If you were to fold the world map in half, on the handy seam that is the equator, you would find Chile occupying the space that stretches from California up through Western Canada. The similarities don’t stop there.
Our rocky Pacific coasts could be mistaken for one another at times, our Atacama Desert is represented (to a lesser extent) through Death Valley. And then there are our mountains. Where the west coast of the US has the Sierra Nevadas, and the Rocky Mountains, in Chile, we have access to the Andes. And as every winter sports enthusiast knows, whether from ski magazines and videos, friends’ reports or personal experience, where mountains, cool weather and precipitation come together, you’ve got ski and snowboard opportunities.
Chile pulls together some of the best terrain and conditions known to skiers and snowboarders, and we pull it off in what is “off season” for people used to skiing in the Northern hemisphere. Just when you’re storing your gear for the season in May, we’re looking forward to our first big snow dump down in South America. Ski season is on in Chile from about June to October, with some yearly variations, and some differences depending on where and how you choose to ski. Just like in Europe and North America, higher peaks in Chile tend to finish out the ski season later, whereas lower hills can get soft if spring breaks early, but consider that July, August and September are a nearly sure thing for skiing in Chile.
Close to Santiago
Most of the skiable and rideable areas in Chile are up against the eastern side of this narrow country, where the tallest peaks of the Andes delineate our border with Argentina. Ski resorts start at about the midway point in the country, near Santiago, which makes flying into the capital city a good jumping off point for skiing. Close by, there is the Tres Valles area, made up of Valle Nevado, Colorado and La Parva, which together have about 2,500 acres of groomed trails, plus opportunities for slack country, backcountry and other skiing here.
Moving further north from Tres Valles, and even further east towards Aconcagua, the largest peak in the Americas, which marks part of the border between Chile and Argentina, is Portillo, with good powder, and near non-existent lift lines. Most skiers and riders here spend a week, though day skiing is possible.
Also fairly close to Portillo is Ski Arpa, the brainchild of Austrian Toni Arpa, which draws expert cat-ski lovers. Private access to this nearly untouched mountain is via sno-cat. Four to six runs of more than 1,000 meters of vertical drop are a standard day on a mountain that is anything but standard.
Not far from Santiago towards the Andes and the city of Rancagua is the Noi Puma Lodge, which is an all-inclusive resort of about 3,000 square kilometers sandwiched between a national reserve and the Argentine border. Puma Lodge has mostly backcountry ski, snowboard and snowshoeing, with possible heliski opportunities.
Moving further south the Andes mellow a bit, but Chile’s enthusiasm for skiing goes on. All the way down to and near Punta Arenas, the southernmost city on the Chilean continent (only Puerto Williams, south of Tierra del Fuego—with access to the spiky Dientes de Navarino national park—is further south), the country is dotted with ski resorts.
Following the Pan American highway south from Santiago, it’s about 400 kilometers to Chillán driving (or take a short flight). From there, it’s about a 50-kilometer drive up the treed Valle de Las Trancas to the Nevados de Chillán for day skiing or multi-day packages. This area is known both for its winter sports, and plentiful tub and natural hot springs.
Further south, the airport of choice is Temuco, from which you can access skiing at Corralco, or further south at Villarrica. Corralco is closer to Temuco, and is often quite empty, especially midweek. There is resort skiing here, as well as ascents of Volcán Lonquimay, a technical hike up and ski or snowboard down.
Deeper into Chile’s Lakes District and southeast of Temuco, there’s a popular resort on Volcán Villarrica. The perfect cone of one of Chile’s iconic strato-volcano makes for many a postcard and picture, and draws avid skiers and snowboarders as well, with lift-access to about a third of the way up the mountain, and hike-and-ski also a possibility for those who want to peer into the magma-filled crater before skiing down. There is no onsite lodging here, but people usually stay nearby in the cozy town of Pucón. There’s good hot spring access in the area, from the onsen-like Termas Geométricas, to the family-friendly Huife resort, which also takes day visitors.
Southeast of Pucón, and deeper into Chile’s Lakes Region there’s access from the Huilo-Huilo reserve (with its Magic Mountain Hotel) up the twin-peaked volcanoes of Mocho and Choshuenco in the national reserve of the same name. Hiking up and skiing down these peaks are a good option for mixed-skill level groups, where a warm-up or recovery day for some can be a good skill-builder for others.
And while there are ski resorts even further south, in general, the most southerly ski and snowboard hotspot is Antillanca, a resort in the Puyehue National Park near the city of Osorno (950 km drive, or a short flight). There are about 400 hectares of backcountry terrain and 14 trails. This is also where you can access to the Casablanca Volcano, including dropping in to the 2.4 km-wide rideable crater.
And while we who live here have a tendency to think of Chile from north to south, let’s face it, if you’re coming to Chile to ski, an additional hour or two of driving or flight time has little influence on where you’ll go. You want heli skiing, or you want cat skiing, volcanoes, resorts with five-star service, a place where kids can learn. Half pipes, terrain parks, something with fun options for non-skiers in your party (you are friends with non-skiers, aren’t you?), or a place where you can all come together, with a little bit of something for everyone.
Options for combining different interests and skill levels are optimal in Chile. Just in central Chile (near Santiago), there are several ways to pull together activities for diverse groups of skiers. It’s easy to combine a few days of resort and backcountry skiing to get back in the groove, and plan to upgrade at the end to cat skiing or heli skiing or boarding. Further south, you might be more likely to pull together resort stays with hiking up and skiing or boarding down some volcanoes.
Whatever you decide, whether it’s combining skiing with spa services, or access to large cities or small towns, uniting different interests, skill sets and stamina for multigenerational or different ski abilities, backcountry, resort, heli skiing or cat skiing, there’s a way to build it so you get the ski trip of a lifetime to Chile. And no matter where you choose to ski in this country, you’ll be the envy of everyone back home with your goggle tan in mid-summer, and mid-season fitness early in the northern ski season when everyone else is still getting their ski-legs.