As the spring equinox is upon northern hemisphere-dwellers, crocuses start to bud and warm summer days lurk nearby, there can also be a sense of loss of a killer ski season gone too soon, and a need to get stay on the slopes longer, to push harder, wishing you could extend the ski season to year-round. Luckily, Chile’s got you covered. From the centrally-located ski fields just an hours’ drive from Santiago to resorts slightly farther away, and even a secret, private back valley where you can ski all the untouched powder you can get to, here are some of Upscape’s favorite ski spots.
This resort, about an hour from downtown Santiago, is Chile’s most easily accessed resort. After all, the Andes are basically Santiago’s backyard. Valle Nevado is modern and well-loved by locals and visitors alike. With 39 runs and an annual snowfall of seven meters, there’s something for everyone, with lots of beginner and intermediate trails, which is part of the area’s appeal, because mixed skill level groups will find something for everyone.
But Valle Nevado has lots to offer for expert and pro skiers, including some of our favorites, which include the quick trip up the Andes Express chairlift to La Momia, one of the most challenging expert runs. Off-piste there’s Valle del Inca with giant, treeless terrain, and Mirador attracts expert skiers as well.
Overall, Valle Nevado has about 900 hectares of terrain, with a vertical drop of 810 meters, and while the skiable property tops at 3,670 meters above sea level, it is surrounded by peaks that are 6,000 meters high. Also consider Valle Nevado for its many notable restaurants, and vibrant après-ski nightlife.
The resort at Portillo is also easily accessible from Santiago, about a two-hour drive towards the Argentine border, past the small city of Los Andes. It’s the oldest ski area in South America, dating back to 1961, and since then has hosted Olympic and other competitors, who flock here for the perfect powder in the northern hemisphere off season. Most people who come here choose a week-long stay, which gives them plenty of time to check out many of the 35 trails, but more importantly for many visitors, the extensive, stunning, experts-only off piste areas.
Our favorites of these is Roca Jack, with a steep 2 km ride through a pristine couloir flanked by granite walls. Or take the Cara Cara lift and check out Primavera or Kilómetro Lanzado. There’s deep powder and good conditions at Portillo, and about 80% sunny days. For earlier in the day, Juncalillo is a winner, and switch it out for El Plato in the afternoon for the best conditions. All in all, there’s more about 500 hectares of terrain among the jagged Andean peaks, and a new intermediate trail opened in 2018. A hot tub that sits against the backdrop of the azure Laguna del Inca is popular at all times of day. Needing a little inside time? Enjoy the view over the lagoon through the giant windows of the restaurant.
Nevados de Chillán
Known as being one of Chile’s most full-service ski resorts (with local thermal waters and spa services for post-ski relaxing), Nevados de Chillán enjoys more than ten meters of snowfall annually. Historical lava flows from the strata-volcano that gives this resort its names have carved out unique formations, including gullies, bowls and natural half-pipes. These features make it popular with skiers and snowboarders. Unlike further north, there’s some tree-skiing here, a good challenge for days with flat light, and the 2500-meter long Don Otto chairlift gives you a good view over much of it. Or continue up on the 4-person La Cornisa chair for views over the Antuco Volcano and the Shangri-La Valley.
Nevado de Chillán’s Tres Marías run, at thirteen kilometers, is the longest run in all of South America. Runs at Nevados de Chillán are more heavily slated towards beginner and intermediate, but there’s still enough advanced and expert bowl and backcountry terrain to keep you entertained. Off piste touring and split boarding are tops at Shangri-La and Pirrigallo.
Corralco is the one ski center we recommend that’s a bit more off the beaten track, about ten hours south of Santiago. It’s surrounded by the Malalcahuello-Nalcas National reserve, which shelters a large swath of native Patagonian forests. At just 90 minutes from the Temuco airport, and blissfully free of crowds mid-week, it’s a unique experience in southern Chile to be able to ski here. Snow is consistent with a southern/southeastern exposure (the southern exposure is the coolest in South America).
The resort has 200 hectares of skiable terrain, with 920 meters of vertical drop and more than 9 meters of snow a year. While it is geared towards intermediate skiers, beginners will find trails to ski, and those with back-country experience will flock to the guided traverses through the araucaria (monkey puzzle tree) forests. Another great option is to take the Cumbre lift up high and then hoof up about 500 meters more up the Lonquimay Volcano for a very steep descent. If you have skiers among you, there are a few other onsite activities, like snowshoeing and snowmobiling and there are a few hot-springs nearby as well.
Ski Arpa is not technically a resort, and in fact, has few amenities, other than a single building where you can have some hot chocolate and snacks between runs. There are places to stay nearby though, plus it’s not that far from Santiago. But most importantly, no roundup of ski resorts in Chile would be complete without this one. It’s a private back valley not far from Portillo, the brainchild or Austrian Toni Sponar, who snapped up 800 of two adjoining valleys of El Harpa and La Honda in the 1960s, to create his private ski area. The rugged terrain is accessed by a couple of snowcats, capping the daily max to just over 20 skiers.
In the years since it’s been open, Toni has developed some favorite runs, and top skiers at Upscape seem to all agree. Our picks are a run that follows the southern face of Cerro Blanco, which is about a kilometer long, stacking it together with one called El Sacacorcho, (corkscrew) for another 2.5 km. But wherever you go on Ski Arpa, you won’t go wrong, in under bright blue skies in the shadow of the Aconcagua, the tallest mountain in South America.