Chile shares many of the same characteristics as Argentina: wide-open slopes with spectacular views and a great glass of wine at the end of the day—with a greater vino variety than on the other side of the mountains. All of the ski resorts here can be reached easily from the country’s biggest city too (close enough to be done on a day trip in the case of Valle Nevado), making a ski trip here more convenient than anywhere else on the continent.
Here are the best choices for skiers looking to hit the slopes of Chile in style.
Close to Santiago but feeling a million miles away, Chile’s premier ski resort offers long cruising trails, bone–jarring mogul runs, and a snowboard park. Plus you can venture into a whole backcountry playground easily reached by helicopter.
Situated between 10,000 and 12,000 feet in altitude, snow is often plentiful here, but it’s sunny 85% of the year. Unlike at Las Leñas in Argentina, there are few days where the weather will keep you stuck indoors. The panoramic scenery is spectacular from almost every vantage point and with a widely dispersed variety of fast, modern lifts in place, there’s seldom much of a wait to get back up the mountain.
Completely above the treeline, the ski experience here is of wide-open vistas and multiple ways down the mountain. Even the bunny slope crowd gets a view of the mighty Andes and they get the benefit of some of the country’s best multi–lingual instructors, plus a rental program with good equipment.
The proximity to the capital (37 miles from the airport) can be both a blessing and a curse: this is one of four ski resorts reached by a single two–lane winding road going up into the mountains. (Both are devoted to one direction during peak movement hours.) So it’s possible to come here just for the day, but a better option is to make reservations at the slopeside Valle Nevado Hotel. Remodeled in 2010, it’s contemporary but comfortable, with pampering rooms, a heated outdoor pool and the area’s best restaurant facing the slopes. Package rates are a great value, including lift tickets, two meals, Wi-Fi, and day care for the kids if needed.
Portillo Ski Resort
Chile’s oldest ski resort area also backs up against the highest mountain outside of the Himalayas: Aconcagua. This is an intimate ski experience without the crowds. The resort can claim that “there’s never a lift line” here because the number of people on the mountain is capped at 450 per day. Only 450 skiers on the whole mountain!
To get even further away from it all, heli-skiing takes you into otherwise unreachable areas among the highest mountains in the Americas. The season here is longer than at many other Andean resorts, usually running from June into October.
Portillo is only two hours from Santiago and the resort offers a shuttle service for $120 per person round trip. There’s only one hotel to stay at in this area—Hotel Portillo—but the food gets high marks and many of the staffers have a long history at the resort.
Don’t expect individual VIP treatment or lots of upgrade options besides the ability to get a suite with a balcony. But with such a small crowd, lots of activities, great views, and a ski-in, ski-out lodge location, you might not even notice.
Termas de Chillan
For lots of superlatives, head further south to Termas de Chillán, located 78 kms from the town of Chillán and about five hours from Santiago. It’s got the longest ski run in South America, at 8 miles (13 kilometers) and the longest chairlift at 1.5 miles. Plus it claims to be “the Southern Hemisphere’s leading thermal spa.” There’s a snowboard park, snowmobile trails, and cross-country skiing.
Courtesy of Termas de Chillan
There are three hot springs pools here—one indoor, two outdoor—for soaking tired muscles after a day on the trails. The connected spa offers multiple massage treatments, hydrotherapy, and mud baths.
There are multiple hotels in this ski area, all run by the same company. The top choice is Gran Hotel Termas de Chillán, with 120 rooms that are a cut above the others. If you’re not up for spa treatments, you can find several bars and a casino on site. Upgrade to a luxury suite or apartment for the most space, but this area is better for a long weekend than a full week’s vacation as the food and service are not up to the level of the other two resorts profiled here.
One of the advantages of this resort area is that it can be reached by public transportation: a train from Santiago to Chillán, then a complimentary shuttle to the resort for hotel guests. For visitors looking to ski without renting a car or joining a group tour, that can be an attractive option for a weekend of South American skiing away from the capital.
Story and photos by Shanie Matthews and Timothy Scott. All Argentina photos by Matthews, all Chile photos by Scott except where indicated.