). One of the longest trails in the resort is the 2.8 km ABC Sur, perfect for confident beginners.
There are 60 km of the slopes for intermediates, 30 km of pistes and an additional 10 km for experts. Cerro Catedral has everything any pro skier can dream of. This includes everything from huge cliff drops to steep couloirs and waist-deep powder overlooking the Andes Mountain and the lakes around it. The resort also has access to an incredible amount of backcountry sweet spots that would take powder hounds months to explore.
Cerro Catedral ski resort has an on-slope mall housing several restaurants and more than 20 hotels within walking distance from the main lifts. Snow tubing, tobogganing, snowmobiling, quad bike tours are just some of the outdoor winter activities the resort offers.
For those looking for a serene and panoramic hike, the 4-hour trek to the famous and picturesque ‘Refugio Frey’ starts at the base of Catedral. Cerro Catedral ski resort is only a ten-minute drive away from the city centre.
The upscale Llao Llao Golf-Spa Hotel is also a mere 20 minutes away. This hotel overlooks 2 lakes and is completely surrounded by the Andes mountains.
This luxe hotel is 2 km from Puerto Pañuelo boat port and 28 km from the Catedral ski resort. Llao Llao Golf-Spa offers relaxing indoor heated pools, spas and saunas. They also offer game rooms, live shows and lessons like painting, yoga and spinning.
When the weather is not slope-friendly, guests can easily head to Bariloche and spend the day shopping, beer tasting, food shopping, nightclubbing or making friends at the bar.
Another place to consider – Cerro Chapelco
Cerro Chapelco is another striking destination to consider visiting when going on a ski vacation in Argentina. Situated near San Martín de los Andes, this resort offers skiers stunning views of Volcán Lanin and Lácar Lake as they ski down the mountains.
Recently, Chapelco has spent resources improving their lifts and adding a high-speed quad and gondola to their feet. This enables skiers the chance to receive the full experience of skiing in South America.
What differentiates the scenery of this resort from other resorts is the fact that the trees are enclosed with hanging moss. You will not find trees like these with grated powder anywhere else in Argentina. In terms of terrain, be it a beginner or an advanced skier, the ski area suited for every level of skier.
All of Cerro Chapelco’s beginner terrains lie below the tree line. Beginners can make their way to Camino, a gentle and easy trail that makes it way down the mountain all the way through the Lenga forest.
Having 25% blue runs, intermediate riders and skiers will undoubtedly be entertained on their skiing trip in Chapelco. The off-piste terrain and powder covered pistes gives the intermediate skiers an exhilarating run for their money.
Advanced riders and more confident intermediates are sure to have the time of their life while skiing in the midsection of the resort. The terrain here is considerably more challenging. The advanced terrain is located high up in the mountain where the ground is smoother and untouched.
However, as skiers approach the lower region of the resort, they might experience some bumpier runs that will add to the challenging terrain. Cerro Chapelco has steep terrain with most of the extreme zones are kept out of bounds.
Advanced skiers wanted to attempt the extreme zones are required to inform the ski patrol regarding their plans. They’re also advised to take avalanche safety equipment with them. It is recommended that skiers go with a person who knows the terrain backwards. Weather permitting, skiers can ski multiple laps in these zones.
The resort is housed on a comparatively small skiable area, so accommodation would need to be arranged elsewhere. There are no housing options offered at the foot of the mountain.
Those skiers hoping for a ski-in or ski-out means of approach will therefore be disappointed. The nearest accommodation from the Cerro Chapelco is 20 minutes away, which may make accessing the resort difficult for some.
However, it is well worth the difficultly when you take in the beautiful scenery while off-piste and freestyle skiing.
Skiing in Chile
As in Argentina, the skiing season in Chile lasts from mid-June until the end of October. Aside from the inexpensive ski resorts, breathtaking views and rich culture, Chile is most popular for its immense backcountry skiing terrain.
There are two main regions for skiing in Chile. The first is the central region located on the steep and rugged Andes. The second main region for skiing in Chile is the southern forested and volcanic region of the Lake District.
The Andes resorts are very popular amongst North American skiers. This is due to their close proximity to Santiago, the food and wine capital of Chile.
A visit to the Lake District is also a great option for those that love adventure. The Lake District offers visitors the chance to ski volcanoes, hike majestic rainforests and relax in natural thermal baths.
There are at least 20 ski resorts in Chile but the best Chilean ski resort is arguably the Valle Nevado de Las Tres Valles.
Valle Nevado de Las Tres Valles
Located at the heart of the Andes and a 1-2 hour drive from Santiago, Valle Nevado is the highest ski resort in Chile.
