The Top 5 Ski Resorts in South America:

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Cerro Negro. Bariloche, Argentina. August, 2014. photo: snowbrains.com
Cerro Negro. Bariloche, Argentina. August 2014. photo: snowbrains.com

South America is huge, and the Andes mountain range is the longest in the world, with the tallest mountains on Earth outside the Himalayas.  The best skiing and snowboarding in the Andes is in the southern part of the continent, and it can be phenomenal.  It can be non-stop snowstorms in the south and incredibly long, smooth descents further north on the right year.  South America is raw, rad, and wild.  If the snow isn’t just right, the culture most certainly is.

How we ranked these ski resorts:

Rank =  [Average Snowfall + Access to Challenging Terrain] x Radness Factor (RF)

TOP 5 SKI RESORTS IN SOUTH AMERICA:

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Valle Nevado

Chile
John Bukac heli-skiing with Valle Nevado Heli in the Chilean Andes. Credit: Jeff Cricco

Number of Lifts: 14

Proximity to Nearest Major City: 59 km to Santiago

Vert: 810m (2,657 feet)

Skiable Terrain: 2,200 acres

Terrain Park: Yes

Country: Chile

Details: Located on the west side of the Andes in Chile, Valle Nevado is a modern, international-level ski resort located just 90 minutes east of Santiago at 10,000 feet, offering spectacular Andean views and offering plenty of terrain to entertain.

The resort is known for wide-open terrain, world-class heli-skiing, and snow quality, which on average is the best of any Chilean resort due to the resort’s altitude, southern orientation, and extensive snowmaking system.

Valle Nevado is part of the “Tres Valles” and borders El Colorado and La Parva, with an easy-to-access, interconnect system of lifts and trails. The resort attracts more international visitors due to its extensive infrastructure, including three hotels, eight condominiums, six restaurants, a spa/fitness center, bars, and many other amenities for adults and kids alike.

Valle Nevado celebrated its 30th Anniversary in 2018 and continues to push forward with a long-term “Master Plan” that will eventually develop the entire base area into a full-scale ski mountain village in the high Andes.

The key to getting gnarly here is the lift-accessed backcountry and the best heli-skiing operation in South America. Valle Nevado sits at a latitude of 33ºS, about the same as Orange County, CA.

They know how to have fun at Valle Nevado, Chile
They know how to have fun at Valle Nevado, Chile

Cerro Catedral

 Canada Dan sending it big off Hollywood Rock in 2013. photo: miles clark/snowbrains.com
Canada Dan sending it big off Hollywood Rock in 2013. photo: miles clark/snowbrains.com

Number of Lifts: 38

Proximity to Nearest Major City: 22 km to Bariloche, Argentina

Vertical Drop: 1,150m (3,773 feet)

Skiable Terrain: 2,965 acres

Terrain Park: Yes

Country: Argentina

Details:  Located farther south than many of the resorts, Catedral is located just outside Bariloche at a latitude of 41ºS.  The resort skiing here is good (terrain similar to Mammoth, CA), and the lift-accessed backcountry is stellar.  The Nubes chairlift is Catedral’s crown jewel.The tree skiing is second to none here, and the famous La Laguna zone is the spot for hucking your meat.  The backcountry from Catedral is impressive.  Alaskita will get your heart pumping.

If the snow isn’t great, you’ve got Bariloche, a city of 150,000 people and the biggest tourist destination in Argentina, to play in.  There is a raging party waiting for you at Wilkenny, Dusk, or any of the other nightclubs in town seven nights a week. Combine these clubs with how good-looking Argentines are, and Bariloche is sure to be a good time.

a Laguna at Catedral. photo & tracks: miles clark/snowbrains
a Laguna at Catedral. photo & tracks: miles clark/snowbrains

Las Leñas

Las Lenas, Argentina. August, 2014. photo: aymar navarro/snowbrains.com
Las Leñas, Argentina. August 2014. photo: Aymar navarro/snowbrains.com

Number of Lifts: 10

Proximity to Nearest Major City: 203 km to San Rafael, 367 km to Mendoza

Vertical Drop: 1,190m (3,904 feet)

Skiable Terrain: 43,200 acres (whoa!)

