Article updated April 2016
Being in Chile and being surrounded by snow-capped mountains means you can go skiing in Santiago during the Northern Hemisphere’s summer! So go on, grab your gear and head to Los Andes for a day, or more, of winter fun!
Tourist Tip: If you can, print a trail map before you go as they sometimes run out and the ones they have are often huge and hard to use/read while you’re skiing.
What to expect
If you’re used to tree-lined ski trails, this is a different experience, there are no trees here, so be careful especially if you experience a snowstorm during your visit as it can be difficult to determine where the trail ends. Even if there’s no snow in Santiago, although just an hour or two away, the weather in the mountains can be very different. Every rainfall in Santiago equals snowfall at the ski resorts, if you go after a recent snowfall, even if they don’t have a huge base the conditions are usually pretty good overall. Because there’s no trees and the sun is often blazing overhead and the days can get quite warm. Although it’s winter you will often encounter some icy spots typical of spring skiing. With that in mind, make sure to bring your sunglasses and plenty of sunblock, and don’t forget to reapply to avoid getting a ski burn.
Where to go
There are two main areas at El Colorado the front side with easier slopes and more sun, and the back side comprising of Valle Olympico. If you take the lifts up to Valle Olympico, with less direct sunlight throughout the day, you will find better snow conditions year round. El Colorado is the closest resort and one of the most popular, on weekends and holidays expect big crowds.
Sharing the other half of the same shaded Valle Olympico as El Colorado, Valle Nevado is known to have a bit better conditions all season long. If you want to ski at both resorts you need to buy a special ski pass, there are fences separating them. Valle Nevado is a half an hour past El Colorado and can experience different weather, we have been on sunny days and in white out blizzards. But don’t worry you don’t have to shovel when you return to usually sunny Santiago at the end of your ski adventure. Both El Colorado and Valle Nevado are similar in amenities to smaller U.S. resorts and they both offer ski in, ski out accommodations for those who don’t ever want to stop skiing on their vacation! For 2016 one day tickets for adults are 43.000 during the low season which is weekdays with exception of holidays and the winter break from July 15-28. During weekends, holidays and winter break one day tickets are 48.000.
A popular weekend hangout for local skiers and boarders, La Parva is easy to get to, located just on the other side of El Colorado so you can easily move between the two resorts if you wanted to experience one, one day and the other the next. A lot smaller than either El Colorado or Valle Nevado, it’s beginner, and family friendly, but there are more challenging slopes for the more experienced skiers.
This skiing gem is a bit of a trek from Santiago but all who have been say it is well worth the journey. Located close to the Argentinian border, this is a must-ski destination for serious skiers and snowboarders. Many of the professional skiers from the northern hemisphere spend their summer months training here. Portillo is designed for ski vacations, the hotels will not book for less then a week and there really aren’t any alternate lodging options. However if you want to do a day trip you can but do note that the weather can change quickly and if you get stuck in a storm which isn’t uncommon you won’t have anywhere to sleep.
If you’re a true beginner or on a budget you can visit Lagunillas, the closest and smallest ski resort located in Cajon de Maipo. For 2016 one day tickets for adults are 15.000 during the low season which is weekdays with exception of holidays and the winter break from July 2-24. During weekends, holidays and winter break one day tickets are 25.000.
Getting to the mountains from the city is really easy, barring Portillo, it’s just an hour or an hour and a half drive depending on your destination. Their proximity to Santiago makes it a great option and one you can generally decide on at the last minute!
There are daily shuttles a few blocks from the Escuela Militar metro stop in Las Condes that take you out and back with SkiTotal. For 2 or more people it’s a cheaper and easier option than renting a car and braving the mountain roads, especially if one or more of you have your own equipment. If you do drive yourself, make sure you have tire chains, if the weather is bad you will be required to use them and they won’t let you continue without them.
There are no reservations required for the shuttles, you can just show up and buy a trip that morning, but make sure to bring cash as they don’t always accept credit cards. You should plan on arriving at the departure place between 8-9am. There are a lot of small shuttles carrying around 15 people or less and they leave as soon as they’re full so there’s usually not much waiting, it’s the same at the end of the day between 4-5pm to return to Santiago. If you need to leave or return earlier or later they can arrange private transport for you but it will cost more. If you need equipment you can rent it there but give yourself extra time in the morning to arrange everything.
You can also reserve for shuttles or taxi’s to pick you up and drop you off at many local hotels for an added cost, though if you’re with a larger group it’s not that much more expensive so it may be worth it for the convenience. Check with your hotel, in addition to the shuttle companies, as they may also have special deals they can offer you.
