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Skiing in South America

post #1 of 14
Thread Starter 

I'm planning a trip to South America late August / early September (so the weather is better but the snow is still good)

 

 

I've never been in South America and not sure what are the best places to go to are

 

Looks like in Argentina the 2 best places are Las Lenas & Catedral

 

In Chile Valle Nevado & La Parva

 

What do you guys recommend?

 

 

Thanks

post #2 of 14

Portillo Chile also seems to get a lot of hype.

post #3 of 14

I’ve been to Catedral and it’s great.  The town of Bariloche is right on a big lake and the scenery is stunning.  The town is undergoing a major transformation with huge investments.  There are many top notch hotels and plenty of good restaurants.  We rented a car which got us to the ski area pretty quick.  (I think there is a bus option too)  The airport is just 10 minutes away too.

 

Most of the skiing at Catedral is above timberline.  The expert area was closed when I visited (Labor day week) but there is still plenty of good skiing.  The environment is much closer to Europe than the US with mostly groomed pistes and the rest is uncontrolled side country.  Crowds were not an issue and there was lots of skiing of all types.

 

Since we had the rental car we also went to the nearby Cerro Bayo and Chapelco ski areas.  Bayo is about 90 min away and Chapelco was 4 hours if I recall correctly.  Both are smaller but have good skiing too.  Bayo has a great hike to bowl that is kind of like the hike to bowl at Aspen Highland.  Bayo also had a lot of bumps.  The facilities and lifts are rustic. 

 

Chapelco may be the most expensive of the three ski areas with a gondola and on mountain lodging.  The lower mountain is pretty flat and winds through the trees.  The upper mountain is treeless and steep.

 

I also looked into Valle Nevado and Portillo and they both looked good.  We passed on Portillo because you’re basically locked into one hotel, one restaurant and one ski area.  It’s a good one but we wanted some variety.  We passed on Nevado due to low snow that season.  Las Lenas was harder to get to and seemed to be smaller.  The terrain does look pretty good for steep chutes, but we didn’t want to be locked in to one small area. 

 

Overall the skiing is great down there and the view looking over the 6 lakes region were second to none.  Have fun.

post #4 of 14

I used to live down there.

 

If you luck out and hit the narrow window of excellent conditions, Las Lenas is some of the best lift served terrain in South America. However, if you aren't lucky, you'll wind up not skiing at all due to high winds.

 

Bariloche is the fancy resort of Argentina, but that doesn't mean Cerro Catedral isn't good skiing. The upside of Bariloche is if the conditions aren't great, the town is a huge party.

 

Portillo and Valle Nevado are in Chile and much easier to get to. I would rate their snow patterns as more predictable than Argentina (barely). However, you are in Chile. I always had so much more fun with the Argentines :)

post #5 of 14

Catedral is very unreliable for snow.  It's low, well leeward of the crest of the Andes and can get rain.  The area's own website says it gets 60 inches at the base and 240 at the top. The lower third of the mountain must frequently be downloaded for marginal cover/poor conditions.  On top of that Catedral has relatively sunny exposure.

Quote:
Las Lenas was harder to get to and seemed to be smaller.

A statement of astounding ignorance.  Las Lenas is vast, European in scale with 4,000 vertical and huge steep lines of skiing, probably 4 to 5x the lift served terrain of anyplace else in South America.   The caveat of course is that 80% of the terrain and 50% of the vertical is served only by the Marte chair which is open 40% of the time.  My candid feature on Las Lenas: http://www.firsttracksonline.com/2006/07/17/las-lenas-a-ski-resort-guide/

 

Quote:
Portillo and Valle Nevado are in Chile and much easier to get to. I would rate their snow patterns as more predictable than Argentina (barely).

Portillo, Valle Nevado and Las Lenas share a climate pattern:  Latitudes are 32, 34, and 35 degrees, altitude is very high, so rain is rare. Snow preservation rates to be decent in July/August but the sun is high and strong late season.  Average snowfall is about 250 inches at Portillo and Las Lenas and probably somewhat less than 200 at Valle Nevado.  Volatility is extremely high with standard deviations 50% more than the California Sierra.  This my recommendation to wait to see snow on the ground in June, book then for August, maybe early September.  July should be avoided for South American holidays that bring crowds and higher lodging pricing.  My feature on Portillo/Arpa/Valle Nevado: http://www.firsttracksonline.com/2008/07/24/great-skiing-options-in-chile-lie-close-to-santiago/

 

Farther south the mountains are lower, but on the Chile side probably get more snow (no stats available that I can find).  Chillan is the largest ski area in this sector.  I've not been there but some (like MadPatSki) who have been like it a lot.  It also has dependence on an old slow lift Don Otto, but that lift is not as unreliable as Marte. 

 

MadPatSki has been to Bariloche and environs twice and enjoyed his visits. However both times the best skiing was at La Hoya, which is a couple of hundred miles south near Esquel.  Catedral is the biggest and has lots of lifts but you need to be lucky to get good snow there.

post #6 of 14
post #7 of 14
Quote:
Originally Posted by Tony CrockerView Post

A statement of astounding ignorance.  Las Lenas is vast, European in scale with 4,000 vertical and huge steep lines of skiing, probably 4 to 5x the lift served terrain of anyplace else in South America.   The caveat of course is that 80% of the terrain and 50% of the vertical is served only by the Marte chair which is open 40% of the time.

