Get full access to Outside Learn, our online education hub featuring in-depth fitness, nutrition, and adventure courses and more than 2,000 instructional videos when you sign up for Outside+ Sign up for Outside+ today.
In Chile’s high desert, 70 miles outside of Santiago, Ski Arpa is home to the only cat-skiing operation in South America. A beacon for endless winters, this steep terrain attracts day-tripping skiers from across the globe.
Two PistenBullys have been running since 2002, when owner Anton “Toni” Sponar started up the cat operation on more than 4,000 acres in the Arpa and La Honda Valleys.
Here, cat drivers do more than drive skiers to fresh tracks. They take care of the cats, forecast avy conditions, clean the bathrooms—all in the name of chasing snow.
Forget cushy lodges. Here, the hut serves the essentials, like Nescafe and cheap Chilean beer to drink while checking beacons and celebrating countless vert.
Cats drop skiers off on wind-scoured ridges, somewhere between the ocean and the highest peak in the Americas, the nearly 23,000-foot Mount Aconcagua. Steep pitches hold shaky rocks, avalanche paths, and untracked lines.
On average, cat rides are about 20 minutes—enough time to catch your breath before the next run.
Born in Austria, Toni Sponar spends his summers in Chile and winters in Aspen. At 80 years old, he’s clocked decades’ worth of winters in South America. He spent his first Chilean winter at Portillo as a ski instructor in 1961.
From a hike-to ridge, this line includes a roughly 3,000-foot funnel that ends up at the hut. Entrance Exam, for the record, requires a few short, careful turns through the chute before you can open it up in the bowl.
Toni Sponar’s son, Anton, helps by guiding groups. He’s stepped in to help run the business—a small operation on big terrain.
An international bunch, skiers come to Ski Arpa from Europe, the U.S., and the rest of South America.
Ski Arpa is remote. About 21 miles from the closest town of Los Andes, it’s accessible by a winding road. Four-wheel drive preferred.
Cheers to shredding during the northern summer with the aforementioned cheap Chilean beer.
Après includes asking Toni, the 80-year-old proprietor of Ski Arpa, to talk about his adventures, from being a ski instructor at Portillo in the ’60s to purchasing the Ski Arpa land.