At the southernmost tip of South America, Chile and Argentina are dramatic places punctuated by craggy mountains, sparkling with sandy coastlines and rippling with turquoise lakes and lush forests. There is no bad time to visit, but make a trip from June through September and the snow-capped, volcanic Andes that dip and soar along their shared border are blanketed with snow, their powder-coated slopes offering some of the best skiing in the world.
South America has a number of diverse skiing destinations with plenty of slopes to fit your individual skiing needs and desires. Here are the top places to strap on your skis.
Best for big lines: Portillo, Chile
Portillo has a unique winter storm cycle. Big dumps are routinely followed by blue skies and sunshine, stunning conditions for skiing Portillo’s legendary sidecountry runs. Lines off Roca Jack and Cara Cara lifts plunge vertiginously towards a jewel of a lake, turquoise Laguna del Inca. And the Super C, accessed by a two-hour climb from the top of the Roca Jack lift, drops a heart-pounding 5000ft all the way to the base. There are few bumps, so intermediates often ski the hard runs here, and Portillo is never crowded (the resort is limited to 450 skiers per day). If you want to hone your skills while you’re here, register for Chris Davenport’s Portillo Superstars Camp.
Best for families: Valle Nevado, Chile
Ninety minutes from Santiago, Valle Nevado and neighboring El Colorado and La Parva resorts make up Tres Valles, a ski area network linked by lifts. The three resorts can be skied on a single ticket for a European-style alpine experience. Valle Nevado has extensive terrain, long runs and resort-based heli-skiing for those looking for a special thrill. When you’re done skiing, the base, which sits close to 10,000ft, has everything international skiers expect: a pub, a spa, shopping, a range of restaurants and loads of lodging to choose from. You won’t find South America’s gnarliest terrain here, but beginner and intermediate skiers will never run out of options.
Best tree skiing: Chapelco, Argentina
Part of Chapelco’s appeal is its Lake District location, close to the quaint village of San Martín de los Andes in the shadow of Lanin Volcano. Chapelco has open bowls, but its best runs weave through the lenga forests and lichen-covered beech trees that cover its fairytale forest slopes and keep the snow extra creamy for carving. Twelve lifts, including a new high-speed four-person lift and a gondola, give skiers access to Chapelco’s 20 groomed trails as well as its backcountry bowls.
Best for hot springs: Nevados de Chillán, Chile
It’s not hard to decide what to do après at this ski area, also called Termas de Chillán – the hot springs beckon. But there’s no need to rush through your ski day. Many skiers say that Chillán gets the best powder in the Andes, and once the fresh snow is skied out slope-side, you can grab your touring gear or a seat on a snowcat to get to the top of Chillán Volcano for more first tracks. If you need a day off, take a backcountry snowmobile tour or have an extended session in thermal pool to soak away the soreness.
Best for skiing early and late season: Cerro Castor, Argentina
The world’s southernmost ski resort not only claims South America’s longest ski season but some of the continent’s newest lifts and most extensive snowmaking to help guarantee good conditions all the time. Located in Tierra del Fuego near Ushuaia, Cerro Castor serves up about 2500ft of vertical drop, with no altitude so no acclimatization needed. Bowls and chutes complement sheltered groomers and tree skiing, and most runs have views of the Beagle Channel, one of three navigable straits that connect the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean. Stay in town for the best food, lodging and nightlife, and grab a shuttle bus to the slopes, which are about 30 minutes away. It's a 3.5-hour flight from Buenos Aires, but worth the trip.
Most lift access skiing: Cerro Catedral, Argentina
Cerro Catedral juts skyward in Argentina’s Lake District. Tucked inside Nahuel Huapi National Park, it’s named for its granite spires that look like church steeples. It's one of the largest and most modern ski resorts in South America, with 37 lifts that service 3000 acres of mostly intermediate and advanced runs, some with 3700ft of vertical, including sidecountry and backcountry runs. Even after a full day of skiing, there’s more fun to be had. Food and lodging, shopping and nightlife abound, and Bariloche is close enough to give you even more culture to explore.
Best off-piste skiing: Las Leñas, Argentina
Skiers say Las Leñas has Argentina’s best lift-access big mountain terrain – runs that rival heli-skiing– so don’t be surprised if you get on the lift with a skier you saw in a Warren Miller movie. It has a reputation for its extreme terrain, but half the mountain is intermediate for those who prefer to cruise, and in fact most skiers at the resort are intermediates. For those in search of virgin powder, cat skiing tours give you access to even more terrain. The open bowls, narrow chutes and cliff drops are legendary.