Chile is one of the favorite destinations for tourists who practice winter sports in Latin America, especially those who are not accustomed to seeing snow in their countries of origin. It is also an attractive panorama for those who are visiting Santiago during the winter months, because it’s very easy to access the snowy mountain range and the top ski resorts that exist there. So if you want to break out your ski goggles when you are in Chile, here you’ll find a list of places that you can’t miss and a few tips that will come in handy.
When to go
Depending on the center or resort and with a few small differences, the ski season in the main ski resorts in Chile opens in June and closes in October; July being the strongest month since it coincides with the winter school holidays for children and university students.
Travel Tip: If you want a relaxed ski trip and to disconnect from the hustle and bustle of the city, we recommend that you go up to the mountains during the month of August and on weekdays, since in July, and especially on long weekends, the centers closest to Santiago (as Farellones) are crowded with visitors.
How to access the ski resorts near Santiago
Although the closest ski resorts to Santiago is just a few kilometers away, the trip there can take between an hour and a half and two hours by car due to the curvy route that climbs through the mountains and the high traffic that is sometimes generated on weekends.
If you’re staying in the city, you can rent a car from 60 USD per day and make the trip on your own. Then you’ll need to buy the tickets for each ski route, whose prices vary according to the season and the ski resort, but on average they charge around 20 USD in high season and 15 USD in low season.
The ski resorts near Santiago have many activities for beginners and experts; live an adventure in Chile! / Photo: João Mattos
You can also go for the day by hiring a tour for USD 70 on average. However, if your intention is to stay more than a day, snowboard or ski and try out several resorts, then it’s best to hire a transfer or a package directly, for the convenience. On average, the transfers departing from the Comodoro Arturo Merino Benítez International Airport and from any hotel in the capital have cost around USD 24 per one-way trip. As for the packages, there are all kinds available that vary in price depending on the specific resort and the services they offer, but most include the transfer from the airport or hotel, bed and breakfast, ski lift tickets, group ski lessons and equipment rental.
Travel tip: Before visiting a ski center or purchasing a package, get all the information. Some prices can have major differences, especially in regard to accommodation, since there is a wide range of residential to luxury hotels offered. Also, if you’re an experienced skier or snowboarder, then you’ll need to find out which centers offer the best tracks and off-piste, both backcountry, cross-country and frontcountry.
Farellones is the oldest ski center in Chile and gets its name from the town of wooden houses in which it is located. Located on an extensive plain in the middle of mountain range at 2400 meters above sea level, Farellones is a great destination to visit with your family. It has three drag lifts, the Novices, Forestin and Funnel, which allow access to the two tracks for beginners and intermediates, as well as off-piste called “Falso Funnel”, the latter ideal for practicing frontcountry skiing, obviously only for the experienced skiers.
The center offers all the necessary services for the tourist, but in high season they are unable to accomodate all their visitors. Maybe it’s because Farellones is, on the one hand, the ski center closest to Santiago (36 kilometers), because it is the cheapest and also because it is one of the few that offers more entertainment alternatives for children. Recently, a snowboarding park was inaugurated, which experiences long lines to its popularity, and there is also a tubing park where parents and children can go down the slopes together.
Travel Tip: Don’t miss the famous pub El Montañés. In addition to its exquisite menu, this place has the distinction of being the first Andean pub and dates back to the time of the pioneer skiers in Chile who entered the cold summits of the mountain looking for good snow to practice the sport that fascinated them. It’s a place with a lot of history and mystique, elements that undoubtedly imbue the atmosphere of the lively evenings that you can experience during your visit.
Farallones is the oldest ski resort of Chile, a ideal destination for families / Source
Located 46 kilometers east of the Chilean capital, Valle Nevado is the largest ski center in Latin America and the most modern in Chile. It was designed by French architects following the pattern of the winter resorts of the Alps.
