So you’re a powder hound with a terrible itch for snow, but it’s spring or summer. What to do?
Well, you can either test your patience and wait until winter comes, or… You can book a trip to one of the many excellent ski resorts in South America.
See, seasons work differently in the Southern Hemisphere. Their winters are our summers, and our summers are their winters. So, theoretically, if you’re hooked on winter sports and have the money to burn, you can spend years skiing or snowboarding surrounded by perpetual winter.
If you can travel every year, you can forget what summer even looks like.
For people in the Northern Hemisphere (such as North America, Europe, Northern or Central Asia), the months between June and October mark the passage of summer and autumn. But down below, on the Southern half of Planet Earth, winter is just beginning.
So, if you’re a “Northerner”, you should circle the months from June to October on your calendar, since that’s when the cold season starts in South America.
Valle Nevado, Chile
In 2018, the Valle Nevado ski resort marked its 30th Anniversary and doesn’t intend to stop there – the owners have devised a “Master Plan” for long-term development. The plan seeks to transform the base area into a much larger, world-class mountain village sitting high in the Andes (Valle Nevado’s elevation is between 9,381 and 12,038 feet.) That’s impressive, considering that Valle Nevado is already very “world-class” in many ways.
- World-class ski resort “in the sky”
- Modern accommodation and amenities
- The nearby Inca Valley offers rich cultural exploration
- Very close to Santiago, Chile’s capital
- No town area
Famous for: biggest resort in Chile, best snow in South America.
But make no mistake – Valle Nevado is a modern resort, with all the bells and whistles. It has excellent accommodation facilities suitable for everyone’s budget, world-class quality snow, and top notch skiing. However, it lacks a town area, which means that entertainment options can be somewhat limited here. It has a skiing school though, and several family-friendly options and kid-friendly services.
With its 2,200 acres of skiable terrain, Valle Nevado is up there with some of the world’s largest ski resorts, and it even has its own terrain park. Additionally, it has a satisfying vertical drop of 2,657 feet (810 meters), and 39 runs strewn over its skiing terrain. The skills composition of the runs is 10% beginner, 36% intermediate, 33% advanced, and 21% expert runs.
Its impressive elevation means that the Valle Nevado ski resort is entirely above the treeline. It is a mixture of expertly groomed runs and natural, sloping terrain, and a vast country side that’s ideal for hiking, snowshoeing, and cross-country skiing. The area is known as the “Inca Valley”, due to the discovery of the 1,000-year-old remains of an Incan boy who was sacrificed in the area. Needless to say, Valle Nevado has a distinct air of mystery and wonder due to its ancient, mythical past.
Crowd Density and Ski Lifts
The good thing about this resort is that there are no big crowds or long lift lines, escept for sometimes in July.
There are a total of 14 ski lifts servicing these runs, with the Ancla lift carrying visitors to an elevation of 12,040 feet. From there, they can either wonder at the amazing views, or take a challenging ride below. A lift ticket for adults costs $58 while for children is only $21.
When it comes to accommodation, you’ll be glad to know that your best options are three ski-in/ski-out hotels and apartments. You can choose the all-inclusive packages or play for lodging only if you’re not interested to have the ski lift tickets and meals included in your price.
So if you’re mainly interested in skiing in South America in the middle of summer, Valle Nevado should definitely be on your map. It’s just 36 miles (59 kilometers) from Santiago, so it’s fairly easy to reach once you land. If you’re curious about visiting the best ski resorts in South America, this is the best place to start!
Cerro Catedral, Argentina
Carro Catedral is South America’s oldest ski resort, dating all the way back to the year 1938. It was praised by the Toronto Star Newspaper as the “world’s second best” ski resort, right after Aspen, Colorado. The resort is also known under the name of Catedral Alta Patagonia, so if the Google searches are sort of wonky, you can try typing that.
