Deciding to heli ski in Chile might be one of the best decisions you make on your trip down to the Southern Hemisphere. Chile has unparalleled helicopter access to some of the world’s sickest terrain, with 1,000 to nearly 2,500 meters of vertical drop per run. Skiers and riders average about 7,000 meters of vert per day on a typical two machine-hour tour, which would include 4-6 runs. Consider more for three machine-hour heli ski trips, where you can get up to ten runs in.
Heli skiing in Chile runs from about July to September, weather permitting, and there are several solid options, whether you leave out of Santiago’s heliport at Tobalaba, start up in the Aconcagua valley, or travel further out to start your trip.
Heli Skiing from Santiago
There are a couple of different options for heli skiing from Santiago. One of them is at Cajón de Maipo—the narrow canyon surrounding the watershed of the Maipo river—is very close to Santiago, and has spectacular scenery. This was a close-in area that first captured Upscape founder Brian Pearson’s attention for untapped potential close to Santiago. In Cajón de Maipó/Valdes there is heliskiing next to the San José Volcano, which is appropriate for all rider/ski levels.
Up in the Tres Valles area, where the Valle Nevado, La Parva and El Colorado resorts are located, there are some great back valleys where you can heli ski as well. Upscape’s picks for heli skiing in this area are the Olivares and Parraguirre valleys. Olivares has huge mountains with many run possibilities for all rider levels, and Paraguirre is close to the Tupungato Volcano, near the border with Argentina.
Heli skiing from Aconcagua
This area is seldom visited, and Upscape is one of its pioneers. Upscape opened it up after finding that on occasion, due to how close-in they are to Santiago, Tres Valles and Cajón de Maipo, they had a little bit of traffic. Exclusivity is more likely (though not guaranteed) in Aconcagua, where your helicopter is probably the only one there. As you drop down from almost 5,000 meters, you’re nearly on top of the world, though almost 7,000-meter tall Aconcagua looms behind in this valley.
There is heli skiing based at the Puma Lodge south of Santiago in the Los Cipreses National Reserve, and also in Chillán, at Roca Negra. Chillán is a short commercial flight, and then it’s about 50 km up the valley to the ski resort to access groomed runs, slack country, back country and heli skiing.
Comparing heli skiing in North America and Chile
Though you might be tempted to think that heli skiing is the same around the Americas, we’ve put together this comparison chart to highlight some important differences:
To boil it down, first of all: Chile’s got altitude. Heli skiers and riders can start their runs at an enviable nearly 5,000 meters above sea level, which is impossible in North America. Secondly, in North America, there is exclusivity of zones, where only certain companies can fly and land in certain places. There are very few places where that is the case in Chile. That means that skiers and snowboarders in Chile can pick their outfitter, and trust them to pick the place with the best conditions on a given day. Third, in North America, most heli skiing and boarding excursions take off with as many unrelated skiers as will fit in the helicopter. In Chile it’s almost always private groups. One issue that can come up in Chile is that because heli skiing is above the ski line, and there are not areas in constant heli ski rotation nor landing spots demarcated by flags, flat light can make landing unsafe and ground the trip.
Useful questions before you book heli skiing in Chile
- What’s the minimum number of passengers?
- What’s the cancellation policy in case of high winds, warm temperatures, etc?
- Does the resort give priority to overnight guests?
- Are walk-ups possible/likely?
- Is heli skiing charged by run or hour of machine time?