Much here to comment upon....
I have skied in Southern Hemisphere resorts in 6 different seasons. TR's here: http://www.firsttracksonline.com/boards/viewforum.php?f=6
All of these trips have combined skiing with other vacation activities. New Zealand is easy to combine with tropical destinations in Australia, Fiji or Tahiti.
Feature articles from those trips:
Portillo, Arpa, Valle Nevado group: http://www.firsttracksonline.com/2008/07/24/great-skiing-options-in-chile-lie-close-to-santiago/
Las Lenas: http://www.firsttracksonline.com/2006/07/17/las-lenas-a-ski-resort-guide/
Overview of New Zealand skiing: http://www.firsttracksonline.com/2006/12/31/kia-ora-new-zealand/
Club and public areas near Christchurch: http://www.firsttracksonline.com/2011/06/17/new-zealand-skiing-snowboarding-canterbury-hutt-olympus-broken-river-porters/
The resorts people seem to favour the most in the southern hem are (in no order of rating);
Las Lenas is in a class by itself for terrain quality in the Southern Hemisphere, reminded me some of Grands-Montets at Chamonix. BUT
I believe the Marte lifts averages being open only about 50% of the time due to wind, fog and avi danger.
Also lackadaisical management. And the correct percentage of time open is 40%.
Chillan is conspicuously missing from that list. I have not been there. MadPatSki liked it better than Portillo or Valle Nevado and Chillan gets more snow. It is also lower, so can get rain and has some management issues like Las Lenas.
While I agree that Treble Cone is overall perhaps the best single NZ ski area, there are many others worth checking out if you travel that far. In the immediate Southern Lakes region are Coronet Peak, The Remarkables and Cardrona. Collectively the areas I reviewed near Christchurch might have more appeal for advanced skiers. I obtained snow data on my 2006 trip for Coronet Peak (95 inches but world class snowmaking), the Remarkables (134 inches) and Mt. Hutt (191 inches).
a number of websites state those figures (5.5m snowfall /2.35m peak depth)
5.5m = 216 inches. That might be possible in the upper parts of Saddle Basin, but probably not for the frontside. That proportion of snowfall to peak depth is reasonable, but from snow reports TC gets the base over 2 meters in maybe half of seasons. Saddle Basin is south facing while the front is east facing, which accounts for much of the disparate conditions.
the Land of the Long White Cloud
Yes there are glaciers up there and the west coast is a rainforest. Unfortunately the lift served skiing is all on the drier leeward side of the Southern Alps; thus the snowfall tops out in the 200 inch range. And the altitude is low enough that it can rain. My guess is that Turoa/Whakapapa on the North Island get more like 250 inches, but they are on a volcanic peak that gets a lot of wind/weather closures.
I like NZ a lot and have been there 5 times. But it should be viewed in the context of overall tourism rather than just skiing. Have a car and be flexible. With no trees you can't see anything on bad weather days, but you can find something else to do easily.
The feedback I have read is that Valle Nevado is one of the more snow sure ones (but still not in the same league as top Northern hem resorts for snow reliability). The ski area is the biggest in the southern hem; all three ski areas - Valle Nevado, La Parva and El Colorado form a domaine (Tres Valles) of over 100km of pistes (which is a decant number). But, the area is tame, apprently most runs are in the green / blue range, even if some are marked red, the general consensus is they are somewhat over graded.
Comparison of in-season reports indicate that the Valle Nevado group gets less snow than Portillo (254 inches) or Las Lenas (271 inches). I have extensive data from the latter areas and estimate Valle Nevado snowfall about 175 inches. I agree that Valle Nevado is mostly in the blue/green range. La Parva's terrain is more interesting but it faces west into prevailing winds and had some coverage issues when I was there in an average snowfall season. Even though it's smaller, Portillo is a better destination for advanced skiers.
That said apparently there is some good side country between Valle Nevado and La Parva down to a road where a guide can arrange vehicle collection. The surrounding back country looks world class. This can be accessed via heli from the resort. But its not cheap.
That side country is between El Colorado's lifts and the Valle Nevado access road. It takes 4 lifts plus a private car shuttle for each lap. I'm sure the heli terrain can be great, but I don't like your odds of it being worth the cost in a ~200 inch/season resort week booked far in advance.
You could probably get some more challenge Bariloche, but its further and more complicated to get to. I don't know of the snow reliability, visibility record is likely lower than Valle Nevado (although there are some trees).
Bariloche's own website claims 240 at the top and 60 inches at the base. The lowest third of the mountain is often not skiable and must be downloaded. Bariloche is also low, partially sun-exposed and subject to rain. The snow reliability history is what has kept me away from there. MadPatSki has been there twice. Terrain and extensive lift system are very good if there are decent snow conditions. While in that area MadPatSki has also checked out Cerro Bayo, Chapelco and La Hoya. He has been lucky with powder both times at La Hoya though it's half a day's drive (or bus ride) from Bariloche.
South America doesn't have ther snowmaking infrastructure to ensure coverage. I would wait until they have a base, before booking. Going in August would be your best bet.
The more relevant issue is extreme volatility of snowfall, 50% more than the Sierra and twice as much as the Rockies. Furthermore late July is the South American holiday season when prices are highest and crowds greatest. The lift infrastructure at most of these places does not handle big crowds well. Post holiday early August to early September is the best time frame, and waiting until there is a base before committing $ is indeed prudent.
MadPatSki and I have divergent opinions about these places. He has been to South America 5x in continuing a monthly ski streak, now at 92.
the general consensus is that there are no ski resorts down south that compare to the best in the northern hem overall (i.e quality of service, infrastructure, reliability etc combined).
I agree. Therefore IMHO most people should be considering these places in addition to, rather than in place of, destination ski trips to the Alps, Japan or western North America. One of my particular ski vices is checking out new places (my ski area count is 180), so that has contributed to my 7 southern trips. But note that I have combined them all with other attractions. The bar is higher for repeat visits, and Las Lenas is the only place impressive enough for me to consider for a second dedicated ski trip, even there recognizing that it could be a bust if the weather is not cooperative and Marte stays closed.
Edited by Tony Crocker - 5/21/13 at 1:43pm