- Big terrain with diverse trails
- Has one of the best base villages in South America
- Close to Bariloche
- Can get crowded
- Inconsistent snow conditions
Famous for: biggest ski resort in Argentina, diverse trails for all ability levels.
It is South America’s most developed ski resort, and the only one with a proper “base village” which offers all the amenities because of the many diverse accommodation options.
Carro Catedral is also located just 22 miles from the San Carlos de Bariloche (BRC) airport in Argentina, and just 12 miles from the city of Bariloche, known as the only “true” ski town in Argentina.
If you’re into doing daily après ski activities, the base village will suffice. However, if you’re after a great après ski scene and an abundant nightlife, make sure to stay at Bariloche.
Because the resort sits at a somewhat lower elevation than the rest (3370 feet base elevation to a summit of 7152 feet), the snow can sometimes get patchy. But Carro Catedral has 50 modern snow cannons that make sure visitors enjoy smooth sailing.
Carro Catedral has 38 runs, spread across a skiable area of 1480 acres, with a skill composition of 17% beginner runs, 35% intermediate, 26% advanced runs and 22% expert runs. It has a vertical drop of 3773 feet (1150 meters) which is reachable by lift, and the biggest descent you can do at Carro Catedral amounts to an impressive run 5.6 miles (9 kilometers) long.
Add to this a terrain park and an additional 12 miles (19 kilometers) of cross-country skiing, and Caro Catedral starts to feel overwhelming with its massive winterland buffet.
Crowd Density and Ski Lifts
With 34 different types of ski lifts servicing all the visitors efficiently, there are almost no big crowds or long lift lines at this resort. It even has a tram and a 4-person gondola which can move up to 35,000 skiers per hour, taking them from one end of its 75 miles (120 kilometers) of downhill skiing terrain, to the other.
Another great thing about this resort are the accommodation options that suit every budget. You can find plenty of hotels and guesthouses, some of which are ski-in/ski-out, with plenty of amenities like heated pools, gyms, spas, and more.
But you can also find other lodgings in the city of Bariloche where you can enjoy an amazing nightlife.
Those having a family vacation will also feel right at home here. The ski resort has a very good ski school called the Escuela de Esqui Alta Patagonia (“The Skiing School of Upper Patagonia”), and they offer classes for everyone ages 3 and up.
So, if you’re planning a family ski trip, or you plan to come by yourself or with friends and are looking for a great nightlife, the Cerro Catedral shouldn’t be missed.
Las Leñas, Argentina
In 1860 the American travelling botanist, Gary Strobell, arrived in Argentina for a scientific expedition. Eventually, he stayed in a region that he called the “Valley of the Yellow Firewoods.” The same area, today, has become the home of one of the best ski resorts in South America – the famous Las Leñas.
In 1983, more than a century after Strobell discovered this amazing area, the ski resort was constructed and began operations. It had a hotel with 300 beds, which by 2020 standards seems like a trifle. And in 2020, Las Leñas is a modern, world-class ski resort that can compete with the best ski resorts in the world.
- Great lift service
- Breathtaking views
- Decent après scene
- Not a lot of runs for beginners
Famous for: exceptional terrain for intermediate and expert skiers.
Las Leñas is a bit remote, but fairly reachable. It sits 126 miles from San Rafael, Argentina, and 228 miles from the city of Mendoza.
The resort however, is mostly a resort. It has a sleepy town area where you can still wine and dine yourself after a long day on the freezing mountain, but the options are somewhat limited. There is also a supermarket, several hotels including a casino, a small shopping center, an environmental museum, and even a winter sports school and childcare services.
You’ll also be able to find a decent après scene with a few bars and nightclubs which work till 4 in the morning!
The highlight of Las Leñas is its insane terrain. It has almost any imaginable terrain feature, from rounded spines and open areas, to couloirs and chutes and vertical stone slabs that make you feel like you’re skiing through the teeth of some huge, ancient dragon. And did we mention its super steep vertical drops that will make your blood churn?
