Where to enjoy September snow

Three mountains outside Bariloche offer snowshoeing as well as skiing.

Bonnie Tucker / FST
Bariloche is the Argentine city with the most experience in winter sport development (80 years) and the one with the biggest hotel capacity in Patagonia east of the Andes (more than 25,000 beds). Its surroundings harbor a wide variety of snowy environments for having fun, including ridges with mountain or lake views, and forests straight out of a fairy tale – a good combination for both expert skiers and families that just want to enjoy the snow without skis.
In addition to the famous ski center on Mount Catedral 20 km out of town, this Río Negro city of more than 100,000 inhabitants has recreation centers on three mountains that also offer other snow activities, in particular walks on snowshoes. All are in Nahuel Huapi National Park, but they have different concessionaires and vary with regard to landscapes, accesses and clientele.

Mount López (2,075 m)
Mount López, located 30 km northwest of Bariloche, is the place to enjoy stunning views of Lake Nahuel Huapi that so far are free of real estate developments. Roca Negra, a little gourmet restaurant at 1,230 meters, offers one such view, as well as lunch, tea and dinner shows to tour or incentive groups all year round, weather permitting.

Here, tourists who come in the winter participate in guided walks with or without snowshoes (according to snow conditions), and can also go cross-country skiing if they are proficient in the sport.
The views are even better from the López Refuge 440 meters further up the mountain, but it is closed during the winter months. In the summer, it provides lodging and meals for hikers who come to contemplate the surrounding peaks, and the Chilean volcanoes in the distance, from the top of the mountain.

Mount Challhuaco (2,040 m)
This mountain and its valley are for people who enjoy forests. The traditional Neumeyer Refuge, located amid high deciduous beeches at 1,320 meters in the Challhuaco Valley 18 km southeast of town, stands out for the itineraries of its hikes with or without snowshoes, the cross-country skiing classes that it offers, and the untouched backcountry for off-piste skiing that surrounds it.

This mountain area, which lies within a strict park reserve, occupies an interesting transition zone between the humid Andean forest and the Patagonian steppe. During excursions through the woods, the guides explain the different means of transport on snow, or regional geography, according to the interests of the group. A half-day hike leads to a frozen lagoon, which in the summer is home to an endemic frog species. Day hikes in winter and summer include an ascent of Mount Challhuaco for a view of three surrounding mountains. Moonlight walks end with a three-course Patagonian dinner. The hiking and cross-country skiing programs include meals and lodging in the refuge. Those who book a full-day backcountry skiing excursion must be in good physical shape and know how to use the special “randonnée” skis that allow one to walk uphill cross-country style, and descend Alpine style.
Following an exciting journey up snow-choked mountain roads, clients of travel agencies arrive at the recreation centers on Mount López and the Challhuaco Valley in 4X4s driven by the respective concessionaires’ expert drivers.

Mount Otto (1,405 m)
Technology is the star of the center that crowns the peak of Mount Otto, which is just 5 km from Bariloche. From its revolving restaurant, which comes full circle every 20 minutes, diners can view lakes Nahuel Huapi, Moreno and Gutiérrez, mounts Tronador, Catedral and López, and the Huemul and Llao Llao peninsulas. Tourists reach the heights in four-place gondola lifts with piped music, and then take one of the complex’s two new 30-passenger funicular cars down to the sled runs and snowshoe trails, enjoying the view on the way. The new funicular saves visitors the 200-meter walk that was the only way to get from the mountain top to the recreational facilities before it was built (see pre-funicular photo).

Before sitting down to eat, visitors can contemplate the reproductions of statues by Michelangelo in the complex’s art gallery, and the restaurant’s photo-museum dedicated to Bariloche’s pioneers.
The complex that centers on the gondola lift shares the mountain with two small ski centers: Piedras Blancas, which teaches downhill and cross-country skiing; and the Centro de Esquí Nórdico, which specializes in the latter style and has 10 km of runs. At this center, one can also ride on sleds pulled by snowmobiles. An additional option is an excursion aboard one of the noisy, anti-ecological quads so dear to many Argentine tourists.

For more information, see:
Refugio Neumeyer: http://www.eco-family.com/
Cerro López: http://www.cerrolopezbariloche.com.ar/
Cerro Otto Gondola Lift Complex: http://www.telefericobariloche.com.ar/
A Bariloche travel agency that specializes in active and nature-related tourism: http://www.diversidadpatagonia.com/

PHOTO CREDITS: Euphoria on Mount López; Snowshoe experiences on Mount López (above) and in the Challhuaco Valley. The Roca Negra restaurant on Mount López, and the view of the lake from there. The Newmeyer refuge and a walk in the snow. Tourist transfer in the Challhuaco Valley, all courtesy of Diversidad. Mount Otto, courtesy of EMPROTUR.