To many people, South America is synonymous with tropical beaches and lush rainforest of the kind for which countries like Brazil, Colombia and Peru are renowned. Venture further South of the tropics, though, and you will uncover excellent snow fields in the Andes range that boast skiing and snowboarding opportunities to rival many of the better known winter sports vacation spots around the world.
The 4400 mile stretch of jagged peaks that is the Andes separates Argentina on its east from Chile on the west. On the Argentinian side, the skiing season starts in the middle of June and ends in October, but the best conditions are a month in from each end, i.e. from mid-July to September.
The Argentine snow sports scene is centered around three ski regions – Mendoza in the North, Patagonia and the Lakes District further south, and the Ushuaia region at the southernmost tip of the mountains. These regions together are home to about fifteen ski resorts.
In Mendoza, the ones worth a visit are Las Lenas, Los Puquios and Los Penitentes.
Of these, Los Puquios is the most affordable. The gentle slopes are ideal for beginners and also for families with young ones. However, it is comparatively small and so may not be as appealing to anyone looking for a bit of variety.
Las Penitentes is larger and is situated on the international highway that links Mendoza to the Chilean capital of Santiago.
Las Lenas is the largest and by far the most exciting skiing and snowboarding in Mendoza. 250 inches of annual snowfall, a base elevation of over 7,000 feet and slopes ranging from the gentle to the steep make it a wonderful winter getaway for everyone from beginners to those seeking extreme thrills.
The Lake District in the northern part of Patagonia is dotted, quite appropriately, with picturesque lakes. The ski town of Bariloche is a major gateway to many of the region’s ski resorts.
The rather large and immensely popular ski resort of Cerro Catedral is located just twelve miles from Bariloche. It features modern facilities and a range of amenities for every kind of snow thrill seeker.
A further thirty miles down the road lies the very different Cerro Bayo. Cerro Bayo is a small, boutique ski resort from which visitors a rewarded with the incomparable beauty of the shimmering blue lakes surrounded by the dazzling snow landscape.
As a contrast, Perito Moreno ski resort 75 miles south of Bariloche takes a bare-bones approach to the skiing and snowboarding experience. Sporting a small number of slopes through forested areas and rather dated and very slow lifts, Perito Moreno is a back-to-basics town that will perhaps charm those looking for a return to simpler times away from commercialization.
Cerro Castor in the Ushuaia region is much further south; in fact, it is the ski resort closest to the South Pole anywhere. It is large with modern facilities and was even been used as a site for Winter Olympics qualifiers.
Skiers and snowboarders visiting South America may find that basic facilities like lifts are of a standard lower than that which they are accustomed to. However, things are improving at a steady pace and Argentina offers an excellent mix of old and new right now.