But besides being insane, the terrain at Las Leñas is also immensely huge. It has 30 runs, which only take up a small fraction of its vast 43,000 acres of skiable terrain. The runs are organized into 15% beginner runs, 45% intermediate runs, 35% advanced runs, and 5% expert runs. It has one terrain park, and 1.2 miles of night skiing.
The vertical drops at Las Leñas don’t exceed 3904 feet, which is plenty enough when you think about it – especially with all the extreme features of the terrain.
Crowd Density and Ski Lifts
You can find big crowds here during the July holidays, so avoid going during this month as well as the first weeks of August. Las Leñas has a total of 14 ski lifts of different types, which do a very good job in moving skiers around. The price for the lift tickets is quite affordable, with one adult ticket being $23.
The village of Las Leñas offers plenty of accommodation options that suit every budget. You’ll be able to find 5 star hotels that provide plenty of amenities and all-inclusive packages, but also more affordable hotels, guest houses, and apartments. Many of these offer ski-in/ski-out access, so you can choose the lodging that suits your ski trip the best.
With the exceptional terrain, breathtaking views, and great accommodation options, no wonder Las Leñas is considered as one of the best ski resorts in South America.
Portillo is one of South America’s oldest and most iconic ski resorts. It sits perched above the famous Inca Lake, at an elevation of 8,000-10,000 feet, well above the treeline. Portillo Ski Resort is revered by advanced and expert skiers for its challenging and steep off-piste terrain.
The ruggedness and isolation of Portillo is definitely something that distinguishes it from the competition. It’s no wonder that Chris Davenport calls Portillo his summer home – but that also means that Portillo isn’t suitable for everyone.
- The most popular ski resort in Chile
- Extreme terrain suitable for advanced skiers and experts
- Rarely crowded
- The terrain is not suitable for beginners
Famous for: incredible hospitality, breathtaking views, terrain suitable for advanced and expert skiers.
Portillo is located 88 miles (142 km) from Santiago, Chile, but it’s somewhat remote. It can take a while to reach it, which is why the hotel (called the “Cruise Ship”) often requires at least one week’s stay.
If you come here with the main intention to ski, you’ll have a great time. If you’re looking for an après scene, however, you’re not really going to find it, except in the resort and the hotels. There is a basketball court, a soccer field, yoga classes, as well as an outdoor heated pool. The closest town worth checking out is Los Andes, where you can visit a few vineries, restaurants, bars, and shops.
The terrain is one of the most intense on the planet: it has a vertical drop of 2734 feet, and 35 runs sprinkled around 1235 acres of skiable terrain. The runs are almost equally split between 15% of beginner runs, 30% of intermediate runs, 30% of advanced runs, and 25% expert runs. There are 14 ski lifts in operation, which is more than enough.
With half of its terrain devoted to advanced and expert skiers, Portillo is a haven for experienced powder hounds. If you happen to be one of those, consider Portillo the best ski resort in South America for you.
Crowd Density and Ski Lifts
If you’re trying to avoid large crowds, Portillo is your best bet. That being said, it can get crowded during the July holidays, but any other time you’ll find no large crowds here.
There are 14 ski lifts available, and you’ll never encounter a long line in front of one.
It needs to be said, though – Portillo has no town and there’s just one hotel. The focus is on skiing and snowboarding, and it is very much centered around winter sports culture and camaraderie.
The hotel, on the other hand, offers a lot, and not just because of its capacity for housing 450 visitors. From a game of pool and a piano bar, all the way to aerobics and yoga classes, it has tons of entertainment options. Services include a cinema, a games room, a fitness center, a gymnasium, a children’s day care center, and even timed race courses. Of course, there is also a cafeteria.
Portillo has no terrain parks – but it also doesn’t need them. Portillo is wild! Which, if you ask us, definitely makes it one of the best ski resorts in South America.