Terrain Park: Yes

Country: Argentina

Details:  Let’s face it, the terrain in Las Leñas is insane.  When it’s on, you’re skiing 3,000-foot runs off the chair in steep chutes and rocky terrain.  Open faces, couloirs, and rounded spines dominate the local backcountry. So if you like it big, Las Leñas is the place for you.

The only issues here are snow, wind, and heat.  Las Leñas is located at 35ºS, about the same latitude as Los Angeles, CA, leading to some dryness and warmth.  Big wind can be an issue here as well, which can shut down the Marte chair.  The famous Marte chair is the key to the kingdom at Las Leñas, and when it’s open, it’s pure bliss.  When the snow is good, and the Marte is open, Las Leñas is untouchable.

When the skiing isn’t on, Las Leñas is a tiny town and mellow place.  It’s a great place to relax in the high desert, far away from the concerns and bustle of everyday life.

Las Lenas, Argentina backcountry: Entre Rios. August, 2011. photo: snowbrains.com
Las Leñas, Argentina backcountry: Entre Rios. August 2011. photo: snowbrains.com

Portillo

Portillo, Chile. September 21st, 2013. photo: adam cole/snowbrains.com
Portillo, Chile. September 21st, 2013. photo: adam cole/snowbrains.com

Number of Lifts: 13

Proximity to Nearest Major City: 142 km to Santiago

Vert: 768m (2,486 feet)

Skiable Terrain: 1,235 acres

Terrain Park: No

Country: Chile

Details:  Chris Davenport doesn’t call Portillo his summer home for no reason.  This place has intense terrain.  Portillo is too far from any town for a day trip, so you have to commit.  There is only one hotel (the Cruise Ship as they call it) and packages generally sign you up for a minimum one-week stay.  The hotel can only hold 450 people, which means that things stay fresh that much longer.  Approximately 1/3 of Portillo’s groomed runs are covered by snowmaking, so no need to worry too much about the ol’ skis.

Portillo sits at latitude 32ºS which is the same latitude as San Diego, CA.  This means Portillo doesn’t get a whole lot of snow, and it can get warm, but when it’s on, it delivers.

Portillo hotel and terrain. September, 2013. photo: bevan waite/snowbrains.com
Portillo hotel and terrain. September 2013. photo: Bevan waite/snowbrains.com

Nevados de Chillan

August 14th CASA guide and Prior Snowboard ambassador Theresa ‘Tree’ Clinton in the Nevados de Chillan
August 14th, 2013, CASA guide and Prior Snowboard ambassador Theresa ‘Tree’ Clinton in the Nevados de Chillan.  photo:  CASA Tours/snowbrains.com

Number of Lifts: 9

Proximity to Nearest Major City: 82 km to Chillan

Vert: 870m (2,854 feet)

Skiable Terrain: 24,700 acres

Terrain Park: Yes

Country: Chile

Details:  If skiing powder is your forte, head on over to Chillan.  Chillan consistently gets more snow than any other ski resort in the Southern Hemisphere.  This is the Mt. Baker of the southern hemisphere, and there is no one here.  When it snows, it comes in huge amounts.   They also can get a famously violent wind, named the Puelche, after a big storm that hammers the snow hard.  It can get a bit warm here between storms.

Bountiful lift-accessed backcountry will keep you skiing pow long after the storm and some sweet skiing readily accessible off the Chillan Volcano (there is a cat service to the top if you’re willing to shell out or you can skin/boot) And you can do more than ski with snowmobile operations and a thermal hot spring.  Deep powder tree skiing is not to be missed here.

Nevados de Chillan sits at 37ºS, putting it at a similar latitude to Lake Tahoe, CA (39ºN).  This turns out to be a perfect latitude for copious amounts of snow.

Nevados de Chillan. August, 2014. photo: powderquest/snowbrains.com
Nevados de Chillan. August, 2014. photo: powderquest/snowbrains.com

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23 thoughts on “The Top 5 Ski Resorts in South America:

    1. Of course not. The attractions in Buenos Aires certainly attract more people as do the wineries in around Mendoza. However, in terms of skiing, Bariloche/Catedral is tops in Argentina. I’ve been to the country many times and I speak fluent Spanish.

