TRAVEL BLOG – Chile & Argentina – Part 1

September 8th, 2010

Will Jackways lays down a highspeed turn in Nevados De Chillan, Southern Chile. Image:: Johnny McCormack

August 27 – Sep 8, 2010 | Words Russell Holt

Chile and Argentina have always been on the ‘hit-list’, the size of the Latino lure for any adventure seeking snowboarder is as huge as the Andes Mountain range that divides these two incredible countries and ticking off this box is one step closer to completing the dream list.

The Andes regularly rise above 3000 metres within ski resort boundaries providing an amazing big-mountain travel experience during the Southern hemisphere winter. Beyond the mountain is incredible cultural exploration that more than makes up for missing out on a few powder days at home in Thredbo.

For our trip the good people at LAN Airlines (Chile’s National Airline) helped us get to Santiago in style with a flight: Sydney – Auckland – Santiago.

What a seat number! Image:: Nick Gregory

Resorts of Santiago, Chile

Not knowing much about Chile before we got there, we didn’t realise how close the mountains are to Santiago. In fact, the peaks tower over the city in a 270-degree arc reaching into the sky up to 5400 metres and leaving no escape for the city’s 7-million occupants that may feel daunted by their presence. The only possible chance for escape is a 1.5-hour drive west to the coast and the infamous surf breaks of the Chilean Pacific coast.

From down town Santiago it’s a 40km drive up a windy desert landscape amongst cacti and cows before you are slipping into your boots in the car park of any of the 3 local legendary mountain resorts; Valle Nevado , El Colorado , La Parva . These 3 behemoth resorts reminiscent of resorts in the European Alps share different sides of the same peaks. And although access between the 3 is provided by cat tracks, they strangely have their own ticketing systems and sell tickets separately. But there is enough runs and terrain at each resort to keep you busy for more than a day.

Each mountain has its own ski-in ski-out towns that are all fed by a tiny gateway town called Farellones. Farellones provides a more affordable accommodation option, otherwise each resort town offers 4 to 5 star hotels with Valle Nevado providing the collagen induced Botox style of clientele, while La Parva a European mountain town-esq feel and El Colorado fitting somewhere in between.

The resort of El Colorado provides incredible sunsets over Santiago. Image:: Nick Gregory

The dry arid landscape around Santiago rpovides some very bizarre looking scenery. Image:: Johnny McCormack

Santiago Police guarding the capitol building. Image:: Nick Gregory

The Terrain and Snow

We had arrived amidst a bad year with little and decaying snow pack. Over a week we rode all three resorts. With only about 30-40cms of snow base waiting for us we were surprised by how good the snow was up high, dry, crisp and good for some early morning high-speed runs that will knock the balls out of anyone who loves fast groomers.

El Colorado was great for its larger snowboard park, Valle Nevado was a day of spectacular scenery as you ride huge bowls while 5000m peaks tower above you. And La Parva and its south facing bowls allowed us a few great powder turns in the shaded areas below towering escarpments of red rock.
For our crew of fresh-of-the-plane gringos the resorts size took us by surprise in size. Like New Zealand these mountains are ‘free from the tree’, making it very hard to gauge the size of these massive resorts until you are up there, amongst it.

The view of the Andes foothills just before touchdown in Santiago. Image:: Johnny McCormack

Volcanoes in Southern Chile

With the snow pack around Santiago restricting what was possible on the mountains, we took the option to visit one of Southern Chile’s famous Volcano resorts.

Nevado De Chillan (formerly known as Termas De Chillan) proved a perfect start. Only six hours drive south on a well-maintained highway and we were quickly set-up in our own private “Cabanas” sleeping our crew of 6 comfortably.

The area around the volcanoes in this region is quite a contrast from the dry arid areas around Santiago. We traded Cactus for bamboo forests and thick city smog of a 7-million strong city for waterfalls and tree runs. This resorts spectacular snow pack easily left the ski resorts up north for dead and we spent 3 days exploring this expansive volcanic resort, riding foot-deep powder on a 70cm+ base. With 5 lifts and huge amount of terrain/vertical drop that’s easily accessible makes the riding comparable to large European resorts.

Although unlike busy European resorts at Nevado De Chillan we never waited in a lift queue or struggled to find fresh lines, the only struggle was deciding which fresh line to take. But the true personality of Nevado De Chillan didn’t show itself while we were riding 1000-foot steep powder chutes or even dropping natural cliffs and cornices that litter the mountain. Rather it not until you come across one of many volcanic thermal vents that spew steam and gas from random points all over the resort that really set the tone of this Jurassic landscape. As we rode around pools of bubbling thermal water the spell of this area sunk in – snowboarding in Chile an adventure we’ll never forget.

With 2 weeks to go and Argentina and more Chilean resorts to go, we are on precipice of a huge Latino crevasse that’s about to swallow us whole – the jump is pure voluntary.

Nevados De Chillan resort in Southern Chile sits on the Chillan Volcano. The size of the terrain is more than impressive. Image:: Will Jackways

Looking up to the right hand flank of the Nevados De Chillan resort, some nice steep chutes are visible that are easily accessible with a traverse. If you look closely to the right you can see some of the famous thermal vents smoking out of the mountain. Image:: Will Jackways

An hour from Santiago and you reach the beautiful Pacific Ocean. Surf anyone? Image:: Pablo Azocar