For the last few years Corralco has been on my radar as a new promising ski destination in the Andes.
It's located in Chile's IX Region, called La Araucanía. An amazing area full of Araucaria forests (monkey puzzle trees), volcanos, wild life, National Reserves and possibly the best snow average in the Andes.
This August I finally got to ski Corralco, a ski area built on the slopes of Lonquimay Volcano (2865m - 9400ft) which last erupted in 1989.
The Andes from above
From Santiago we flew to Temuco (430 miles south), where we rented a car and drove 2 hours to Malalcahuello village, about 10 miles from the Malalcahuello - Nalcas National Reserve, where Corralco / Lonquimay is located.
We stayed in Suizandina, a very nice guesthouse with cozy rooms and great food. Totally recomended. http://suizandina.com/en/home.html
Road to Corralco
The brand new ski-out hotel Valle Corralco Hotel & Spa is located a few hundred yards down the road from the ski area parking lot.
All you ski at Corralco is above treeline - lift accessed terrain goes from 5000ft to 7870ft. The most challenging terrain is accessed from the new Cumbre T-Bar that gets you 1600ft below the crater of Lonquimay Volcano. It's possible to skin up to the crater, but it's a steep hike and crampons are necessary sometimes.
From the top of the T-Bar you can choose almost 180º of volcano faces, and some backcountry / sidecountry is also accessed from there. Great bowl skiing!
This part of Chile is much wetter than the areas near Santiago, they get some really big storms from June to September. I'd guess that the upper slopes of the volcano get more than 400 inches of snow a year.
Our first day skiing Corralco (August 23rd) was a powder day, they had 20 inches in the previous 36 hours and not many people skiing it, even though it was a Sunday.
A 10+ feet base at the parking lot.
Mid mountain hut buried in snow and the Cumbre T-Bar.
Views from the top of Cumbre T-Bar
Nearby Llaima volcano always in the horizon.
Some of the bowls accessed from mid mountain El Volcan double chair and Navidad surface lift.
The next 3 days were storm days. The mountain got hit by some very serious wind, huge amounts of snow (very heavy and wet, especially at the base) and the T-Bar did not open at all.
I've skied some pretty windy places before, especially in the Andes, but those were by far the strongest winds I experienced in my life.
Even the parking lot and the lower lifts were hit hard by the winds.
In Corralco, the first lift you take at the base is a slow double chair (La Cornica) that gets you only 460ft vertical, and that during windy days takes up to 15 minutes. Rumor has it that they will change this slow chair soon.
The good thing is that during these 3 storm days, there was NOBODY skiing, It was actually weird to be in a mountain where less than 20 - 25 people were skiing it, and 7 of them were from our group.
Visibility was zero, but there were some good turns to be had.
The wettest and windiest chair ride ever
No trees, no visibility.
Thursday it stopped snowing (but was still very windy), and I went ski touring with some French guides / ski bums that were spending the season in South America and that were familiar with the area.
Our early morning plan was to skin up Cerro Cautín, (just aside Lonquimay Volcano) ski down the back side of it, then skin back and ski the front side. But when we got to the top the wind was so brutal that we decided to ski back what we had climbed (about 1350ft).
Front side of Cerro Cautín
In the afternoon we decided to skin up a ridge located in the left side of Lonquimay Volcano. It started flat, but then it gets to about 40º pitch.
The ridge we skinned up in the afternoon is on the lower right
After skinning over all kinds of snow surfaces, we had to hike/climb a couple hundred yards with some serious wind conditions. But it was worth it, the views were amazing and we skied a chute with some good snow.
On Friday (28th) another storm came in, this one was very warm, so it was pouring rain at the base of Corralco (this storm brought rain to higher areas in the north like Las Lenas) so the mountain did not open.
But it was good to have a day to rest after 5 days skiing hard.
Saturday (29th) was my last day of skiing. It was cloudy and the lower slopes had some pretty sticky heavy snow.
Unfortunately I did not get lucky weather wise since storm days in the Andes are not as fun and easy to ski as in North America, and chairlift wind closures are way more common down here... I had plans to summit Lonquimay Volcano with a guide, but overall it was a great trip, with good skiing and snow most of the days, beautiful landscapes, great food and wine, and we met great people!
Some of my friends stayed longer in Corralco and got some bluebird days after the series of storms.
They sent me these pictures that made me want to go back for a longer trip.
Got to love the Chilean volcanoes!
Corralco / Lonquimay in a Bluebird day (photo: Renato Maia)