It’s located at the foot of Cerro El Plomo, in the middle of the Andes Mountain Range, and is famous for the quality of its facilities, for the great extension of its fields (23,000 skiable acres) and for being one of the current venues of the Snowboard World Cup. It has three first class hotels, four types of apartments, detachable chairlifts (easier to board than common ones), ample parking, shops, a wide variety of restaurants and a snow school.
It also has specially prepared runs for beginner, intermediate, advanced and expert skiers. For those true adventure seekers, perfect for adrenaline lovers of, Valle Nevado also offers a heli boarding and heli riding service, which consists of access to territories that are outside the courts open to the public and which can only be reached by helicopter. It is an exclusive experience in the middle of spectacular spots covered in powder snow.
La Parva is also very close to Santiago, just 50 kilometers to the east following Camino a Farellones. Located at 2750 meters of altitude and with a beautiful view of the central valley, La Parva is the ski center that has the largest lodging capacity in Chile, which makes it a great place to vacation and make new friends from June to October. Like Valle Nevado, it has virgin snow fields ideal for snowboarding, as well as powder snow circuits where heli-skiing is carried out.
In the sector known as Villa la Parva the tourist will find all the services and amenities necessary to have an enjoyable and comfortable stay: condominium apartments for rent, cafeterias, restaurants, bar, ski school, a nightclub, health clinic and parking.
La Parva, Valle Nevado and El Colorado make up the largest ski area in South America. The Colorado is also one of the oldest ski centers in Chile and was built by the same pioneers who founded the mountain village of Farellones in the 40s.
It’s located at 2560 meters of altitude and its highest track reaches 3333 meters. It has 70 slopes and 40 kilometers of skiable terrain, both for beginners and for expert skiers. It has all the services that the tourist needs: a cafeteria, bar, nightclub, small hotels and apartments for rent. It is without a doubt a wonderful place that is worth visiting, especially if you’re at the nearby ski resorts.
The highest piste of El Colorado reaches 3333 meters, you will live a very special moment in this resort near Santiago / Source
Some say that Portillo is older even than Farellones, and there is some truth to that. This place was founded as a refuge for the workers and engineers in charge of maintaining the old railroad that connected Chile with Mendoza at the end of the 19th century. From 1910 the same train began to be used as a cableway to ascend from Caracoles to Juncal, a sector in which the Portillo ski area is currently located. Because of this we could say that technically yes, this center dates from a time before the founding of Farellones. However, the place did not begin to have many visitors until 1945, the year in which its first grand hotel was inaugurated.
If we had to say something about Portillo, they would only be positive things. Its snowy fields surround the beautiful emerald waters of the Laguna del Inca, a place with a lot of history within the Andean culture, as it happens with Cerro el Plomo, both sacred places in the Inca culture.
Due to its slope, Portillo has hosted world ski championships and is a training place for competitors from all over the world to practice descents at high speed. The famous French skier Jean Claude Killy won his first gold medals in Portillo, and still today the national team of the United States trains in these fields before attending the Olympic Winter Games. It’s also an ideal place to practice snowboarding thanks to its abundant powder snow.
As for its equipment, it is necessary to point out that Portillo is located in the middle of the Andes and surrounded by true nature, 165 kilometers from Santiago. For this reason it has a hotel as it is easier and safer to offer all the services that tourists and athletes require in one place.
In Portillo, apart from skiing, you can also see the incredible landscape with the Laguna del Inca and the Cerro El Plomo / Photo: Residencia Altamar
Travel Tip: As we pointed out at the beginning, there are options to travel directly from the airport to the ski centers. However, you may prefer to head first to a shopping mall in the center of Santiago before venturing into the mountains, since at all the large shopping centers you’ll find shops specializing in ski and snowboard equipment. In these places you’ll also find the best prices, but not when you are already up in the mountains. Reserve the Shopping Tour in Santiago online and take advantage of all the information of interest about discounts that the experienced local guide will give you.
By: Brian Gray, Chilean anthropologist and muralist specializing in urban visual culture