In the southern hemisphere, find snowsports in “summer” and specials for kids at Portillo, Valle Nevado and Bariloche — top family ski resorts in Chile and Argentina.
No matter how avid the skiers in your family, you might not plan on hitting the slopes in August if you live in the Northern Hemisphere. Yet despite the summer heat above, winter skiers can find refuge on the flip side in the Southern Hemisphere, where it actually is winter. In fact, from June to October, the Andes Mountains in Chile are at the height of their snowsports season — and Turismo Chile is a helpful resource.
Here’s a look at some programs in some of the most popular southern hemisphere family ski resorts. Be sure to tune up your rusty Spanish before you take off!
Ski Portillo, Chile
Portillo is a mountain resort that’s been popular for more than six decades, located on Lake Inca near Chile’s border with Argentina, about 100 miles from the capital Santiago. The 123-room Hotel Portillo (800/829-5325) is the main resort, a contemporary, purpose-built hotel at the mountain’s base with a large, outdoor heated pool, hot tub and fitness center. The hotel has a summer Kids Camp featuring ski classes for ages 4-6, and private lessons for 7 and older. The ski hill also boasts a nursery and daycare center that’s free of charge for ages 0 to 3 years old, and ages 3 to 7 years, both open daily. Parents will need to note that lunch is not included at daycare and it is their responsibility to pick-up their children and take care of meals before dropping them off again in the afternoon. Private babysitting services are also available for an additional charge.
Over the years, different weeks are promoted with Portillo’s Kids Ski Free packages, when every father or mother may bring one child 4-12 years for free lodging, skiing, and meals. (Most packages are organized for a Saturday-Saturday stay).
Throughout the season, big kids and teens can enjoy afternoon cinemas in both Spanish and English, snack bar, Internet room, climbing wall, ping-pong, pool tables, basketball and more. There is no organized kids club for kids over 7, so either leave your older children in charge or set some ground rules for independence at the game rooms before you arrive.
This hotel has nice family apartments (they sleep up to six), dining rooms, and access to fitness and entertainment facilities. There are also standard rooms and suites at the hotel for lesser rates. Tell the teens there’s an internet cafe to help you stay connected. Both the Octagon Lodge and the Inca Lodge have family specials, and budget watchers should inquire about the other facilities that include dorm-like housing.
Valle Nevado, Chile
Another great place to ski is Valle Nevado (800/669-0554, 5-62-477-7000), a luxury winter resort just 37 miles from Santiago in the heart of the Andes. With a 10,000-foot peak and more than 23,000 acres of skiable domain encompassing different skill levels, there’s variety for skiers and snowboarders. A “snow garden” for younger kids provides a winter playground for lessons. There has been lots of new development in the past few years as Valle Nevado enhances its base village. It’s now the first ski resort in Chile to have a gondola, and there is a new ski and snowboard school, with new Magic Carpet lifts for beginners.
Valle Nevado has three hotels at its base village, all contemporary resorts with varying degrees of luxury in terms of guest rooms and facilities. Cyber cafes, laundry rooms, WiFi access, hot tubs, saunas, bars and restaurants are among the facilities.
The Hotel Valle Nevado is the most deluxe, and all 47 rooms and the six suites have large mountain-view terraces. The larger Hotel Puerta del Sol is considered four-star and the most family-friendly; it has 124 rooms sleeping two to four guests and also some suites, as well as a heated, open-air swimming pool. At the casual, hostel-style Tres Puntas — only about 200 feet from the slopes — all 88 rooms have three or four beds and village views. These last two hotels often have the best family deals, too.
June and September are the value seasons, when kids under 11 can stay and ski free, and families can take advantage of 20% room rates on week-long stays. Most family packages in season include half board; lift tickets for Valle Nevado but not the nearby ski hills of La Parva or El Colorado; and use of the outdoor heated pool, children’s daycare (3-7 years), Games Room, movie theater, fitness center, ski lockers, and planned activities.
Typical packages run Friday to Friday. Kids 4 and under always stay free and during some weeks, one child 12 and under may stay free with two adults. Single parents should note that a special youth rate applies to kids ages 5-18 who share a double room with only one adult. Note that passholders of the chic Mountain Collective Ski Pass can enjoy its slopes free of charge. There are also furnished apartments to let in the town.
As an alternative, consider a snowsports adventure at Bariloche, Argentina’s chic getaway about a 2.5-hour flight from Buenos Aires in the state of Rio Negro. Formally known as Catedral Alta Patagonia, the resort is about 18 km outside the popular lakefront town of San Carlos de Bariloche, a small city that has welcomed tourists for more than 80 years.
Catedral Alta Patagonia, or Cerro Catedral as it’s called by locals, rests at 3,380 feet in the Andes, with 1,482 acres of skiable terrain, 53 trails and 39 lifts, some ascending to 6,725 feet. July is the busiest time for ski weeks at Cerro Catedral, showing off its new high-speed, four-seater Amancay gondola.
Regardless of which hotel you choose, kids from 3 to 5-years are considered infants so their ski pass includes access to the mountain’s nursery from 9am-5pm. Kids 6-11 are charged as minors, ages 12-64 pay adult rates, and skiers over 70 are free of charge.
The popular, family-owned Hotel Nevada (Rolando 250, R8400GQF, Bariloche, Patagonia 54-2944 52-2778) has served as a gateway to the mountain for nearly three generations. Their summer specials for families typically run through the end of August with a room sleeping up to 5, and includes daily breakfast. There are also specials for larger families who want to have children 4 to 12-years-old in a separate room with private bath; check out the free movies in the hotel’s screening room.
The well-regarded tour operator Patagonia Calling (888/882-7915) serves Bariloche and also recommends Cerro Bayo for families wanting a variety of terrain for different skill levels. Located right outside Villa La Angostura, the resort boasts 20 runs and 11 lifts as well as several off-piste runs for extreme skiers.
Side Trip to Patagonia
What makes Argentina a great choice for the family with more time to travel is the proximity of Patagonia, a fascinating land of many delights. Given a few weeks and some guidance, you can plan a scenic multisport tour including hiking, climbing, cycling, 4×4 cruising, horseback riding or fishing, and if you go in summer, kayaking, rafting, canopy tours, windsurfing and more.
Many families spend time at an estancia, or working ranch, so the region’s abundant farm life is seen in contrast to sophisticated cities like Buenos Aires. At some estancias, guests may participate in sheep shearing and horseback riding. Near the Rio Limay in the Neuquen province, there’s an active dinosaur excavation site where paleontologists are currently at work. Many years ago, the Argentinosaurus was discovered here, a dinosaur believed to be the largest animal to have ever walked the earth, weighing in at over 100 tons and measuring about 123 feet in length.
Of course, the region is also a gateway to the South Pole and its expensive cruise opportunities. Your family may be content with just a visit to the Perito Moreno glacier (3 miles wide and 60 meters above the lake surface), part of the Patagonian ice field. Children 12 years and up can join a Patagonia Calling two-hour guided trek on the tip of this UNESCO World Heritage Site glacier.
This type of trip needs careful planning, as most adventures are seasonal and dependent on weather to operate.
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