If there’s one thing I love doing more than anything else, it’s skiing. So when I can combine some skiing with a work trip, I’m doubly happy. When Santiago was announced last year as a new route, I was excited to check out what skiing Chile had to offer.
The first thing you notice about Santiago when you arrive by air is the incredible surrounding of the Andes Mountains. Forming the back bone of the country, they provide a formidable barrier between Chile and its Latin American neighbours on the other side. The close proximity of the mountains also means that the skiing is super accessible from the city, the closest resorts being around an hour away, perfect for a day trip.
The ski season runs roughly from mid-June till mid-October with the best powder conditions in July and August. However, if you’re expecting Japan style snow conditions on the Andes Mountains, you may be disappointed. That said, there’s plenty to keep you busy in each resort for a couple of days, perfect if you’re basing yourself in Santiago.
Probably the most popular of the resorts close to Santiago is Valle Nevado. At 3,670m above sea level, the top is the highest of the surrounding ski locations so this provides the most reliable source of snow. Its 14 lifts spread across 900 hectares of terrain and are probably the most modern of lift systems compared to the neighbouring resorts. Being above the tree line, the wealth of wide cruisey blue and red runs creates areas of potential powder between them should there have been a recent dump. Sadly when I went in June, it was still a little early in the season and what could have been great powder was crusty with little depth to it.
However, it was easy to overlook the quality of snow as you’re constantly in awe of the spectacular views all around you. Even on a slightly hazy day, you can see Santiago sitting in the basin 60km away. Grab lunch at the restaurant at the top of the main gondola for awesome crepes with some of the best views of the Andes.
If you want somewhere a bit closer to Santiago and with fewer people (not that Valle Nevado really ever gets that busy) , the resort of La Parva is a great option. These two resorts along with El Colorado form Chile’s equivalent of the 3 Valleys but sadly access between them is not nearly as easy as it’s French namesake. Some lifts do connect between the resorts but there is no lift pass which covers all 3 areas – making for a rather expensive cross-resort option.
The lift infrastructure isn’t quite as advanced as Valle Nevado, the vast majority being old skool button lifts but they are quick and efficient, pulling you up the hill almost as fast as the chair lifts – you just don’t that opportunity to rest your legs. The runs are mostly wide and not too steep making it a great place for intermediates or beginners looking to take themselves to the next level. A few classic CatTracks provide an easy way down from most lifts for those who don’t quite fancy dropping into the odd slightly steeper red run.
Eating facilities are commensurate with the size of the resort, but if you’re looking for a cosy place for lunch, the inexpensive restaurant you’ll see on your right towards the top on the main chair lift has a spirit lifting wood fire burning throughout the day, a great spot to warm up with a tasty bowl of their soup of the day.