South American Ski Resorts: High Andes: Valle Nevado, Portillo and Las Leñas – Chile and Argentina
The ski season is about to start in the Southern Hemisphere – In this post I’ll focus on the South American Ski Resorts in the High Andes. Located in Chile and Argentina, all the resorts are in the Andes Mountains, home of the highest peak in the Western Hemisphere – the Aconcagua.
At the altitude of Buenos Aires and Santiago, going to the Andes, you have what is called the High Andes – high altitude resorts – what the Brits would called ‘snow sure resorts’ (even though there is nothing like that really in the world – I’ve had some seasons down under with no snow at all, but usually you do get a very good season). A snowstorm can last one week and bring 3 meters of powder snow.
Snow here is very light and dry – amazing really, and the Andes mountains bring you very dramatic landscapes – think Dolomites, with rugged peaks, but no trees – this is above tree-line county.
To get to these ski resorts, you need to fly to either Buenos Aires or Santiago. For the Chilean resorts, it is a transfer up the mountain from Santiago airport or the city of Santiago. The nearest resorts conform what is considered the ‘Three Valleys of South America”. Just head past Santiago to the east to the mountains, and start climbing the mountain, through 59 hairpin turns. Once up, you find first Farellones, then El Colorado and on top Valle Nevado. If at Farellones you turn to the other road, you finish in La Parva. The resorts are all interconnected – when you buy a weekly pass in Valle Nevado you get one day to ski all the areas, or you have the option to pay a surplus to ski all over the place.
Valle Nevado is the jewel of the crown, nested on the top of the mountain. It looks like Les Arcs, just because the same architect of the French resort built it. It has three hotels and apartment hotels and has the only gondola in South America. I do like La Parva as well; it is where many of the Chilean have apartments. I do like the lifts that run through the streets of the village.
Valle Nevado offers heli-ski and great expanses of skiable terrain, with some little canyons to the back of the pistes. Ski life is easy there, pretty much ski in/out with lots of restaurants to cater all tastes, and lots of entertainment for all the family. I had the best sunsets in Valle Nevado – thanks to the smog of Santiago, which brings the different tones of pink in the sky which is really amazing!
A bit north to Santiago, then turning towards the Andes, you can access Portillo – the oldest ski resort in Chile, owned firstly by the American Bob Purcell, and after his decease, by his nephew Henry Purcell. Imagine being in a private ski resort – only 500 beds, and almost as many personnel in the resort. Everything evolves around the main hotel that seems like an old ship in the ocean, with a couple two outbuildings – the Hexagon and the Inca Lodge. Packages include 4 meals a day (you’ve read right!), lodging and lift tickets. Portillo has an outside pool and hot tub, with amazing views to the Lake Inca and the Three Brothers Peaks. I would definitely pay a bit extra for the views to the lake and the 3 Hermanos.
The ski resort itself is not that big, but you don’t have traffic at all, and if you are looking for adventure, you have lots of nice couloirs to the two sides of the mountains, with an even more interesting way of accessing them – the va-et-vient…how to explain what it is?
It is a surface lift, that has a bar to grab, with four our five small baby poma (surface) lifts that are pulled by a line with no towers, from a top synch, and take you skiing really fast up the mountain. When you reach the top, you do not get into a flatter section to leave the lift, but you have to leave it with your back facing the abyss and turn backwards to the side. The last one to leave the va-et-vient, has to throw the line out. Once you have done that, your legs are so shaky, that you have to gain composure to come down, as this is not easy terrain.
Here is a video on how to ride the va-et-vient
Portillo has also heli-skiing which is very well priced.
You can combine your ski trip in Portillo with one day of cat skiing at ski Arpa. I’ll write more on this on another future entry.
If you go to ski in the Argentine’s High Andes, for sure you’ll go to Las Leñas. You can reach Las Leñas taking a charter flight from Buenos Aires into Malargüe airport, 70 km away from the resort. At 2,230 meters above sea level, it is a resort above the treeline. The only trees you see in the base area where planted some years ago. In reality there is no vegetation, the only shrub that grows there gives the name to the place. Las Leñas offers lodging in a couple of hotels and apartments. Don’t imagine luxury, but mountain chic. The terrain is divided in two areas, one accessed by the chairlifts of Venus, Neptuno and the freaky Marte lift, that climbs more than 700 meters. From on top there, you can go down the couloirs of Marte, go down the other side to Eduardo couloir, or take the surface lift Iris and access one of the longest runs in South America of 7 km uninterrupted descent.
If you take the Vesta chairlift, you can access the other sector of the mountain, going to Vulcano. There the lifts reach half way the mountain, but you can access the nice off-piste descents you see from the top of Vulcano, taking the Marte chairlift on the other sector, and then the Iris surface lift down to Mercurio or Paraiso.
Las Leñas has a snowcat operation that takes you to great off-piste terrain. You can check it out here:
Going down the Andes, you have the lower Andes where you cross the mountains via lakes – here are the lake region resorts of Caviahue, Bariloche (Cerro Catedral) – Chapelco (near San Martin de los Andes) and Cerro Bayo (near Villa La Angostura).
On the Chilean side, here you get access to Nevados del Chillán and Corralco to the north, and a bit to the south Villarrica Ski Pucón, (where you ski in a volcano)
And way down, in Ushuaia, the southernmost city in the world, (or the beginning of everything), you can reach Cerro Castor.
I will write a focus on the other resorts in future posts.
If you want me to put for you together a trip to ski South America, please drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org
Keep on reading for more South American Ski Resorts news here. You can see our past interview to Coco Torres on how they control avalanches at Las Leñas.
Featured Image: The ski resort of Valle Nevado in South America, will open this June.- photo – Valle Nevado ski resort. South American Ski Resorts.