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Skiing in Chile: 7 ways to do southern hemisphere slopes
It's powder season down south and the case for a Chile snow safari is as bold as a hearty cabernet
Skiing, as one witty anonymous figure once said, is “the art of catching cold and going broke while rapidly heading nowhere at great personal risk.“
Yet for many the ski season is all too short. Just as you start to perfect your skills, the snow melts and you have to pack away the boards.
This is where the southern hemisphere comes to the rescue.
A stronger-than-usual buzz surrounds Chile this year, where the ski season runs from June to October.
Here's what has skiiers and snowboarders talking.
1. New runs, expanded operations
Valle Nevado is less than an hour, just 35 miles, from the capital. “Boutique” resort Portillo (which opened in 1948) is two hours, or 100 miles, away.
This year marks 25 years since Valle Nevado opened. To mark the occasion, the resort has created a new ski run, expanded Snowpark and will operate Chile’s first-ever gondola, which deposits skiers at Bajo Zero mountain restaurant, 3,200 meters (10,498 feet) above sea level.
For a super-speedy commute to the slopes, Valle Nevado has a heli-pad, as does W Santiago.
Valle Nevado opened last weekend. Portillo opens June 22.
2. Volcano skiing
In a country with hundreds of volcanoes -- some active -- it's logical to make the most of the steep slopes by skiing down them. Chile’s newest ski center sits atop Volcan Osorno, in the southern part of the country.
Noted for its visual similarity to Mount Fuji, Osorno is located about 40 miles from Puerto Montt, in the Lake District. It rises 2,662 meters (8,733 feet) above sea level, has two chairlifts, three drag lifts, 12 slopes of varying levels and a season that lasts until October.
“One of the highlights at Osorno is the snowcar tour,” says Raffaele Di Biase, owner of BirdsChile and president of the local Tour Guides Association. “It’s a vehicle that takes you up over the snow to the snowy side of the volcano, an area otherwise inaccessible.”
On a clear day, the view from the Glacier Station reaches to the Pacific Ocean.
An unexpected perk of volcano skiing: snowshoe excursions to the volcano’s crater.
LAN Airlines runs multiple daily flights between Santiago and Puerto Montt.
BirdsChile, +56 9 9235 48 18; day trips with BirdsChile from $150; resort opens June 22
3. Wine tasting
In 2013, chic Portillo brings its popular Wine Week concept to the slopes for the first time.
Between August 3 and 10, top Chilean wine producers will come to Portillo to fill glasses for skiers and snowboarders.
Tastings start at 6:30 p.m. each evening at various locations.
4. Snowcat skiing
For off-trail, downhill skiing without a helicopter, snowcat skiing is an exciting alternative.
Near San Estean (67 miles from Santiago), Ski Arpa was the first place in South America to launch cat skiing.
Its longest run is 1,000 vertical meters, and offers spectacular views of Mount Aconcagua. At 6,962 meters (22,841 feet), it's the tallest peak in South America.
“This is some of the best untracked powder in the world,” says Kristina Schreck, Chile expert and guidebook writer. “Santiago Adventures will run Ski Arpa this year, which is Chile’s only snowcat operation, located in the foothills of the Andes.”
There's no lodging at Ski Arpa, but Santiago Adventures offers three-day tours from Santiago and other locations.
You’ll have 4,000 acres of terrain at your fingertips, shared among a maximum of 25 people.
Skiiers and snowboarders need to be intermediate or advanced to share these untouched slopes with the guanacos and condors.
5. Eco-ski lodges
North of Osorno, in Araucanía, new eco-hotel Valle Corralco Hotel & Spa opens this season.
Located in the National Reserve of Malalcahuello-Nalcas, the 54-bedroom hotel is linked with the Corralco Mountain & Ski Resort, which opened eight years ago.
With a new hotel to host skiers, 2013 marks the first year that the Corralco slopes will be open for the entire season.
Corralco, Reserva Nacional Malalcahuello, Comuna de Curacautín, Región de la Araucanía; +56 2 2206 0741
6. Skiing and touring Patagonia
Chilean tour operator Cascada Travel offers a great tour for those who want to see some of Patagonia as well as ski.
Its six-day expedition runs in September only -- due to the short window when both the ski slopes and Patagonian “glampsites” are open.
The trip starts with skiing at Valle Nevado before heading south to Ecocamp Patagonia in the spectacular Torres del Paine National Park.
After skiing at Valle Nevado, guests fly to Punta Arenas then drive to Torres del Paine, stopping en route at Milodon Cave, inhabited 10,000 years ago by giant sloths.
At EcoCamp, beds take the form of a dome below the park's famed granite towers.
After a few days exploring the park, including hiking to the base of the towers and taking a boat ride to Grey Glacier, guests return to Santiago.
Cascada Travel; +1 800 901 6987; from $2,039 per person
7. 'Have it all' package
If you can’t decide among all of the options, Santiago Adventures has a six-day Ultimate South America Skiing & Riding Tour, which includes cat skiing, resort skiing, Maipo Valley winery visits and heli-skiing.
“We offer skiers a one-stop shop to combine multiple resorts and Chile’s other wonderful destinations,” says Brian Pearson, founder of Santiago Adventures.
The heli-skiing takes place at Puma Lodge, which opened in 2011 and is Chile’s latest skiing sensation.