Santiago is close to some of the best skiing in South America. Sunshine is abundant and queues for lifts are practically nonexistent during weekdays. The season normally lasts from mid-June to early October, with snow virtually guaranteed from mid-July to the first week in September.
Sitting high in the Andes at the foot of Cerro Colorado, a 90min drive from Santiago, Farellones is a straggling collection of hotels and apartments, connected by roads to the resorts of El Colorado (4km north), La Parva (2km further on), and Valle Nevado (a winding 14km east). Alternatively, a 2hr drive from Santiago takes you to posh Portillo.
Transport and equipment rental
The least expensive way to go skiing is to stay in Santiago and visit for the day. A number of minibus companies offer daily services to the resorts, including Ski Total, Apoquindo 4900 (2 246 0156, skitotal.cl). If you intend to drive up yourself, note traffic is only allowed up the road to Farellones until noon, and back down to Santiago from 2pm onwards; tire chains are often required but seldom used; they can be rented on the way up. Each resort has its own lift ticket.
All of the resorts have ski schools, English-speaking instructors, and equipment rental outlets.
El Colorado elcolorado.cl. Linked to Farellones by ski lift, as well as by road, El Colorado has 15 lifts and 22 runs, covering a wide range of levels. Elevations range from 2430m to 3333m. The resort’s base is known as Villa El Colorado, and includes several apart-hotels, restaurants and pubs.
La Parva laparva.cl. La Parva has moderate terrain, huge areas of backcountry skiing and a classy feel. The skiing here is excellent, with some very long intermediate cruising runs and a vertical drop of nearly 1000m. The resort has thirty pistes and fourteen lifts, but limited accommodation facilities.
Portillo http://www.skiportillo.com. Just off the international road from Los Andes, 7km short of the border with Argentina, Portillo is a sophisticated place, with no condominiums and just one hotel – the restored 1940s-vintage Hotel Portillo. The ski-runs are world-class, and off-piste options are endless, with elevation ranges from 2510m to 3350m. There are 12 lifts, plus extensive snow-making equipment. Portillo is avidly kid-friendly and its ski school is routinely ranked one of the world’s best.
Valle Nevado vallenevado.com. Connected to both El Colorado and La Parva by ski runs, Valle Nevado is a luxury resort with first-class hotels and some good restaurants. It has 27 runs, eight lifts and is the clear favourite for snowboarders.
There are some great backcountry options for skiers who want to escape the resorts. Ski Arpa, near the city of San Esteban, a 2hr drive from Santiago, offers cat skiing (off-trail skiing accessed via a snowcat vehicle, rather than a ski lift) and snowboarding in two beautiful valleys, el Arpa and la Honda, which lie to the west of Argentina’s Cerro Aconcagua, the highest mountain in the Andes. Note, that the season at Ski Arpa generally opens slightly later than the other resorts in the region, and that there is no equipment hire available. Santiago Adventures (244 2750, santiagoadventures.com) can organize transport and accommodation nearby; the company also offers (pricey) heli skiing trips in the Tres Valles, Cajon del Maipo and Aconcagua areas.