SANTIAGO May 16 The Chilean and Argentine Andes
are a long way to go for a ski vacation for most, but 2014 might
be the year to make the trip way south as an expected "El Nino"
weather pattern raises hopes of abundant powder.
Although not on the scale of the Alps or Rockies, an
increasingly impressive string of Andean resorts host modern
facilities, relatively uncrowded slopes, and high-quality ski
The spectacular ridges and peaks of the Andes, the Western
Hemisphere's highest mountain range, offer fabulous views, with
the days often clear and sunny at some 2,000-3,000 meters (6,000
to 10,000 feet) above sea level. Great local food and wine seal
The ski season runs from June to October and high season is
July and August, when the local schools are on holiday and the
snow is usually at its best. If weather cooperates, September
can be an excellent option for avoiding peak crowds and prices.
Here are tips for getting the most out of a ski or snowboard
trip in the Andes from Reuters, whose 2,600 journalists in all
parts of the world offer visitors the best local insights.
The most accessible of the Andes resorts are a linked trio
near the Chilean capital Santiago - El Colorado, La Parva, and
Valle Nevado. (www.elcolorado.cl) (www.laparva.cl)
About an hour and a half drive from Santiago, all three are
in day trip territory and can easily be tacked onto a city
visit. Ski Total runs shuttles and rents equipment from its
office in Santiago. (www.skitotal.cl)
Decent accommodation is also available near the slopes if
you want to avoid the stomach-churning hairpin bends along the
road to Santiago. Cosy Posada de Farellones is in the village of
Farellones at the foot of El Colorado. (www.skifarellones.com)
Theoretically you could ski all three resorts in the same
day, although multi-resort passes are pricey and most people
find one enough for a day.
Valle Nevado is the pick of the bunch, with a wide variety
of trails, high quality lifts, and often plentiful snow even
when its neighbors are suffering. El Colorado is the busiest,
closest to the city and with a large number of runs for
Further up in the mountains near the Argentine border and
some 160 kilometers from Santiago lies Portillo, one of the
oldest and perhaps best-known of the Andes resorts, with some
Set in a picturesque bowl in the mountains alongside the
deep green lake Laguna del Inca, Portillo has a good mix of 35
beginner, intermediate and seriously sheer expert runs, as well
as plenty of off-piste, or back country, terrain. You may
literally bump into ski stars here. It is used for training out
of season by the U.S. and other international ski teams.
Portillo - at two hours from Santiago - can be done in one
day, but many visitors elect to stay the week at Portillo's
enormous family-friendly mustard yellow hotel. It's the only
place in the area to sleep and with its renowned customer
service, use of English and prices nearly as steep as its runs,
it is aimed at foreigners rather than locals.
On the other side of the Andes, Argentina has a number of
well-established resorts. Anyone who has experienced Buenos
Aires' renowned night life will not be surprised to find that
the apres-ski is much more lively this side of the border.
Despite their distance from the capital, these spots are
popular with Argentines and can get busy. Years of financial
crisis have taken their toll on infrastructure, with lifts that
have often seen better days.
But top-notch destination Las Lenas is famed among snow
aficionados around the world for its dramatically steep terrain
and breathtaking mountain backdrops.
Las Lenas, a five-hour drive from Mendoza, is served by a
cluster of ski-in ski-out resort hotels. Get up early, while
everyone else is recovering from the all-night parties, and you
can have the slopes almost to yourself - as along as the lift
operators are awake. (www.laslenas.com)
In the center of Argentina's wine region and replete with
excellent vineyard-based hotels and restaurants, Mendoza itself
is well worth some of your time. Award-winning Francis Mallman
1884 is considered one of Latin America's best places to dine.
Farther south, Cerro Catedral is more accessible and less
expensive than Las Lenas, with tree skiing (unusual in the
Andes), and astonishing vistas over the national parks of the
Argentine lake district.
The ski-centered village of Villa Catedral is right at the
foot of the mountain, but some like to stay in the popular
tourist town Bariloche, on the shores of sparkling lake Nahuel
Huapi, 20 kilometers away.
UNDER THE VOLCANO
Fancy skiing down an active volcano? Nevados de Chillan is a
resort on the slopes of smoking Volcan Chillan, about 500
kilometers south of Santiago. All that seismic activity has
bubbled up into a chain of hot springs that you can bathe in
after a hard day on the slopes. (www.nevadosdechillan.com)
Ski Arpa is aimed at adventurous boarders and skiers who
crave steep free riding on virgin powder. Far from the crowds
and around 115 kilometers from Santiago, it uses snowcats rather
than lifts. Guides and reservations in advance are obligatory.
The world's most southerly ski resort is Cerro Castor in
Argentina, so far south that despite being only a few hundred
meters above sea level there's reliably enough snow to ski
throughout the winter. It's found just outside the otherworldly
Patagonian town of Ushuaia, a visitor attraction in its own
right. Dress warmly - next stop, Antarctica.
(Editing by Mary Milliken and Steve Orlofsky)