Take Your Summer Skiing in the Andes Up a Notch at Valle Nevado
If anticipation makes the end goal sweeter, the drive from Santiago to Chile’s largest ski resort, Valle Nevado, verges on sugar overload. As the two-lane road scribes its way up from the valley floor into the Andes, each of its 58 hairpin—and slightly hair-raising—turns brings you ever so slightly closer to the slopes. By the time you arrive at the resort’s small base area, some 90 minutes, 28 miles, and 8,200 vertical feet later, you’ve transitioned from bustling urban center to remote mountain outpost, from average temps of 50 degrees Fahrenheit to full-on winter.
A summer ski trip to the Southern Hemisphere may seem like a novelty (even cheating the weather system, maybe), but for any devoted skier or snowboarder, it’s worth it. Many Aspenites flock to Chile each July and August for an all-inclusive week at Ski Portillo. While that intimate resort, with its sprawling hotel, spectacular lakeside setting, and clubby atmosphere, makes for a great introduction to Andes skiing, Valle Nevado kicks it up a notch, with almost double the skiable acres (more than 2,200 ), plus ski and lift access to neighboring resorts El Colorado and La Parva (together, the three resorts are known as the Tres Valles and offer almost 7,000 acres of terrain). Moreover, if you’ve bought a pass for the Mountain Collective—the multi-resort collaboration that includes Aspen/Snowmass as well as 13 other areas in the United States and Canada—two days of skiing at Valle Nevado are included. (Better yet, passholders can opt for a 15 percent discount on package stays at the resort that include lodging, lifts, and meals.)
As at most Chilean ski resorts, all of Valle Nevado’s slopes are above treeline; envision giant dollops of meringue framed by stiffened peaks. As a result, the area has the feel of a natural terrain park, with gullies and rollers all over. It also means the mountain skis much bigger than the 44 runs on the trail map would indicate. And, like in Aspen, crowds are few and far between.
Valle Nevado’s name translates to “snowy valley,” and, indeed, average snowfall is 275 inches a winter. But the weather is often sunny. A partial explanation is that storm cycles are frequent but short, and the high elevation—12,041 feet up top, 9,839 at the base—keeps snow cold and dry. And, really, that sun—especially when you’re coming from a northern summer—is all the better for sipping pisco sours on the deck of the mid-mountain restaurant, Baja Zero.
But you are here to ski, so don’t linger on the deck too long. For those partial to long, wide-open cruisers, Valle Nevado satisfies with thigh-burners like Sol, or steep groomers like Momia, both off the Andes Express lift. On powder days, the expert terrain served by the Tres Puntas, Valle del Inca, and Ancla pomas is the place to head. If it’s been a while since the last storm, and you’ve got the proper safety gear and experience, take advantage of the easy backcountry access off Ancla; numerous hike-to sidecountry lines, some of them running through the area’s striking rock formations, lead back to the ski area, upping the resort’s fairly modest 2,202-foot vertical drop.
Another backcountry bonus: Valle Nevado has its own heli-ski operation, and you can book by the run (two minimum). It’s a toss-up to say which is more dramatic: flying in the A Star B4 helicopter amidst the Andes’ mind-blowing topography, where surrounding peaks soar to 17,000 feet, or skiing runs as long as 6,000 vertical feet within the plunging valleys below.
Off slope, Valle Nevado’s tall but compact base area—home to three hotels, a smattering of condos, and six restaurants—provides just enough opportunity for après-skiing and dining without too much distraction. That said, themed event weeks like a new culinary festival (Aug. 5–10 ) and the always-popular Chilean Wine Festival ( 18–24 ) are good times to come if you crave more activity.
This being South America, there is always the option to party into the wee hours after a traditionally late dinner. The resort’s disco in the Tres Puntas hotel starts pumping the reggaeton around midnight. Or drink beer with the locals at the sports-bar-like La Leñera. You might be content to just celebrate a Chilean adventure après-ski in the giant, centrally located hot tub, where cocktail service and a DJ amp up the crowd of revelers. It’s worth a dip, if only to watch alpenglow bathe the surrounding peaks as the sun slips below the horizon. Whatever your preference, know this: after a ski getaway, summer vacation will never seem the same.
Valle Nevado has announced it's opening one month early this season due to abundant pre-season snowfall in the Andes. And just for North American visitors, they're also offering 2 nights free with a 5-all inclusive night stay for any week between August 4-25, 2017 (must be reserved with a deposit by June 22). vallenevado.com
LATAM (formerly LAN), Chile’s top-rated main carrier, flies to Santiago from four US cities in the summer, including Los Angeles and Miami. It’s well worth upgrading to business class for the overnight flights. latam.com
Though it’s not difficult to navigate travel in Chile, Upscape, run by two American ex-pats, takes care of the details with several ski tours to multiple resorts (including cat-skiing at Ski Arpa, run by an Aspenite). Ski-In/Wine-Out (Aug. 5–13) adds on vineyard visits and tastings in several of Chile’s noteworthy wine destinations. upscapetravel.com
Plan on a couple of days in Santiago, Chile’s vibrant capital. Your home base should be the hip and lovely Hotel Magnolia, which opened last fall in a renovated historic mansion downtown. The design mixes industrial chic with the building’s vintage details, accented by artisan-crafted touches. The on-site restaurant offers a modern take on traditional Chilean cuisine. hotelmagnolia.cl