Find snow sports in “summer” at top South American ski resorts in the Southern Hemisphere. Long known to international elite athletes, the names Portillo, Valle Nevado and Bariloche are now on the radar as top family mountain resorts in Chile and Argentina.
No matter how avid the skiers in your family, you might not think about 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 mid-October, the Andes Mountains are at the height of their snowsports season. Get help navigating the choices from Turismo Chile and Visit Argentina, which are both helpful resources for the winter sports planner.
Take a look at the programs in some of the most popular South American ski resorts. Be sure to tune up your rusty Spanish before you take off!
Ski Portillo, A Top South American Ski Resort in Chile
Portillo is a South American ski resort that’s been popular for more than six decades, located on Laguna del Inca near Chile’s border with Argentina. Nestled in the Cordillera de los Andes mountains, it’s about 100 miles from the capital Santiago. Go for its stunning mountain views, relaxed ambiance and variety of off-piste terrain. Expect a robust dining and après ski scene since Chile is known for its fine red wines.
The 123-room Hotel Portillo is the main resort, a contemporary, purpose-built hotel at the mountain’s base. After a long ski day, take advantage of a large, outdoor heated pool, hot tub and fitness center. Other lodging options cover lower price points, so that the Octagon and Inca Lodges feature family specials. True budget watchers should inquire about facilities that include dorm-like housing.
Discover high quality skiing and gear in a relaxed atmosphere at Portillo. It’s never very crowded either because the number of day visitors is limited by ticket sales.
South American Ski Resorts Offer Family Deals at Portillo
Prior to the pandemic, Portillo offered a summer Kids Camp featuring ski classes for ages 4-6, and private lessons for 7 and older. The ski hill also had a nursery and daycare center that are expected to reopen for the 2022 season. 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). The last two weeks of July are student holidays so all resorts book up – and rates rise — because local families ski at that time. According to the pro’s at Ski.com who book South America skiing trips often, late July and late August are usually the best times for fresh powder.
Valle Nevado, A Star in Chile
Another great place to ski is Valle Nevado. One of Family Travel Forum’s intrepid ski writers made it south to Valle Nevado just before Chile closed its border due to the global pandemic. We are delighted he was able to update the skiing at Valle Nevado information. The resort reopens June 17, 2022 and is again welcoming international visitors.
Look for June and September to be the best value seasons, although kids under 5 can stay free in parents’ rooms all season. IKON Pass holders (season passes issued by Alterra Mountain Company) also receive 10% off their hotel, lift ticket and gear rental packages.
Bariloche, Argentina Among Top South American Ski Resorts
As an alternative, consider a snowsports adventure at Bariloche in the state of Rio Negro. Formally known as Catedral Alta Patagonia, the top 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, is based at 3,380 feet of altitude in the Andes. Explore 1,482 acres of skiable terrain, 53 trails and 39 lifts, some ascending to 6,725 feet. July is the busiest time for snowsports at Cerro Catedral. At that time, you’ll find even the new high-speed, four-seater Amancay gondola gets busy.
Choose any hotel – and Booking.com features several — because kids under age 3 stay free at all. Toddlers ages 3 to 5-years are considered infants so, in the past, their ski pass included daily access to the mountain’s nursery. Kids 6-11 pay rates as minors, ages 12-64 pay adult rates, and skiers over 70 are free of charge.
The popular, family-owned Hotel Nevada has served as a gateway to the mountain for nearly three generations. In June or August, look for rooms specials that include daily breakfast. Or, grab special rates on connecting rooms for larger families. Children 4 to 12-years-old get a separate room with private bath. Don’t forget there are free movies shown in the hotel’s screening room.
More Southern Ski Resorts Near Bariloche
Check out more South American ski resorts in Argentina’s chic mountain getaway. It’s about a 2.5-hour flight from Buenos Aires so allow time to explore the region.
Try a much smaller ski hill, Cerro Bayo, if you want a variety of terrain for different skill levels. It’s recently become a more upscale, boutique ski experience according to Powderhounds. However, it’s said to boast incredible views of the Andes and below, Lake Nahuel Huapi.
The best news is that Cerro Bayo is conveniently located right outside Villa La Angostura. Near Cerro Catedral, Cerro Bayo boasts 25 marked runs and 16 lifts as well as several off-piste runs for extreme skiers.
Side Trip to Patagonia
Argentina a great destination, especially if you tire of the international sameness of South American ski resorts. The family with more time to travel must visit Patagonia, a fascinating land of many natural delights. Given a few weeks and some guidance, you can plan a scenic multisport tour. Include as many as you can of hiking, climbing, cycling, 4×4 cruising, horseback riding or fishing adventures. Go in summer (winter in the northern hemisphere) for kayaking, rafting, canopy tours, windsurfing and more.
Spend time at an estancia, or working ranch, to see the contrast between the region’s abundant farm life and 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 (three miles wide and 60 meters above the lake surface), part of the Patagonian ice field. For more information regional sightseeing, check out Explora’s offerings.
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