Nevados de Chillan, Chile
How do you feel about skiing on a sleeping volcano? Nestled in the Southern Andes, the Nevados de Chillan ski resort sits on the slopes of the Chillan volcano, and offers everything from awe-inspiring views to unforgettable skiing experiences. The area itself is very unique, which results in a bevy of natural, outdoor thermal pools and indoor luxurious spas. It’s the perfect pampering after a day of snowboarding or skiing.
Chillan mountain (actually, a volcano) is one of the most snowy spots in the entire South American continent. There is a huge amount of snow here, which makes skiing and merely walking around an unforgettable, postcard-like experience. However, the wind here can also get ferocious – the locals call it the Puelche, named after an indigenous people of the Andes.
- Diverse terrain with one-of-a-kind features
- First-class backcountry skiing
- Natural hot springs
- Hard to reach
Famous for: skiing on an active volcano, best snow in Chile.
The area around Nevados de Chillan offers bountiful backcountry that will keep you interested for days. You can even get to the top of the Chillan volcano and ski downwards. Additionally, there are snowmobile runs too, and tons of opportunities for tree skiing in deep powder. Top it all off with a nice spa at a natural thermal spring, and you’ll be vacationing like a king! Or queen! Or a whole royal family.
The resort has a neighboring town too, and there are several hotels, a mini snow park, heli skiing, dog sledding, a cafeteria, shopping center, and even a tennis court. Family-friendly activities are available, and even some childcare services. Nevadas de Chillan is 50 miles from the nearest airport, but 300 miles from the capital of Chile, Santiago.
The Nevados de Chillan ski resort sits at a base elevation of 5899 feet, with a summit height of 8199 feet. That makes for an impressive vertical drop of 2300 feet, but the skiing goodies don’t end here.
Nevados de Chillan has 27 runs strewn over 1223 acres of skiable terrain, with its longest being 1.4 miles. The 27 runs are organized into 15% beginner runs, 56% intermediate runs, 19% of advanced runs, and 11% of extreme runs.
Crowd Density and Ski Lifts
This resort can get crowded, so if you’re actively trying to avoid large crowds you should check the other resorts on this list.
There are 9 ski lifts in operation, moving visitors around smoothly and efficiently. They can sometimes be slow though, so don’t be surprised if you encounter long lines.
If you’re looking for ski-in/ski-out access, there are plenty of on-mountain hotels that offer all-inclusive packages. If you’re looking for something a bit more affordable with a great nightlife, check some of the lodgings in the nearby town of Las Trancas.
So, if you want to ski on a volcano, put Nevados de Chillan on your list of the best ski resorts in South America!
What To Expect From Ski Resorts In South America?
When we say best ski resorts in South America, we mean ski resorts in the Andes Mountains. The Andes are the longest mountain range on the planet (4,300 miles or 6920 kilometers) and have the second-highest peaks right after the Himalayas. That means top-notch snow, exciting skiing and snowboarding, mind-blowing views, and memorable experiences. The reverse seasons will also trick your mind and make you feel like you’re experiencing one “Endless Winter.”
You’ll find all types of ski resorts here – from very local, rustic, bare-bones operations, to world-class resorts of international renown. You can climb up by ropes, or you can climb up by modern lifts. And you can climb down to a modern city, or an untouched rainforest. South America is the epitome of the “choose your own adventure” thing.
Snow Quality At Ski Resorts In South America
Snow conditions and weather are wildly unpredictable in the Andes, and can depend on the month or location of travel. The snow quality in South America is a combination between the glittery coastal snows seen in Canada’s Whistler Blackcomb, and the dry powdery snows typically gracing the mountains of Japan and Utah.
Storms in the Andes are generally big and tough and can dump a lot of fresh snow. However, with not that many people up in the mountains, snowy days last longer than resorts in the USA. While June can surprise everyone and create a lot of powder, the best time to ski and snowboard in South America is late July, the entirety of August, and the first half of September. June and October can be fine as well, but consider them as the “intro” and “outro” of South America’s winter season.