 

 

Tony, I think you could tone down your insults and use some tact.  Nothing wrong with having a different opinion.

 

Regarding Las Lenas small:  it sure looks small to me.  The ski area has 8 lifts (not counting 2 bunny hill lifts) and 29 named runs.  The total ski area has about 2000 acres based on my calculations.  That estimate including off piste areas and some areas that are likely unskiable.  Including only the marked runs, the skiable area may be as low as a few hundred acres.  There are no other ski areas I am aware of that you can day trip to so if you choose Las Lenas, that all the skiing you get.  Based on that information I considered Las Lenas to be small.

 

It seems you are putting an emphasis on side country skiing that requires avalanche safety gear and likely a guide.  Side country skiing has logistical, safety and cost concerns that most skiers do not undertake.  Safety concerns are also more of an issue in Argentina.  If side country is your thing, that’s fine.  I just think we should be clear that side country is the basis for your claims if so. 

 

Don’t get me wrong, I’d love to check out Las Lenas sometime.  Especially if there is great skiing that is about as safe as inbounds skiing in the US.

post #8 of 14

I skied Portillo a few years ago. All in all, it was a fantastic, worthwhile experience, but I didn't love the ski conditions.  I went in July, which I understood to be within their peak season. I figured if I was shelling out so much $ just to get down there, I wanted to minimize the risk of lackluster conditions. The night I got there, it DUMPED. So much so, there was some concern about being able to make the commute from the airport to the resort. Luckily, I made it in just in time. The snow there is wet/heavy--probably closer to California conditions than the drier stuff I was used to. In fact, there were some folks from CA who had little trouble, but I struggled in that wet, sticky (and oft times icy/crusty) stuff. And there was no fresh snow for the rest of the week, which is apparently common down there. Big snow, followed by a week of sun, followed by big snow, week of sun.... Also, the resort isn't very large. It has some good terrain, but little variety: Several steeps, serviced by the most ridiculous poma lifts you've ever seen (I mean that in a good way--you fly up about as fast as you come down), a few more advanced steeps you need to hike to, and a few groomers. Everything is above the treeline (kind of cool, but I like trees). And since you buy an all-inclusive, 7-day package to go there, skiing the same terrain over and over gets a little old by day 7, especially given how tracked-out it can get by week's end.

 

BUT...

 

I am SO glad I went. Worth every penny. Isolated just below the tallest peak in the Andes, next to a picturesque lake, it was probably the most beautiful ski resort I've ever been to. And since everyone comes and goes at the same time, in 1-week shifts, the crowds are well-regulated and lift lines are non-existent. Plus, you really get to know some of the people there. There are bound to be some fellow Americans, and it was great to hang out with the same familiar faces every night. It has a very communal vibe--everyone's just stuck up there in one of the most beautiful mountain ranges in the world. One of my favorite ski trips, hands-down.

post #9 of 14
I've done Valle Nevado/El Colorado/La Parva and Cerro Catedral in Argentina. Went the first week of August. Had good conditions at both locations. I guess if the snow is good at any ski area in the world it's hard not to have a good time, right? We skied 5 days in Chile, and I seem to recall the transfer time to El Colorado where we were staying took about 3 hours. Not much going on up there, but the views and the sunsets of the Chilean Andes is spectacular. We had a good time there. Had one day with a one foot dump, and had a blast. The terrain is not over the top steep but you can find lots of easy hike to chutes and bowls to keep you occupied if the coverage is good. We did a 3 day stop over in Buenos Aires, which I recommend if you end up going to an Argentine ski area like Cerro Catedral. The town is really nice. Very picturesque, and we took a day and drove our rental car around part of the lake to Llao Llao resort. We found the lifties a bit comical and not so focused on details, and some of the named runs, with cat tracks cut through the middle of the runs not so well marked. So numerous skiers implode in poor visiblity as they found themselves going from arcing on a groomer to double ejecting head/face plants 2-4 feet down on to a cat track. Yes, I had this experience myself, and ended up with a bloody nose. But chalk it up to skiing way south of the border. The town of Bariloche is the real winner here. It's Argenetina's interpretation of a Swiss village. The chocolate is not nearly as good but you also don't have all those pricey Swiss watch stores either. But what Bariloche lacks in Swiss watch shops, it more than makes up for it in steak houses. Really, really good steak/meat. Plus, they have malbec wines, which are cheap and insanely good, especially when you pair it with a nice juicy medium to medium rare bife de loma. There are some nice runs off the top lift when it is open and running. I had an awesome day skiing off the runs of the Nubes lift. Snow and mtn reminded me a bit of Mt Bachelor. Lower mtn if coverage is good has decent tree skiing. The year we were there, they had really good coverage all the way to the base.
post #10 of 14
Catedral is the largest South American Ski Resort. But it is not for beginners. The views are amazing.
Las Leñas is much more expensive and isolated, and the views are quite depressing (no vegetation). But Las Leñas is excellent for begginers. The wind is a real issue though.
The best month is usually September. August is also good. I would not go in July, for it is Argentine winter vacation time and the slopes are very crowded.
Argentina is having economical problems again. Be aware of that. Under the current situation with cash dollars you get better exchange than with credit card (35% more!).
2012 season was bad, with no snow anywhere in South America. So I recommend to check the snow forecast before booking.
post #11 of 14
Quote:
Originally Posted by Tony Crocker View Post

