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When to go? Sometimes there are epic snowfalls as early as June, but most skiers wait to go down around mid-July through early September. Late August through September is spring skiing (usually), but in general, there is a better chance of more big powder storms in July and August.
Photo by Powderquest.
Fly into Bariloche, Argentina, a spectacular small city in the lake district. From there you can ski Cerro Catedral’s plentiful terrain and amazing tree skiing (trees are completely lacking in the northern areas). Head north a few hours to ski Chapelco and Cerro Bayo, and eat the best ice cream in the world in the charming little base towns of San Martin de Los Andes and Villa La Angostura.
Don’t count on being able rent or buy any kind of decent ski gear when you get there. Quality rentals are rare, and although ski alquileres in towns and the cities rent everything technically needed to ski, the goods just might be older than you are.
Ski some of the longest, steepest, and potentially deepest couloirs of your life are in Las Lenas, Argentina. If Marte Chair is open, you will be ruined for nearly any other ski resort—big-mountain freeskiers converge here for a reason. Grab a room at the swanky, chic Hotel Virgo or Hotel Pisces or cram in a departmento with seven other skiers. Bring an outfit for the discos.
Photo by Alex Paquin. Skier: Brigid Mander.
Book a week at the iconic, yellow Hotel Portillo in Chile, where the heritage of skiing is deep and jagged peaks loom overhead. Ride chairlifts that cross the international highway, ski-tour across the lake (better yet, book a day with Portillo Heli), ski beautiful lines, then clean up and bask in international glamour at cocktail hour.
The Andes have huge, picture perfect cone volcanos. Several different tour companies such as PowderQuest offer a variety of guided backcountry packages and internationally certified ski guides for Chile and Argentina; some resorts offer limited backcountry guide services as well.
Book a cat ski trip at Ski Arpa in Chile, or stay in one of the best hotels in Chile at Termas de Chillan’s Gran Hotel Termas. Farther off the track, incredible skiing experiences can be found at places like La Hoya, Castor, or Caviahue in Argentina. Southamericaski.com can help plan trips to these hinterlands. Be prepared to speak Spanish, be self-sufficient, and have a lot of sweet terrain to yourself.
Savor stellar, inexpensive wines. Drink carmeneres in Chile and malbecs in Argentina, but don’t mix up the grapes and the countries…you will receive a sharp look. Vineyards offering tours dot the southern cone from the Salta region to the Patagonian lakes, and are thick near Santiago and Mendoza.
Indulge your inner carnivore in Argentina. Order bife de lomo, and if you get invited to a local asado (BBQ), go immediately. Almost every restaurant offers a parilla, a plate of assorted grilled meats. In Chile, eat a bowl of mariscos. The deep ocean shelf right off the coast means all kinds of exotic shellfish, beyond the normal mussels and clams. Don’t ask questions, lemons and a fork is all you need.
Because in any area of the Andes (especially if you ski in southern Patagonia), the winds can become so fierce you may experience what it’s like to be tied to exterior of a jet (the trees grow sideways there for a reason), bring warm layers and wind-proof gear. Use strong sunscreen—your beachy tan from the northern hemisphere summer won’t cut it for protection.
Here are the stats on Valle Nevado, a ski resort in Chile that offers some of the largest ski-able terrain in South America: 260 days of sunshine a year, almost 2,000 acres of terrain (over 50 percent of which is advanced or expert off-piste), the only high-speed quad chairlift in Chile, and the only heli-ski outfitter in the country (the heli pad is located right at the ski resort). Check out travel specials to Valle Nevado at skiingmag.com/travel-specials.