8 Tips for Skiing in Chile: Ski the South Like a Pro

Heading south this summer? Avoid acting like a jackass. Here’s how.

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Short-term memory is a skier’s greatest asset, and the initial snowy reports from South America have done wonders to placate any lingering bad memories from last season’s dismal snowpack. Our online editor is especially giddy since he’s heading south in July to La Parva, Chile, for the Eye of the Condor Competition. But the countless photos of Andean lanscapes blanketed in the white we missed so dearly in the Northern Hemisphere brought up another question. If you’re going to ski Chile, how do you avoid acting like a jackass?

To answer that, we tapped Donny Roth, the owner and lead guide of Chile Powder Adventures. Roth has spent every summer since 2004 traveling, skiing, and guiding clients around Chile including a stint as an athlete and guide for the Sweetgrass Productions crew during the filming of their South American ski epic, Solitare. He knows how to do it right.

This is the first of a two-part series. Look for tips 5-8 next week.

1. Welcome Tax

Chile and the United States have a reciprocal agreement in which they charge visitors a fee, presently set at $140. This can offend American visitors to Chile, but it’s a historical policy, and it goes both ways, so it’s unlikely to change. The fee is only charged at the Santiago airport. If you enter Chile by ground transportation, you won’t be charged. The payment is good for the life of your passport. If your passport is nearly expired, consider renewing it before heading south.


2. Weather: Move North to South

Focus on the northern areas in the early winter, and then move south as the season progresses. It can be very wet and socked in the south in July and August, and it can be very spring-like in the north in September.

Historically, El Niño and La Niña patterns are even more noticeable in the Southern Hemisphere. Fisherman in northern Chile and Peru first caught onto the phenomena when they noticed years with significantly lower catches. Typically, El Niño benefits the northern mountain while La Niña can bring spotty snowfall. But it’s no sure-fire guarantee.

Potential travelers should also note the mythical Santa Rosa storm, the name associated with the year’s biggest storm around the end of August. There’s no science or certainty behind it, but historically, it has proven to be reliable. It brings tons of snow and resort-disrupting winds. Its magnitude definitely affects the mood of the nation.

3. Busses, Kias, and Collectivos

Busses are a commonly used form of transportation in country. Getting a “Full Cama” or “Semi Cama” seat on an overnight bus can save you the cost of a hotel room and allow you to travel huge distances quickly. Be sure to stock up at the grocery store before the trip to avoid the gastrointestinal effects of bus food. Local buses can feel like the milk route but are worth the cultural experience.

Rental cars can get to more remote places like hot springs or trailheads but don’t go straight to chain rental places. Check with your hotel. Often, a local guy rents perfectly good cars at a fraction of the cost. It might be a KIA Rio, but nothing drives like a rental right? 

Taxis are taxis—the same as all over the world. The ride can be good or bad, it completely depends on the cabby. However, if you’re in town and traveling lightly, you may be able to jump in a “collectivo.” It looks just like a taxi but has a sign on the top and operates on a fixed route like a bus. There’s a fixed fee you’ll share with other passengers but you can get on and off anywhere on the route.


4. Paper or Plastic

In Chile today, credit cards are more commonly accepted and safer to use. Hotels, nice restaurants, car rental places, etc. will take credit cards, but never let your card out of sight. If a restaurant won’t run your card at the table, accompany them to the register. Cash is the safest method of payment, but only pull cash at ATMs associated with banks—they will be plentiful in cities, but absent in rural areas. Get used to dealing in big numbers as the dollar is worth about 500 Chilean Pesos. Always keep some smaller bills handy because it may be hard to break a 10,000 CLP note ($20) in rural places. Foreigners are exempted from the 19 percent Chilean VAT (sales tax). Save some cash and be sure bigger hotel and car rental bills don’t include tax.

Want an easy way to log a few laps in Chilean powder? Let Donny Roth take you there. He specializes in backcountry touring trips throughout Chile and currently has space available on his Classic Volcanos Tour. Climb and ski three classic Chilean volcanos in mid-September? Sign us up.

More information available at Chile Powder

Follow Donny on facebook here.