Catedral is very unreliable for snow.  It's low, well leeward of the crest of the Andes and can get rain.  The area's own website says it gets 60 inches at the base and 240 at the top. The lower third of the mountain must frequently be downloaded for marginal cover/poor conditions.  On top of that Catedral has relatively sunny exposure.

A statement of astounding ignorance.  Las Lenas is vast, European in scale with 4,000 vertical and huge steep lines of skiing, probably 4 to 5x the lift served terrain of anyplace else in South America.   The caveat of course is that 80% of the terrain and 50% of the vertical is served only by the Marte chair which is open 40% of the time.  My candid feature on Las Lenas: http://www.firsttracksonline.com/2006/07/17/las-lenas-a-ski-resort-guide/

 

Portillo, Valle Nevado and Las Lenas share a climate pattern:  Latitudes are 32, 34, and 35 degrees, altitude is very high, so rain is rare. Snow preservation rates to be decent in July/August but the sun is high and strong late season.  Average snowfall is about 250 inches at Portillo and Las Lenas and probably somewhat less than 200 at Valle Nevado.  Volatility is extremely high with standard deviations 50% more than the California Sierra.  This my recommendation to wait to see snow on the ground in June, book then for August, maybe early September.  July should be avoided for South American holidays that bring crowds and higher lodging pricing.  My feature on Portillo/Arpa/Valle Nevado: http://www.firsttracksonline.com/2008/07/24/great-skiing-options-in-chile-lie-close-to-santiago/

 

Farther south the mountains are lower, but on the Chile side probably get more snow (no stats available that I can find).  Chillan is the largest ski area in this sector.  I've not been there but some (like MadPatSki) who have been like it a lot.  It also has dependence on an old slow lift Don Otto, but that lift is not as unreliable as Marte. 

 

MadPatSki has been to Bariloche and environs twice and enjoyed his visits. However both times the best skiing was at La Hoya, which is a couple of hundred miles south near Esquel.  Catedral is the biggest and has lots of lifts but you need to be lucky to get good snow there.

That's pretty much my perception of things, good to see some stats on the snowfall though. 

 

July doesn't have to be avoided in Portillo, as the hotel can only get so full (450 guests), yes there will be a lot of Brazillians there, but they tend not to ski the off piste as much as the Americans in August. I have barely ever queued for Roca in July, in August lines there can get almost long. The conditions in July (I've worked there for the last 2 seasons) are more hit and miss than August though. 

 

In my experience (4 seasons in NZ before Chile), the skiing and just the general experience in South America is way better than NZ, you'll have a ball. 

post #12 of 14
Hi. I'm fom Argentina and here is my opinion.

1. if you like backcountry skiing, your place should be Las Lenas. as somebody stated before the risk is that if the Marte lift is closed you dont have access to backcountry, and the grommed area is very easy.
2. catedral is very nice, great after ski live. there is a risk of lack of snow in the lower part of the mountain. if you are single and want to party, that's your place.
3. portillo is a small but very nice resort. it has only one hotel, very well managed. the mountain is nice, with a couple of good runs if you like moguls. good to go with small children. for example, my kids learned to ski in Portillo.

in any case, do not expect snow similar to any rockies resort. end of August should be fine. in september you start to have some risk of snow in Catedral.

regards
post #13 of 14

I live in Santiago - past 14+ years - and have skied Valle Nevado mostly with a season pass. Haven't skied any resorts in Argentina. Bestivo, if you decide to try Chile out, let me know and I'll help out with any information I can.

 

I would like to clear on thing up here, the travel time from Santiago to any of the three resorts close by, La Parva, El Colorado or Valle Nevado, is less than 1.5 hours if you drive your own vehicle and start out early enough - say before 07:30. Valle Nevado is a bit farther, maybe 15 minutes, than the other two, and I usually make it there in an hour and fifteen minutes or less. If you are in a cattle truck, like a bus, of course it will take quite a bit longer, but not three hours.

 

Everyone down here is talking more snow this coming winter. I'll believe when I see it.

post #14 of 14

I would add few considerations, since you said it will be your first time at SA.

 

1) Keep some time to go to other places than just ski places. Argentina or Chile could surprise you with beautiful spots.

2) If you chose Catedral, avoid July and begin of August. Crowd... very crowd. Good for party, but not that good for ski, since the lift system is a  bit old and slow. So, July = loooong time in looong lines. Late August and September are your best bet.

 

All-in-all it's a great experience. Good food, great wines, friendly people and breathtaking views of the Andes.

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