Once upon a time there were some British engineers. Their work, around the end of the 19th century, needed to be done in the Chilean Andes, building a railway between central Chile and the city Mendoza. Their most used means of getting from A to B: skis! Once the railway was opened at the beginning of the 20th century others also decided to make use of the connection into the mountains to go skiing. And suddenly everybody wanted a ski area. So this was the beginning of the first South American ski are, named “Portillo”.
Ski holidays in Chile
If you think of a ski holiday, the first thing that comes to mind is surely not Chile. Rather such places as Switzerland, Austria, France or the German Alps. However, one of the most mighty mountain massifs winds through the Andes in Chile, with peaks reaching up to 6,000 m altitude. So what could be more tempting during the South American winter – our summer – than to put on your skis and carve down the mountain sides?
The first place to make this possible was Portillo. Where the history of skiing beings close to the town of Los Andes with one lift and one hut, today Portillo is one of the most popular ski areas in Chile. It is closely connected to the Grand Hotel Portillo, who’s landlord originates from the US. Meanwhile the ski area (2,500 – 3,310 m) has even been host to the Ski World Championship (1966), the only contest of its kind on the southern hemisphere. It offers various freeride areas with approx. 22 km of piste, 14 lifts – of which 4 are the so called “Va-et-viente” rope tow lifts. These lifts can pull along up to 5 people next to each other. The number of lift passes is limited so there are no waiting queues. There even are days when only the 450 guests of the hotel are enjoying themselves on the pistes. Besides the pro skiers. Portillo is often the favoured summer training resort for the national teams of the US, Canada and Australia.
Tres Valles – Valle Nevado, El Colorado and La Parva
The Andes extend through the whole of Chile and therefore Portillo is of course not the only ski resort. On the contrary: Chile even has ist own Three Valleys. What is known in France as the famous Trois Vallées, are the Tres Valles in Chile. The ski areas Valle Nevado, El Colorado and La Parva have grown together, not even 40 km the capital city Santiago. Valle Nevado (2,860 – 3,670 m) has a status much like Portillo’s: the Snowboard World Cup was hosted here a number of times. Therefore the area not only offers 37 km pf piste and 11 lifts, but also a half-pipe and boardercross run. With over 93 km² of overall coverage it is also the largest ski terrain in South America. The ski resort is designed after the appearance of a French station. The lift pass connects all three areas and therefore completes the El Dorado Ski Center (2,430 – 3,333 m) with 40 km of piste and 18 lifts, as well as La Parva with 38 km and 14 lifts. Offering 7,000 beds, the resort La Parva is the one with the greatest accommodation selection.
Termas de Chillán
Other ski areas have other highlight to offer: the ski area “Termas de Chillán” (1,600 – 2,700 m), for instance. Here winter sports fans can enjoy South America’s longest piste – with 13 km in total. Guided ski tours take the daring up towards the peak of the still active volcano Chillán and the descent ends at the local thermal springs.
Arpa (2,690 – 3,740 m) however doesn’t offer one single normal ski piste. This is solely catski terrain. The snowcat takes the skiers all the way up the mountain and they return back down through the deep, powdery snow. There is not even a hotel here, just one hut for the relaxing beer after the descent.
The ski areas, including also some smaller ones, all will likely open this month. It is winter time in the Andes. The season stretches until October. Best chances to cut summer short here and enjoy some early fun in the snow. The only negative point: getting there does take about 16 hours on a plane…