Antonella Romano / FST
After playing coy during most of June, snow has arrived in the Andean region, to the relief of the ski centers, which in Argentina flog their ski weeks in the Expo Nieve winter sports show that takes place in Buenos Aires in early May.
While one usually pays less by reserving in advance, it is not a good idea to book a week during the first low season (in June), because in many centers there has been little or no snow at that time during the past few years. It’s like playing the lottery: you can lose, or win, in that order. Just take a look at the portals of the ski centers on both sides of the Andes: at mid-June this year, most hadn’t been updated. The only honest one was Las Leñas, whose three live cameras showed the sad truth: only a few scattered white patches. This was perhaps because the southern Mendoza resort had been one of the few with the nerve to push their opening date forward to the second weekend of June.
But then came the reward: on June 17 it began to snow like mad there, three days before the classic June 20 official opening date that had been the benchmark for many ski centers in previous years.
July is a safer month, although the high season inflicts prices that reflect that circumstance and the centers are crowded thanks to the winter vacation period. August is the best month of all: there is snow on top of accumulated snow, there are fewer skiers because the winter vacation period has passed, it all costs less, and the warm spells that can hasten the end of a ski season have not set in yet.
This year most centers have announced an early October closing date, although compliance will depend, as always, on the weather, which is becoming more and more unpredictable.
In Argentina the ski centers where the snow seems to last longer are La Hoya (Chubut), because of the mountain’s orientation, and Cerro Castor (Tierra del Fuego), also for its orientation, and for its closeness (1,000 km) to that big ice box called Antarctica.
In the southern Andes the leading ski centers are Catedral, Las Leñas, Chapelco and Cerro Castor in Argentina, and Portillo, Valle Nevado and Chillán in Chile.
There are many other small or emergent centers, especially in Argentina.
All the Argentine and Chilean centers have ski and snowboard schools, as well as runs for all levels of proficiency that attract people of all ages. Many that specialize in Alpine (downhill) skiing have also opened sectors for cross-country (or Nordic) skiing.
The choice of a ski center depends on one’s personal circumstances, one’s idea of what a vacation should be like, and, finally, preferences as to landscapes. And most experienced skiers want powder snow.
In addition to the prices and landscape of a determined center, many people also want there to be additional entertainment in the resort or in a nearby city. Others prefer a place far from city noise, where people only want to ski.
Las Leñas, Portillo and Chillán are far from cities, while Valle Nevado and Catedral are very near “civilization.”
The ones with the broadest, most spectacular lake views are Catedral and Cerro Bayo.
Skiers at Caviahue enjoy an unforgettable view of the homonymous lake in a strange volcanic landscape sprinkled with extravagant araucaria forests. Las Leñas and Portillo occupy valleys in the Andean vastness, while some tracks at Antillanca put skiers amid the peaks and volcanic cones.
There is also competition between centers as to which offers the longest uninterrupted descent. For many years Las Leñas held the title with a combination of three runs that totaled 7 km. Then Caviahue announced that its off-track that begins just below the rim of the Copahue volcano is 8 km long. Now, with the extension of its new Nubes quad lift to 2,100 meters above sea level Catedral is offering a descent of 9 km. But Chillán has the Tres Marías track, which is 13 km long.
Before booking, or buying a “ski week” anywhere in the Andes, consult the portal of the center that interests you to see if the winter weather has been generous with them.
Following are the portals of the major Argentine and Chilean ski centers, so you can see what is most convenient for you.
Cerro Bayo (Neuquén)
La Hoya (Chubut)
For information on other ski centers in Argentina, see the tourism portals of the provinces of Mendoza (http://www.turismo.mendoza.gov.ar/) , Neuquén (http://www.neuquentur.gov.ar/) , Río Negro (http://www.rionegrotur.com.ar/), Santa Cruz (http://www.santacruzpatagonia.gob.ar/) y Tierra del Fuego (http://www.tierradelfuego.org.ar/).
For information on other ski centers in Chile, see http://www.gochile.cl/
PHOTO CREDITS: Skiing on Cerro Bayo, Cerro Bayo. Shoveling snow in Las Leñas, Las Leñas. Family fun at Cerro Bayo, Cerro Bayo. Snowboarding on Cerro Bayo, Cerro Bayo. Skiing on Cerro Catedral, Cerro Catedral Alta Patagonia. Snowmobiling amid araucarias in Caviahue, Caviahue. The pool at Portillo, Portillo. Heliskiers, Burco Adventure. Skiers at Las Leñas, Las Leñas. Off-track skiing on Cerro Catedral, Cerro Catedral Alta Patagonia. Magic Carpet conveyer ski lift at Cerro Chapelco, Cerro Chapelco. Snowboarding at Cerro Castor, Cerro Castor. Skier at Valle Nevado, Valle Nevado. The scene at Antillanca, Antillanca.