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High on the Andes

Skiing Down the Spine of South America / By Ramona Flume

As Indian summer temperatures soar in North America, savvy travelers looking to escape the heat pack up and head south. The Andes Mountains is the longest mountain range in the world, spanning the entire West Coast of South America, all the way from Venezuela’s Lake Maracaibo down to Tierra del Fuego in Patagonia. That’s seven countries, 7,000 kilometers of picturesque peaks and a spectacular ski season that runs through October. Whether you’re a seasoned pro looking for high-flying adventure alongside active volcanoes or a family of beginners, a luxury junkie in need of some five-star relaxation or eco-tourists looking to go wild, the Andes have something for everyone.

Way Down Under / Ushuaia, Patagonia
If you’re heading south, you might as well go all the way. Ushuaia, in Patagonia’s Tierra del Fuego province, is the world’s southernmost ski resort and is renowned for its unique ecological beauty. Both Cerro Castor and nearby Cerro Bayo offer luxurious accommodations and ski runs alongside virgin forest lines and towering glaciers. After a morning on the mountains, spend an afternoon kayaking the Arctic Sea and sighting penguins on glaciers or whales breeching the icy waters.

Family / Termas de Chillán Ski Resort, Chile
The Gran Hotel in Termas de Chillán is a great option for families with ski fever. There’s something for everyone here at the Southern Andes’ most diverse and luxurious resort. Ski the longest run in South America, Las Tres Marias, or check out thrilling speed and championship competitions at Snowboard Park. Explore the peaks of Volcán Chillán or take a magical ride through the heart of the Andes on a dog-sledding adventure. And after a long day with the family, nothing beats a soak in Chillán’s world-famous, mineral-enriched thermal baths.

Budget/Independent Travelers / Portillo, Chile
Whether you’re a beginner skier or a seasoned pro, you can hit the pistes without injuring your bank account. The Inca Lodge, a budget option at the grand Hotel Portillo is only $700 for a seven-day stay, which includes four meals a day, lift tickets and unlimited access to the hotel’s five-star services and facilities. Find new skiing buddies every day in the youth hostel-style accommodations and explore Portillo’s expansive backcountry, like the powder-packed Primavera run.

Eco-Tourists/Au Natural / Nahuel Huapi National Park
Get back to the luxury of the essential at Estancia Peuma Hue, the isolated eco-lodge inside Argentina’s Nahuel Huapi National Park on the banks of Lake Gutierrez. Guests can take in unfettered views of the Andes snow during outdoor yoga classes or enjoy a homemade, organic meal in the breathtaking, glass-walled dining hall. Spend all day on the pristine backcountry slopes of Cerro Catedral or try your hand at other arctic sports, such as ice climbing and snowshoeing.

Night Owls/Party Animals / San Carlos de Bariloche, Argentina
A night out in Bariloche, with its myriad fine dining options, glittering casinos, cinemas and eight clamorous discos, can keep you occupied until the sun comes up. The resort has an international reputation for a noisy nightlife, but you won’t want to sleep the day away. The superlative Argentine ski resort doesn’t just cater to night owls. Ecological explorations into Nahuel Huapi Lake, international shopping and extreme skiing excursions to peaks like Posada Piedra del Condor just north of Bariloche, are not to be missed.

Isolated Beauty / Torres del Paine National Park, Patagonia
If the top of an Andean peak is too crowded for you, then head to Hotel Salto Chico a modern and isolated marvel in the heart of Patagonia’s Torres del Paine National Park. There are no crowds in this sparsely populated park—or ski lifts for that matter. Instead, explore the jaw-dropping beauty of this UNESCO biosphere reserve on foot or horseback (the hotel has its own stable) or simply take in the sublime surroundings of the Salto Chico Waterfall and Lago Pehoe from your room or the incredible on-site bathhouse, complete with four open-aired Jacuzzis.

Professional Skiiers/Purists / La Hoya, Argentina
The city of Esquel, a quiet Patagonian outpost located near Butch Cassidy’s infamous hideout, is the perfect base camp for some of the best skiing terrain in South America. Ski purists should spend a few days exploring Mount La Hoya, which receives more snow than any other ski resort in Argentina. Bypass the easily accessible marked trails and head straight for the mountain’s immaculate backcountry, where die-hard powder fanatics and off-piste enthusiasts will get lost in snow-drenched heaven.

Luxury / Las Leñas, Argentina
If you need a dash of haughtiness to go with your dose of Andean heights, then take full advantage of the luxury accommodations at Las Leñas. Indulge in charter jet service (running round trip to and from Buenos Aires every day) and enjoy the quintessential luxury of hotels such as the Piscis Hotel & Spa, nestled deep in a snow-hushed valley in Argentina’s Mendoza province. Or push yourself beyond your maxed-out comfort levels and try your hand at freestyle skiing sessions, an intensive technique focusing on using natural elements as obstacles on the mountain.

Kick It Up a Notch
The experts at PowderQuest arrange custom ski trips throughout the best of Argentina and Chile’s backcountry. Whether it’s an intermediate family snowboarding vacation or a professional level self-guided adventure, PowderQuest provides creative and challenging itineraries with all of the logistics taken care of in advance. For more thrills, book the Classic Heli-Package at Powder South, South America’s premier helicopter skiing operator, for six full days of extreme heliskiing and six nights of deluxe accommodations, including a stay at Chile’s world-class W Hotel.

Photo by PowderQuest