No matter how you get there, if you have any issues with motion sickness I highly recommend taking something about an hour before you start driving as the roads twist and turn through the mountains for at least an hour, and on several of our trips up someone was sick. If this is you, you should also bring your own plastic garbage bags, just in case, as the drivers don’t generally have any. Below is a small portion of the road between El Colorado and Valle Nevado to give you an idea of what lies ahead.
In addition to your daily lift ticket, you will have to pay for transportation to the resort. If you’re doing a several day trip, shop around for package deals, which often can include equipment rental as well. If you live in Santiago check out the social media of the resorts and discount sites like Groupon for great deals on lift tickets, usually only applicable for low season dates. (Do note you may need a Chilean CC or Temp/Perm Visa/ID to purchase or qualify.)
Prices getting to the mountains depend on the transport company (and equipment rental company). For example, SkiTotal lists the price of transport to and from El Colorado as $15.000 CLP (for the 2015 ski season). They usually update their prices right before the season starts so check back if you need to get the 2016 costs in advance of your trip.
Another company that is located in Bellavista is AllToSki. They rent all the equipment and clothes there and they ask you to reserve the day before to pick out and try on your equipment. They are about a four block walk across the river from the Banquedano metro stop. The only issue I had with them was the wait time, as not all the other customers were on time or had all their reservations set up ahead so the shuttle didn’t leave as scheduled.
There are lots of other companies that do day trips and they usually have everything available to rent (if you’re not sure just ask) and they usually offer package deals which can be a bit cheaper than renting on the mountain. This is also a common service for Hostels or Hotels so if you’re staying in Santiago ask at your accommodation what they have available for you.
If you don’t ski but just want the mountain experience companies do those trips too. Turistik will take you to visit the resorts where you can choose to do hiking or snowshoeing among other activities. If you just want to accompany skiers and hang out at the lodge you can just get the shuttles up with them and walk around on your own as well.
If you do want to ski a few days and stay on the mountain it’s a good idea to plan your accommodations in advance as last minute availability, especially during any holidays, may be only hostels and group bunks. There are hotels at the resorts but there’s not too much of a night life up there, so after skiing there isn’t really too much to do in the evening so bring your own entertainment. A lot of the apartments also offer kitchen amenities so you can bring some food to enjoy meals in your room if you prefer. The restaurants at the resorts tend to be expensive so this is a good way to save some costs especially if you’re a larger group. If you plan to cook, buy your food in Santiago as the smaller shops on the mountain also tend to be more expensive.
Shoe Size: Before you head to the ski shop or the rental counter it’s a good idea to know what your boot size is in Chilean measurements. Keep in mind that as usual sizes vary based on the brand and Chile often follows the Argentine or Italian sizing, but not always.
Clothing Sizes: If you need to rent any clothing while outdoor clothing is often S, M, L, it’s helpful to know your clothing size too.
If you’re planning on doing a few skiing trips but don’t have any clothing, you may want to check out our post on buying second hand/vintage clothes. They sell all the winter gear you might need in many of these stores, it might be cheaper than renting, and you can always try to resell them before you leave Santiago. I found a pair of Columbia ski pants that looked new for $20.000 CLP, which is still probably a bit expensive, but we didn’t have time to shop around and it was during the ski season. Compared to renting pants for about $7.000 CLP each time, I preferred the option of having ones I liked, that I knew fit, and was able to clean myself!
Weight and Height: If you’re renting equipment they will ask you what your weight is in kilos and your height in cm to calibrate your skis.
Languages and Lingo: The staff at the ski resorts and ski companies is often a mix of foreigners and locals who may or may not speak any English. On the mountain all signs are generally in Spanish so if you want to know what they’re asking you or warning you about and there’s no pictures, you should brush up on your ski lingo.
Food: Be prepared to spend some money as the resorts aren’t cheap. Food is expensive and don’t expect fancy food options (think meat sandwiches and French fries rather than warming chili or clam chowder) but you can bring your own lunch or at least snacks and drinks to save on cash. As at many ski resorts you will find the restaurants on the mountain are usually more expensive than the ones at the base lodges. You can also bring your own food and drink and store it in a locker.
Lockers: Lockers are available on a first come first serve basis and aren’t too expensive, about $3.000 CLP for the day. They usually fit one big bag, plus street shoes and personal stuff for 2-3 people, and at Valle Nevado they were chilly and kept our sodas cold till the end of the day.
Lifts: If you snowboard, be prepared for a lot of T-bar and pull (button/platter) lifts. These can be quite long, 20-30 minutes, and sometimes the only option to get to some parts of the mountains. I snowboarded the first time but skied the rest, the pull lifts are much easier to manage on skis, though even then we reached our limit after 5-6 long rides in a day.
To learn more about Beth, read her bio!
Note: This article was accurate when published. Please be sure to confirm all details directly with the sites in question before planning your trip.