Combined with La Parva and El Colorado ski resorts, the three ski resorts form the massive ski domain known as Tres Valles (Three Valleys). The combined skiable domain of the Three Valleys is a whopping 7000 acres, making it the largest skiable area in entire South America.
The literal translation of Valle Nevado means “The Snowy Valley” and it surely lives up to its name. The ski resort has about 2,200 acres of the skiable domain. Powder snow fans will enjoy slopes going all the way down towards the breathtaking Andean Valleys. This adds adventure to the traditional off-piste areas with remarkably perfect snow.
Valle Nevado is the best choice for snowboarders, skiers, off-piste and heli-skiing fans. The resort also has an additional 20,000 acres for heli-skiing.
The high altitude of Valle Nevado combined with the sunny weather makes for skiing of superb quality. The sun shines brightly on most days, but the high altitude and orientation of Valle Nevado maintains excellent dry powder snow conditions.
Valle Nevado receives 7 meters of snow annually, more snow than any other resort in Chile. Located above the tree line, the skiable area is wide open. This provides enough terrain for skiers and snowboarders, regardless of their ability level.
Valle Nevado ski resort is a paradise especially for intermediate and expert skiers. Besides the fact that 70% of its pistes are marked for pro skiers, skiers can also enjoy the off-piste terrain. This terrain is filled with deep powder, natural half-pipes, gullies and back bowls.
During snowstorms, Valle Nevado gets its fair share of snow from its neighbours, La Parva and El Colorado. The vast backcountry allows more snow to be blown in onto the resort. This provides the resort with a thick powder in more significant quantities as compared to its two neighbouring resorts.
The extra dense powder makes Valle Nevado the ultimate choice for freestyle and freeriding. There is also a unique terrain park that links it with La Parva and El Colorado. The unlimited backcountry terrain surrounding the resort is unparalleled and a main attraction for advanced skiers.
Valle Nevado has the most advanced lift system in the region. This system gives skiers access to the highest slopes in Chile, located 3,600 meters above sea level.
For those with a more adventurous spirit, Valle Nevado offers Heli-Ski, one of the most sought-after skiing adventures. A modern and agile Bell 407 Helicopter takes skiers from the helipad to the virgin snows onto of the mountains.
For those who want to enjoy a rush that no other resort offers then this is the perfect trip for them. Heli-Ski provides the most breathtaking scenery with a one of a kind skiing adventure.
Valle Nevado is one of the most visited resorts in Chile. This is a result of its numerous cozy accommodations, modern amenities and its convenient location.
The resort also offers a happening nightlife. This is all, however, dependent on the number of Brazilians visiting Valle Nevado. Brazilians are avid party fans and a large number of them bring a positive party vibe to the otherwise slightly above average nightlife. We recommend checking out Valle Lounge, Bar Tres Puntas and Bar Valle Nevado.
The hotels at the base of the resort offer a lot of activities and amenities, not only for hard-core skiers but also for families traveling with kids. The hotels also offer outside heated pools, game rooms, a movie theatre and a snow garden for children. Guests should not miss Valle Nevado’s special weeks including the Fun Week, Foodie’s Week and the famous Chilean Wine Festival.
Another place to consider – La Parva
Located in the same valley as Valle Nevado, La Parva also boasts one of the largest ski areas in South America. Tourists flock to it not only for the skiing opportunities but also for the breath taking panoramic views.
With over 520 hectares of skiable area, La Parva is a resort offering off-piste to intermediate and expert skiers. The off-piste locations are dependent on the amount of snowfall the resort receives every year.
Most of La Parva’s off-piste’s are located in a treeless terrain. This offers skiers speedy runs on the steep dry powder runs.
The La Aguilas area is a location for advanced skiers seeking some of the best off-piste skiing in South America. Advanced skiers have to take a small hike to reach the off-pistes locations in resort namely the Sector Parva Chica. The La Chiminea run the biggest challenging run in the off-piste terrain of La Parva.
La Parva is equipped with one of the best lift systems in South America. Skiers have to take the new chairlift to reach the Valley of Fabres. Here they will find plenty of chutes and cornices for some thigh-burning skiing.
South America offers some of the most picturesque, family friendly, breathtaking and adventurous skiing opportunities in the world! Skiing in South America gives one the perfect excuse to escape the northern hemisphere summer.
Every winter season brings some of the best snow and weather conditions for skiing in the majestic beauty of the Andes mountain range. The ski resorts in South America are a paradise for powder hounds!
Chile and Argentina offer some of the best powder in the world. Although the powder sometimes gets slightly wet, it’s still perfect for those who love a challenging thigh-burning off-piste skiing.