View across a snowy slope with a mountain range visible in the distance.

El Colorado resort. Photo © Otavio Piske, licensed Creative Commons Attribution.

From the eastern comuna (borough) 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 up dozens of switchbacks before branching into separate routes to Santiago’s best ski areas. On this winding road with numbered curves, some people suffer motion sickness—so much so that some even take medication.

Map of Santiago and Vicinity, Chile

Santiago and Vicinity

Some skiers have remarked that, unlike forested areas in most of Europe and North America, the barren Chilean ski-scapes make depth perception difficult, so it’s best to be prepared for a different kind of experience.

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 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 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; it generally runs from June to early October. For this reason, Chilean resorts now have snowmaking 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.

Full equipment rentals—boots, skis, poles—cost around US$37 per person per day, but high-performance equipment costs US$45 per person per day. Snowboards and boots cost US$37 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) also runs shuttles to El Colorado (US$20), La Parva (US$20), and Valle Nevado (US$24). Shuttles depart around 8:15 a.m. daily, returning around 5 p.m. from each site. Skitotal can also arrange three-day budget packages, with lift tickets, all gear, dorm accommodations, most meals, and transport, for about US$500.

El Colorado

Just 39 kilometers east of Santiago, with a maximum elevation of 3,333 meters, El Colorado has 18 lifts from a base elevation of 2,750 meters. Daily lift tickets are more expensive on weekends than on weekdays except for the mid- July to mid-August period, when there is no differential. There are discounts for children and seniors.

The nearby Swiss-style Hotel Posada de Farellones (tel. 02/2013704, US$200–300 s, US$216–320 d) has packages whose rates include breakfast, dinner, and lift tickets, while El Colorado has its own apart-hotel accommodations.

For additional information in Santiago, contact Centro de Ski El Colorado (Nevería 4680, Las Condes, tel. 02/8899210, US$66 weekends, US$50 weekdays).

La Parva

Only a short distance north of El Colorado, La Parva’s (Luis Carrera 1263, Oficina 402, tel. 02/9642100, Vitacura, Santiago, US$70 weekends, US$53 on weekdays) skiable runs range from 2,662 to 3,630 meters above sea level—nearly a 1,000-meter vertical drop. Lift tickets are a little dearer than at El Colorado. Accommodations are available on a weekly basis.

Valle Nevado

Highest of the three resorts, 14 kilometers beyond the Farellones junction,Valle Nevado (Av. Vitacura 5250, Oficina 304, Vitacura, tel. 02/4777000, U.S. tel. 800/669-0554, Canada tel. 888/301-3248) reaches 3,670 meters above sea level, though its base is 2,860. There are 37 kilometers of trails, even more for those who can afford to indulge in helicopter drop-offs that aren’t accessible by lifts.

Valle Nevado is a full-service resort, with multiple hotels, restaurants, a cinema, bars, daycare, and many other amenities. For nonguests, lift tickets range US$56–75 per day, depending on the time of the season, with discounts for children, seniors, and students.

Valle Nevado has three luxury hotels, all with half board packages, where rates vary depending on low or high season, and holidays: Hotel Valle Nevado (US$480–1,081 s, US$572–1,310 d); Hotel Puerta del Sol (US$297–763 s, US$468–1,110 d); and Hotel Tres Puntas (US$252–507 s, US$368–738 d)

Excerpted from the Fourth Edition of Moon Chile.