Differences Between North American Ski Resorts And Ski Resorts In South America
But how do South American ski resorts compare to those in the US, Canada, or Europe? Well, there are two key differences that you should be aware of beforehand.
First, the opening hours of ski resorts in South America start a bit later than what you’re probably used to. If you get up at 7:00 in the morning intent on beating the crowds, we have news for you – nothing opens that early in the Andes. At best, you can doze off until 9:00 am when most ski resorts in South America open, with full operations sometimes being delayed well until noon. However, the Andes also receive longer hours of natural light, which means you can also ski until later in the afternoon. So it all evens out, really.
People are just more laid back here, which, once you embrace it, can be a really good thing. So relax and enjoy yourself.
Secondly, most South American countries aren’t really as developed as Western or Northern counterparts. This can sometimes mean poorer resort infrastructure, especially in regards to the layout of the ski lifts and their speeds. But again, it evens out – the lifts may be slower, but the waiting lines are also a lot shorter.
Furthermore, the best ski resorts in South America take care to groom their runs well, but the grooming level is just not as perfect as some resorts in Colorado for example. Additionally, trail boundaries and mountain hazards are often not marked as diligently, so there can be some safety risks involved too. It’s rare, but it’s best to be aware of it and keep your eyes peeled, especially up on the mountains.
So, be aware of these differences and you’ll dampen the culture shock a little. And hey – you’re skiing in July!
South America Offers More Than Skiing
For those with a somewhat limited budget, it’s best to avoid the two weeks in the middle of July. That’s when South American children get a two week school holiday, which can result in more crowds and increased prices.
Depending which country you choose to visit, you can combine your summertime winter sports trip with a visit to Santiago (Chile) or Buenos Aires (Argentina) or other cities. Chile and Argentina are also very family-friendly, and a family ski trip to South America can be the family vacation of a lifetime.
South American urban centers are fascinating, and offer anything from wine-tasting, to memorable historical and other interesting tours. It would be a shame to visit South America without taking in any of its culture or history. Or its excellent food!
How To Get To The Best Ski Resorts In South America?
If it sounds daunting, we totally get it. It’s not close, but if you commit to it, it will result in one epic journey. And besides, nowadays, distance isn’t what it used to be. South America keeps developing, which means a lot of connecting flights to it from every corner of the world.
Flying To South America From The United States
From the US, you can find many flights to Santiago or Buenos Aires. Aeorilineas Argentinas, Latam, American, Delta, United, and others offer nonstop flights from Houston, Dallas, Atlanta, New York, Miami, Los Angeles, and other American hubs. Some flights to Santiago from LAX however include stops in Lima, Peru, so be sure to check for that when booking your flight. Flights can usually take anywhere from 8 to 12 hours, sometimes more, depending on the arrangement.
Flying From Canada To South America
From Canada, you have direct flights to Buenos Aires and Santiago from Toronto. Although, Air Canada seems to be the only airline company that offers these. Vancouver, Calgary and other major Canadian cities offer flights to destinations to South America as well, although they typically reroute through Toronto or a US airport hub. If you are Canadian and wish to avoid the hassle of going through US Customs, better have a trip to Toronto and then fly directly to South America. Flights can take longer, between 10-13 hours or more.
Once You’re There
Depending on where you land, you may need an additional flight to reach the mountainous areas. Sometimes you can do the same by using a train, a bus, or a car. South America is an entire continent so it’s big – so expect the necessity of additional flights or trips by air or sea. Most people talk at least basic English, so you should have no problems getting around and making arrangements.
But once you’re there, make no mistake about it – skiing and snowboarding in the Andes Mountains during what you’ve always known as “summer” is one of the world’s most awe-inspiring experiences! If you have a bucket list, taking a trip to South America’s beautiful, snow capped mountains needs to be on it.
And about where to go? We’ll help you with that. Here are the best ski resorts in South America, in no particular order. There is something for everyone – so let’s go over each!