From the eastern comuna of Lo Barnechea, a narrow paved road climbs gradually up the Río Mapocho canyon, past the entrance to the massive La Disputada copper mine, and then snakes its way up dozens of switchbacks before branching into separate routes to Santiago’s three most popular, and easily accessible, ski areas. On this winding road with numbered curves, some people suffer motion sickness—so much so that some even take medication.
Note that, during ski season, there are road restrictions on weekends and holidays: Traffic goes uphill only 8 a.m.–2 p.m., downhill only 4–8 p.m., and both directions at all other hours. Carabineros en route may require chains beyond a certain point.
At the upper end of the Cajón del Mapocho, barely an hour from Santiago in the area known as Tres Valles, there are three major ski resorts: El Colorado, La Parva, and Valle Nevado. Where the road forks, the left fork goes to El Colorado and La Parva, while the right fork goes to Valle Nevado.
While Chilean ski areas enjoy high elevations, the start of the rainy (and snowy) season can be erratic in this Mediterranean climate, though it generally runs from June to early October. For this reason, Chilean resorts now have snow-making equipment to help augment the natural snowfall at the beginning of the season; for current snow conditions, see the online English-language news service Santiago Times (www.santiagotimes.cl).
Full equipment rentals—boots, skis, poles—cost around US$27 per person per day, but high-performance equipment costs US$34 per person per day. Snowboards and boots cost US$27 per day. Both lift tickets and rental equipment are marginally cheaper when purchased from Skitotal in Las Condes.
Skitotal (Av. Apoquindo 4900, Local 42-46, Las Condes, tel. 02/2460156, www.skitotal.cl) also runs inexpensive shuttles to El Colorado (US$15), La Parva (US$15), and Valle Nevado (US$16). Departures are around 8:15 a.m. daily, returning around 5 p.m. from each site. Skitotal can also arrange budget lodging, from US$38 per person with bed and breakfast.
Some skiers have remarked that, unlike forested areas in most of Europe and North America, the barren Chilean skiscapes make depth perception difficult.
© Wayne Bernhardson from Moon Chile, 2nd edition