Where Are the Best Ski Resorts in Chile?

Ski Chile and experience some fabulous ski resorts perched up high in the majestic Andes mountain range. It is a great destination for a ski or snowboard holiday because you can combine powder skiing with an interesting culture.

Chile is a long narrow country spanning 4,300km (2,600 miles) from north to south yet it averages only 180km (111 miles) wide. It’s the land of startling diversity in regards to its geography and climate. From hot arid deserts in the north, to the chilly (OK, pun intended!) expanses of Patagonia in the south. There are at least 20 ski resorts located in the southern half of the country. As you move further south, the mountains get smaller however the climate gets colder. The most northern resort (and one of the highest) is Portillo, which is 164km northeast of Santiago, close to border of Argentina. Portillo ski resort is world renowned, and is recognized in photos by the distinctive yellow Hotel Portillo set amongst the magnificent backdrop of the snow covered Andes and enormous frozen lake.

Also near Santiago are the ski resorts in the Three Valleys (Tres Valles): the modern and massive world class Valle Nevado, and the interconnected La Parva, El Colorado and Farellones ski resorts. To the southeast of Santiago is little Lagunillas, a non-commercial ski resort. Nearby is Chapa Verde, 145km from Santiago.

About five hours south of Santiago near Chillan is Termas de Chillan (Nevados de Chillan), a hot springs resort that resides on two active volcanoes. Further south is the small family resort of Pucon Villarica. This ski resort is also situated on a volcano, and is popular with snowboarders due to the natural half pipes formed by lava flows. Other southern resorts include Antillanca (adjacent to Bariloche in Argentina) Antuco, Lonquimay, Llaima, and El Fraile. And way down south is the Cerro Mirador Resort.

The lift systems at the Chile ski resorts are fairly average, especially when compared to USA ski resorts and skiing in Canada. Undertake a good pre-season fitness regime, as your quads won’t get much rest on all those surface tows (although they will get a long rest on the slow chairlifts). The ski resorts nearer to Santiago have acceptable lift and facility infrastructure, whilst the more southern resorts are lacking. The upside of the lack of glitz is the lower cost.

The Andes is the second highest mountain range in the world, and it’s still rising. The summit of Aconcagua which is only 15km from the border of Chile, sits at 6,950 metres (22,841 feet). Thankfully the ski resorts aren’t as high, but those around Santiago still rise to around 3,650 metres. These elevations are fantastic for the views and snow quality, but are not quite so good for the ability to breathe for the first day or so. These northern ski resorts are above the tree line, and as you move further south the elevations are lower which affords some tree skiing opportunities. Average annual snowfalls are generally around the 6-7 metre mark, except for Termas de Chillan that receives a bountiful 10 metres annually. The snowpack is coastal, so it’s reasonably stable, and considering the cool temperatures, the powder is reasonably dry. That being said, Chile ski resorts sometimes also suffer from horrendously icy conditions.

The weather can be very kind and provide lots of sunny days, but considering that many of the resorts are very exposed, nasty weather can close the resorts and access roads for days at a time. This may put a quick dampener on your ski vacation, but when the bluebird day arrives you’ll forget about it and enjoy skiing bliss once again.

There are various heli skiing and heli boarding opportunities in Chile. These are typically situated at the upscale ski resorts such as Portillo, Valle Nevado, and La Parva. All the operations provide single day heli skiing packages, and most provide single runs options.

There is only one formal cat skiing operation in Chile (and South America). The Arpa cat ski operation is located about 100kms north of Santiago.

Chile is a great place to have a winter vacation in summer (of course this only works for those who live in the Northern Hemisphere!), or a winter vacation in winter! The ski season begins in mid-June and runs to October. However the best skiing conditions in Chile are generally mid July to early September, but the busy Chile holidays are during July.