Considering the altitude, the fish was incredibly fresh. Ready to eat on a plate at the base of Valle Nevado Ski Resort, the albacora—swordfish, not tuna—was likely caught within 48 hours of hitting the grill in the restaurant’s kitchen, roughly 10,000 feet above sea level. The butter-smothered plate served as an appetizing reminder of just how close the Pacific Ocean is to every part of Chile, the unique luxuries of an expanding economy, and a population’s growing confidence in all things “local.”
Chile, the “skinny” South American country, is the long and narrow strip of nation that North Americans are usually introduced to in elementary school social studies class. But what’s harder to see on a two-dimensional map is how the country stretches from the Pacific Ocean to the high, snow-capped peaks of the Andes in a little more than 100 miles. This dramatic relief provides opportunities to grow unique and tasty potatoes, a Chilean staple and a medley of which shared the plate with the fresh swordfish.The steep geography also results in weather patterns that dump plentiful amounts of snow as fast-moving storms move off the Pacific and slam into the Andes.
Anywhere you can find snow and mountains, you’ll find skiing, which has been a part of the Chilean Andes for over a century. A number of resorts close to Santiago have seen heavy investments in recent years to become world-class vacation destinations, including installations of modern high-speed lifts, fine dining, and a number of upgraded lodging options to accommodate various budgets. The most famous ski areas, such as Valle Nevado, are self-sufficient and all-inclusive: Just book an airplane ticket and a resort reservation, and you’re good to go.
In July, August, and September, North Americans are an overnight flight away from making full-on winter turns, almost entirely jet-lag free. Add in some time in the young, hip city of Santiago and the world-class wine country of the Casablanca Valley, and Chile is a lock for the best summer ski vacation ever. Don’t forget the great fish at every restaurant, even high up in the mountains. It pairs nicely with Chilean potatoes, Chardonnay, and all the skiing you can handle.
This summer, you're only one night away from winter.
Pro skiers, national alpine race teams, and vacationing families alike usually arrive at Santiago's Arturo Merino Benítez International Airport after an overnight flight from Dallas, Houston, or Miami. Because most flights arrive in the morning, you'll want to reserve a window seat to watch the sunrise over the Andes. After disembarking, you'll likely be able to head straight to the mountains for a day of skiing.
Predatory taxi drivers wait at the airport exit to pressure unsuspecting tourists into overpriced rides, so it's best to organize a shuttle ahead of time. Upscape Tours can help if you have more complicated plans, such as a wine tour upon arrival or time to explore Santiago before heading to the ski resorts. Skitotal also offers economical airport-to-slopes rates, and runs daily shuttles from its Santiago offices to all of the ski resorts near Valle Nevado.
If you choose to rent a car, you'll want both four-wheel drive and tire chains from the rental agency. (If it's snowing, the police will stop cars before they reach the notorious switchbacks unless they have chains.)
If you're really anxious to get straight to the mountains and carry enough coin, Valle Nevado Heli Ski can pick you up in downtown Santiago for a sub-20 minute helicopter flight. Just don't expect to fly if the weather is sour.