In the south of the Mendoza’s province in Argentina, in the town of Malargüe, there is a small airport lost in the middle of the pampas. This is logically the starting point of our tour of the best ski resorts in South America.
Las Leñas is the backcountry skiing paradise in Argentina
There is no faster way to get to Las Leñas, the freeride nugget of the Southern Hemisphere ski resorts.. On the road that leads from the airport to Las Lenas, the semi-arid landscape is striking. We discover a mineral world, crystalline, raw, with from time to time a turquoise lake where is reflected the pink of the flamingos, the only inhabitants of the area. And then we begin to see snowy summits culminating for some to more than 5000, indeed we are in the region of the Aconcagua, the highest summit of Americas with its 6962 mts of altitude.
Suddenly the straight road up to here starts to turn and leaves the highlands to head due west into the cordillera. Nestled at the bottom of the valley, Las Lenas appears, surrounded by enticing slopes. After a night at the Aries Hotel we are ready to ski, and taking the Marte chairlift that defies the laws of gravity by climbing steeply between rocky cliffs is an achievement in itself. From the top of the lift, we are just a few steps from Cerro Martin and Torre Sillas. We will make the necessary effort to climb there and leave our tracks on that slopes, not to mention all the couloirs accessible by gravity that lead back down to the bottom of the ski area 1200 mts below. 3 days of skiing in Las Leñas only allow to have a little idea of the potential of this ski area which in my opinion is the place of South America which resembles the most what we find in the Alps…
On the way to our next stop we take a short break in Los Molles to see the “Pozo de Las Animas” before continuing south. The kilometers follow one another on the highlands of the central Andes. Where there are a few trees we can guess a vast agricultural “Estancia”, the South American cousin of the ranch, and we also sometimes meet some “gauchos” on horseback who are trying to gather their herds, which are spread out over lands larger than the Rhone valley…
Discovering Patagonia on skis
Little by little the landscape changes, then after the junction towards the ski resort of Caviahue and the thermal town of Copahue, as we get closer to San Martin de Los Andes, gateway to the Argentine Patagonia, the trees become more and more numerous. San Martin de Los Andes is the kingdom of large lakes surrounded by dense coniferous forests. The houses have also changed in appearance, moving from the austere stone buildings of the windswept high plateaus to plush wooden chalets in the purest Swiss spirit. In the evening, the streets of the small town smell of barbecued lamb “asado de cordero”, a specialty of Patagonia… the perfect meal to build up your energy for the next day, which will be energy intensive.
From the village it takes about 20 minutes by car to reach the parking lot of Chapelco. The gondola lift is modern and allows you to quickly reach the top of the ski area at 2120 mts of altitude. The off-piste terrain is pleasant and the routes through the lichen-covered forests are worth a visit. Another evening in this beautiful village with Swiss accents with as proof the chocolate fondue served in most restaurants. The road to join Chile by the Paso Tromen Mamuil Malal is magnificent. Here again, nature is majestic. We feel very small when passing next to the Volcan Lanin and its 3800 mts of altitude. Along the road the vegetation changes again and everywhere imposes itself the Araucaria, an often thousand-year-old conifer, impressive by its forms and its dimensions.
Ski touring on Chilean volcanoes, an exceptional experience
After 180km of mountain road, much of which is unpaved, here is Pucon, a small town that bears the standard of Chilean tourism, nestled in the forest on the shores of the large Lake Villarica and at the foot of one of the most active volcanoes on the planet. The main characteristic of skiing on a volcano is that there is often a very regular slope, which makes it pleasant to go up and down these giants. In addition, the conical shape guarantees a descent in good snow since you can easily change exposure as you descend. The Villarrica Volcano is special because it has a lava lake at the bottom of its crater that is clearly visible from the summit! After climbing the volcano, enjoy the natural hot waters of volcanic origin of “los pozones” or “las termas geometricas”.
After 2 days spent in Pucon, it is necessary to begin to go up towards the north. Next stop is Nevados de Chillan ski resort. This resort is at about the same latitude as Las Leñas but the comparison stops there because the half-mountainous and half-volcanic setting gives it a unique character. The “Otto” chairlift is recognized as the longest in South America. From its summit we put on the skins to reach the top of the Nevado volcano in order to offer ourselves an interminable descent until Shangri-La and the valley of Las Trancas where we lodge in Ecobox Andino. Still from the top of Otto you can easily reach Valle Hermoso and its hot water river. It is the opportunity to live the unique experience of taking off your skis and boots, in a 100% wild and snowy environment to immerse yourself in the waters of a river naturally heated by the Nuevo volcano which is just above… Before clilmbing on skins to join the ski area of Termas de Chillan Two or three days of skiing will allow you to see all the good options this ski resort has to offer.
The last stage of this tour of the Andes will be the resort of La Parva which is part of the 3 Chilean valleys with Valle Nevado and El Colorado. La Parva has the most beautiful view of the city of Santiago de Chile and one of the most beautiful sunsets you can imagine. The ski area extends from 2500 mts high to 3600 mtsd high and is dominated by El Plomo and its 5400 mts of altitude. The Cerro Pintor and Cerro Falsa Parva are accessible by ski touring and offer a lot of interesting couloirs. If you leave your car on the road between Farellones and Valle Nevado, you can enjoy the famous Santa Teresa sector in freeride mode, without any effort…