This is the complete guide to choose your ski destination in South America
Today we meet with Serge Berthiaume, A French Canadian living and skiing in South America. I first meet Serge more than ten years ago; ski bumming his way all over North America. I was not surprised when I heard Serge’s plan to ski South America over the summer; it was a bit of a shock when I heard he would go back every year. Saving money, working winters back home just to go back to ski the Southern Winters. After all, most of us were doing the opposite. Serge now lives full time in Chile and skiing is still his main occupation.
Tell us the story behind a Canadian who lives and work in the ski industry in South America
It’s been 10 years since we started our history here in Chile, that was in 2003. When we arrived to Santiago after saving up our money (for a whole winter), we understood that what we did was the best choice, skiing 30 inch of fresh snow on our first day.
The first days were hard! Trying to figure where the best lines were, the best happy hours, the best restaurants… well, the best setup for us! Two months after our return to Canada we realized that we loved our trip so much that we didn’t’ spend a day without talking about it! It was done: we were addicted. We had to come back, we never miss a ski season in Chile ever again!
What’s so special about skiing in South America?
My BEST Memory: The Good can be really good. My best season was 2008. It dumped like crazy. We had an average of 25+ inches a week all season long! It just never quit snowing. We had so much snow, inbound, outbound, didn’t matter. We could still ride up to the end of October. It was for me the best season ever! And it looks like we will have the same set up for this year!
The ski season in South America is from end of June up to end of September. It’s hard to tell what is the best period; for me, mid July to mid august is usually good; also, the beginning of September could also be very good! Anyway, choosing dates for your ski trip is always a flip of coin, luck is part of the adventure!
Tell us a bit more about it
Three countries of South America have ski resorts:
Bolivia: One resort
Chacaltaya is the world highest ski resort at 5580m/19029 ft is NOT a good choice! Altitude tends to make you sick.
Argentina: 8 resorts
2 close to Mendoza, 4 close to Patagonia in the South, one at the end of the world in Ushuaia (Terra del Fuego). Resorts are usually not ski in ski out and the average driving distance is half an hour.
Chile: 23 ski resorts
By far my favorite. Winters are usually mild (About -5°C/25 °F), it snows around 4-5 meters (15ft) in a 3 month period.
The ski resorts are located in two areas of Chile, the Middle and the South! The Middle is Santiago area, (here we call it Zona Central de Chile), in that Zona, we have high mountains, huge terrain and very dry powder. The South can be very good but the mountains are smaller and the snow not so dry. It is not rare to get snow followed by rain. Roll of dice.
In Chile, a lot of ski resorts are far, very small, and badly managed! But the good ones are very good! You can heliski and catski although it’s obviously not cheap. Backcountry and slackcountry access is usually very easy.
I really like the way you say we speaking of the Zona de Central. We really feel that you have come to be a local, feel at home. What are your favorite spots, your secrets?
It’s hard to point to one destination, depending on what you are looking for:
Top 5 FAMILLY trip
TOP 5 DELUXE destination
TOP 5 UNKNOWN destinations
Top 5 SKI BUM destination (backcountry)
Tell us more about your Personal favorite spot, we want to know it all
Ok, here are my go to destinations:
1) El Colorado (Zona Central):
An hour and a half East of Santiago is the closest ski resort from the airport (only 66 km). El Colorado, 65 years running, is also the oldest ski resort in Chile. It is one of the most popular for Chilean family. Its versatility in term of runs, good for beginner to expert and it’s got an OUTSTANDING backcountry access. There is no crowd on weekdays and on weekends people get there late, skiing the same run, LOL! I often have customer arriving telling me: HEY did I come for that piece of carp. After one day, they all change their minds: Wow, what a playground!
El Colorado have a ski in ski out from Farellones. It’s the best little village for nightlife in the area, with great accommodations!
THE GOODS : very good snow quality, ski in ski out from Farellones, nice terrain, nice accommodations, stable weather, close from Santiago, amazing backcountry, land big terrain, above tree line skiing
2) La Parva (Zona Central)
An hour and a half East of Santiago (only 72 km from the airport). La Parva started as a very exclusive ski club, and over the years they open it to the public. Still today, La Parva’s little village is all private, belonging to very rich family from Santiago. All in all, La Parva is not the most visited ski resort, during the weekdays; you might be the only one there. La Parva has a reputation for good snow, it’s steeps and nice big open bowls. The backcountry access is a short walk and very good! Due to the wind, La Parva is the last to open and the first to close.
THE GOODS : very good snow, nice terrain, stable weather, close from Santiago, above tree line ski runs, good medical assistance, uncrowded.
3) Nevados de Chillian (South)
Nevados de Chillian use to be known as Termas de Chillian. The ski hill is located at 12 km from Las Trancas and an hour and a half from Chillian (the main town in the area). Nevados de Chillian has very good all around skiing but it can get windy and cloudy. The backcountry over there is very good and you can get to natural hot springs in the middle of your run! The view is outstanding; it has a lot of volcanoes (few still active) witch makes it even more special. It has very good accommodation. But forget about the ones that are ski-in ski-out and go to Las Trancas! Nevados de Chillian is very good but every time I went there I had at least one day that the access to the summit was closed due to the wind or overcast! It might also rain wile you are there!
THE GOODS : Real nice terrain, above and below tree line skiing, very good backcountry, nice accommodations.
Things to know about South America
- Ski season: mid June to beginning of October. Best: mid July to mid September
- What level do I need to be? : Beginner to expert!
- Can I rent equipment over there? I don’t recommend you to rent here, bring you own gear
- Which skis should I use? Bring fat skis, and if you can, bring a pair for groomers!
- Air travel:
- Air Canada, direct flight from Toronto to Santiago.
- American Airline, direct flight from Miami, Dallas or NY to Santiago; Delta: Direct flight from Atlanta to Santiago
- LAN: Miami, NY to Santiago
- To avoid problems with traffic at do not arrived on Saturday or Sunday! (Some roads out of the city are is one way at different hours on weekends. It’s a mess)
- Taxes or visa : US and Canadian citizens need to pay a reciprocity tax of 132 $US (valid until the expiry of your passport) that tax need to be paid at your entry in the country!
- The money here: Pesos Chilenos 1$US = 460 pesos
- Chile is a very stable country the only vaccine you should have is the one for hepatitis!
For the past 5 years we now show snow fanatics the best skiable terrain, the best resorts, the best happy hours we had the chance to ski in our lives! So for you: fans, professionals, and snow lovers, we invite you to plan your dream trip for 2013.
Serge Berthiaume owns PLAY IN CHILE. You can reach him on facebook or directly at firstname.lastname@example.org. He and is wife organize your dream ski trip in the southern hemisphere. ©photo credit by Serge.