This has to be one of my favourite things I have done in my life, forget the mere South America backpacking trip. When I told people that Kath and I were going to visit this continent for a couple of months, the last topic of conversation was skiing. And apparently that understanding is widely shared by many, it is of popular opinion to equate the Southern Hemisphere with constant heat. ‘You can’t ski down there.’ Uhm.
Ending up in Chile itself was a sort of accident and the result of meeting two lovely girls while trekking Machu Picchu, who were from Santiago and sold the city to us. This paired with being one of the most accessible cities on a continent which is challenging to move around (if you’re willing to board the questionable Sky Airlines planes) put it firmly on the ‘to conquer’ list. So there we were, a 24-hour coach journey later, finally in the capital city of the country which is named after the Native American phrase meaning ‘the end of the world,’ – Santiago.
The deeper we dug into this city, the more evidence was there to justify why this country is classed as the most developed in the continent. On one hand a modern, bustling metropolis filled with all of the amenities necessary to accessorise any modern life. But this is softened by the neoclassical architecture that lurches you back in time to the darker days of colonisation and provides a depth to the history of this city.
So, skiing. On a recommendation of the locals, we decided to head to the popular Valle Nevado. In all, we paid $150 but this included all of our gear – thermals, gloves, goggles, the lot. As well as this we were transported the 35 miles or so out of town and up hairpin bends and provided will ski passes. It’s worth leaving driving up mountains to those who know best, the locals; there were a few too many times when I instinctively caught my breath and wondered whether this was the end. Not for the faint hearted!
The Andes Express lifts reminded me of those in the Alps as did the restaurants and hotels tucked away among the slopes. The area itself links to two other valleys, La Parva and Colorado which gives it a Trois Vallées vibe, without the celebrities and their fur-lined jackets. But you can swap the hot chocolate for a Pisco sour before snapping on the skis. Much more exciting. Although not a huge ski area by European standards, the 45km of runs and 13 lifts are enough to keep even the most advanced skier preoccupied for a day. Unless you’re my friend Luke, who seemed very keen to explore off-piste options (which led to me face planting in some powdery snow) and not willing to accept the fact they make slopes for a reason.
Often overlooked, but if you have the time and money, this is one of the excellent day trips on the continent.