      1. Good for you. I said that in response to the article saying Bariloche is “the biggest tourist destination in Argentina.” The I’ve been to but you don’t see me being a nerd about it.

        1. Nothing “nerdy” about stating facts. Si vos no entendés la cultura ni la situación, no debés enojarte.

  1. Which of these or maybe something that’s not listed would be good for intermediate and beginner skiers? Bday is in July and would love to ski on my big day.

  2. Your distance is completely wrong regarding Catedral in Argentina. It’s only 12 km from downtown Bariloche. I’ve been there multiple times. 22 km would put you in the forests far outside the city.

    1. Steve, damn good question. I personally have experience on powder days at Las Lenas and Catedral and they both now use avalanche explosives and have ungroomed terrain open on powder days.

      It likely depends on what kind of terrain you’re looking for.

      If you want to talk more, shoot me an email: contact@snowbrains.com

  3. Don’t miss out on the fossils all over the place at the top of the Marte chair, Las lenas. Just look around, you can find seashells and sea creature fossils at 11,000′. Amazing. Just be careful bringing them back, customs will take them back!

  4. Not that you would know what average snowfall at these places are given South American recordkeeeping , BUT

    Cerro Catedral has by far the worst snow record of those 5 resorts, so it’s silly to list it #1. By their own marketing claims it gets 240 inches at the top and 60 at the base. It’s leeward of the crest of the Andes and low elevation, so rain is frequent. The lower third of the mountain is only occasionally skiable and needs to be downloaded. There is also fairly sunny exposure, mostly east.

    Portillo and Las Lenas average about 250 inches at base elevation, Valle Nevado more like 200. The volatility is extreme, much more than the Sierra, but at least these places are high enough not to get rain.

    There is little doubt that Chillan gets the most snow, though it is low enough to get some rain. There is no hard data for Chillan, but it’s really standing out this season with a good 6-8 foot base when all the other places are hurting for snow.

    1. Tony, thanks for this insight. Reality is different than the numbers you’ve encountered. The further south you go, the more snow there is. Lenas and the other northern resorts are at the latitude of Los Angeles, CA or closer to the equator. If you do the math it’s easy to see that these resorts further north would logically receive less snow than the resorts further south and near the coast. Catedral is only 40 miles from the Pacific Ocean. Catedral is in the equivalent of the Pacific Northwest here. They always get snow.

      There is no hard data for any of these resorts. But this year, Ski Arpa in Northern Chile was open 2 days. Las Lenas is slated to close on Sept. 8th and they are having a tough year. Las Lenas closed last year on Sept. 15th, another rough year. The northern resorts just don’t get much snow. Catedral still has plenty of snow right now.

      Of the 5 ski resorts in this article, only Chillan gets more snow than Catedral.

      1. Catedral is 128 miles east of the Pacific, as measured on Google Earth. More relevant, it it is well east of the crest of the Andes, 21 miles east of Tronador, which is also 3,000+ feet higher than the top of Catedral. As you well know from Tahoe, areas leeward of the mountain range crest, like Northstar and Heavenly, get less snow than those on the crest, like Alpine, Squaw, Sierra-at-Tahoe and Kirkwood.

        Las Lenas and Portillo measure their snow near their bases and come up with numbers in the same range as Catedral claims from its summit. When was the last time you saw a ski area’s marketing significantly underestimate its snowfall? At any rate, we have all read TR’s commenting upon the frequency of Catedral’s lower third needing to be downloaded and also the high frequency of rain on the lower mountain.

        In terms of snow preservation, the rule of thumb in North America is that 4 degrees of latitude offset about 1,000 feet of elevation. Las Lenas and Catedral are 6 degrees of latitude apart, which should translate to 1,500 feet elevation for similar snow quality. But in fact the elevation difference is over 3,000 feet.

      1. Hey Max,

        July is a bit early. We recommend August or September. That said, July can be deep there… thanks.

    1. Ha, yeah, we had both Termas and Nevados in the post. Just fixed it. They just changed from Termas to Nevados a couple of years ago, still confuses me. thanks.

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