The great ski resorts of Chile like Valle Nevado have never been easier to get to. From Australia or NZ they are just a non-stop hop away on Qantas or Latam direct flights to Santiago from Sydney, Melbourne or Auckland.
From the airport up to Valle Nevado is only around 90 minutes when road conditions are reasonable.
If Qantas from Sydney arrives on schedule at 11.30 am you could be skiing the same afternoon you left home (thanks to crossing the International Dateline, it’s about 30 minutes shorter flight time than Sydney – LA).
We had actually arrived a bit later, so just relaxed on arrival afternoon and woke up to 50cm plus of fresh powder snow next morning.
The big dump knocked out power to the lifts, so I got desperate and got the skins on. But I had barely made it up ready to launch my first run (a combination of my early season lack of fitness and the 3,000m altitude at Valle Nevado village, South America’s highest) when some lifts fired up anyway, starting with the lower triple chair.
Soon all the local hotshots, instructors included, were charging it to get the best lines.
Somewhere in the powder frenzy I caught up with old mate Ash Muller, an ex-Hotham boarder who has racked up 11 consecutive seasons teaching here. The lift glitch saw morning lessons cancelled, and with no one booked in for the afternoon he was charging the best pow day of the season so far.
As more terrain opened we made sure we got our fair share, finally hauling in for some barbecued meat and a beer at the mid-mountain restaurant.
“I couldn’t have a beer and a smoke in uniform if I was still working at home” Ash remarked, “but here they don’t care. As long as you do your job and the clients are happy then you can enjoy yourself.”
With a pumping city of nearly 6 million just down the road, never mind mostly Latin American guests, including plenty of Brazilians, the party vibe is never far away.
Day skier numbers are limited, they arrive to the lower gondola base, so despite Santiago’s proximity the slopes don’t get too crowded. The closer resort of Farellones-El Colorado (whose best slope, Cono Este, can be seen at the back of the main picture on the previous spread) soaks up most of the day trippers.
Next morning turned into a second pow day, when the Andes Express to the top and lifts over the backside opened, so we had another good session chasing our share in the morning. Valle Nevado is mostly rolling and cruisy, with lots of long fun lines to be had.
Later I hooked up with Carmen to do the long groomers, which were mostly empty despite it being Saturday. The storm had snowed right down to the edge of the city at 700m altitude, so the road was slower than usual coming up. It’s the lottery in the equation here, subject to how the Chilean police view conditions.
The access road is rarely closed for long however, and the normal winter pattern is a storm for a couple of days followed by extended bluebird days.
Ash invited me to join in the instructor’s weekly torch descent that night, which was fun, and so simple to sort out with a quick intro to his boss and an assurance from me I wouldn’t die doing it.
Every summer for the past few years a new apartment block or two has sprouted, creating more of a real village. But the original hub of 3 hotels (one each 3, 4 and 5 star) and all the core facilities have changed little since our first visit in 1989.
The hotels remain the best overall value to stay, with big buffet breakfasts and nice dinners included. If you go the apartments stock up on food and alcohol in Santiago as there’s just a small minimarket in the resort.
Nightlife centres on The Pub at the cheapest hotel, the Tres Puntas, and it kicks on late there after afternoon sundeck sessions at the main complex. Ski in/ski out doesn’t get much simpler than this, especially in southern winter and just a non-stop flight away. LATAM direct flights from Melbourne, added to existing Qantas directs from Sydney and LATAM Sydney – Auckland – Santiago flights have made the fares better too, book ahead to take advantage of regular deals.
In main season hotel ski weeks run from Friday to Friday, or mini weeks Friday – Tuesday or Tuesday – Friday, so plan your flights around that.
Valle Nevado’s Early Bird specials save you up to 25% on hotel packages. These include upgrade tickets during a ski week to ski each of the neighbours, El Colorado/Farellones and La Parva for more variety.
For details and bookings check with www.travelplan.com.au
Valle Nevado joined the Ikon Pass for 2019, so 2018-2019 Ikon Pass holders will have seven-day access to Valle Nevado on the Ikon Pass with no blackout dates, and five-day access on the Ikon Base Pass, also with no blackout dates.
More resort info on their website or for more of our Valle Nevado features see our related features – 2018 was their 30th Anniversary and we have been enjoying it since season 2 of that.