My Ultimate Guide to the Ski Resorts of South America [Part 2]

December 28, 2013 by

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Following on from my previous post where I covered the Chilean resorts I visited during my South American travels; here, I’m going to be covering the resorts on the Argentinian side of the Andes. If you didn’t get a chance to read the first entry, I’ll give you a little summary:

Chilean resorts aren’t as good as Alpine or North American resorts, it’s not me being a snob and though it’s just my humble opinion, I think given the chance, most people would agree.

South America’s crown jewels lie in its high powder fields and heli-skiing. That’s why you see so many snowboarding and skiing edits filmed there (check out the Jackson Brothers’ ‘Brothers On The Run’ web series).

That’s not to say you can’t have a lot of fun and it’s great to experience a different kind of snowsport culture. Plus, there aren’t too many places you can finish a day on the mountain with an 800g ribeye steak for a few quid.

Cerro Chapelco

So, onto my reviews of the Argentinian resorts. As also mentioned in my previous post, this list isn’t exhaustive.

I turned up at Cerro Bayo (between San Martin de los Andes and Bariloche) and unfortunately it was shut so that’s an unfortunate omission (it’s one of the more visited resorts) and there are a few other resorts down to the south, even so far as Ushuaia in the Tierra del Fuego, that were just too far away with the time constraints. I’ll begin with Cerro Chapelco in San Martin de los Andes.

Cerro Chapelco

There is some serious fun to be had at Chapelco – it’s got a little bit of everything on and off the mountain.

Sat just outside the town of San Martin de los Andes, Chapelco gave me probably the best day of boarding I had in South America.

The first afternoon and second day I was there was overcast and the visibility at ground level was pretty low – a lot of the higher areas were closed off due to the ‘wind’. I still managed to have a huge amount of fun in the densely packed trees in the lower reaches of the resort though.

Cerro Chapelco

The third day however was perfect.

A bluebird powder day following a week of the higher areas being shut so there was plenty of powder for everyone. Chapelco has huge amounts of wind lips, cornices, cliff drops, banks, natural pipes, gullies – everything you could want as a freestyler.

It also has pistes to suit every level, a park that looked as if it would’ve been good had it been open and some great tree runs.

I managed to get a massive core shot when going through the trees which is a risk you run but it was so much fun doing it – some of the runs are extremely challenging as the terrain within the forest is so uneven.

You’re fighting against the ground whilst trying to dart between the trees!

Cerro Chapelco

Out the back (to the left on the piste map) is a large area with long, red pistes but the best bit I found was the black off the top.

At the top of the surprisingly quick chairlift to the top of Cerro Teta, you come back on yourself off to the left all the way along a plateau with a sheer drop to your right (great fun to jump off).

There’s a short but steep black with a gully to jump into at the bottom and if you get enough speed up you can turn the side into a little kicker and come flying out.

Cerro Chapelco

Chapelco was great fun and comes highly recommended. If you get a clear day, there are so many different kinds of terrain and natural features to play around on and you can celebrate by heading back into the charming town of San Martin for a massive steak in the evening.

Cerro Catedral

HUGE. Cerro Catedral is a short drive outside Bariloche and one of the largest resorts in SA.

It might even be the biggest – worth a Google. It’s got the most developed ‘resort’ I saw in SA at the base of the mountain with a great servicing shop – I got both my boards fully serviced for about £30 and they both ran like new.

Cerro Catedral

There’s restaurants, ski schools, bars, shops etc. It’s much closer to an Alpine or North American resort than anything else you’ll come across.

The resort itself is well serviced by a huge amount of lifts so you can access a large area and the blacks and reds right at the top are great fun.

There’s some challenging off piste down the faces between the pistes and in amongst the cliffs but I was unfortunately unable to enjoy these areas as the snow had been completely tracked out the day before.

Cerro Catedral

Way off to the left (of the resort map) you’re likely to see people skinning up the side of one of the peaks and disappearing. That’s because there’s a large section of off piste that you can only access by trekking which leads down into the next valley.

There’s a refugio there if you want to stay but apparently the journey back to Catedral from the bottom is quite a long walk. This is where I hiked for 70minutes along some skin-tracks to the top of the peak where some of my best photos were taken.

It was only 30 seconds down but it was virgin powder and it was MINE. I was told off by the resort staff as it was ‘avalanchey’ but then again so was half the resort and they didn’t seem to mind skiers going down some of the more questionable off piste areas.

I had 2 gripes with Catedral:

  1. Near the bottom, it turns to mud very quickly. I ended up walking down the final stages.
  2. There seemed to be a bit of an attitude problem towards snowboarders.

On the second day, most of the resort was shut due to high winds (they were average winds at most and there were clear, blue skies everywhere) and the area that was open had a ski competition running down half of it. This in itself wasn’t a problem. What WAS a problem was that after 30minutes of waiting in the life queue, the lifty just said ‘No Snowboarders’.

We protested and my friend who speaks fluent Spanish argued with him but no, only skiers were allowed up – not even just the competitors. ONLY skiers.

Needless to say it pissed me off and somewhat ruined what had been a very favourable perception of the resort.

Cerro Catedral

It’s definitely worth visiting and Bariloche itself is pretty sweet. The resort itself has pistes to suit all abilities and ample opportunity for powdery yummyness if you get a dump but there wasn’t a huge amount of natural features to play around and the attitude of some (and I must emphasise, not all) of the staff towards snowboarders wasn’t the best but maybe I just caught them on a bad day.

Another mention is the drive through the lake country from San Martin de los Andes is absolutely breathtaking so I would highly recommend doing that if you’re able.

Las Lenas

Las Lenas is in the high Andes about 6 hours south of Mendoza. You can get a bus at 2am from the main bus terminal in Mendoza and it’ll get you there shortly after 8am in perfect time to get in front of all the queues.

This is one of the largest resorts in South America and a lot of money is ploughed into it. I’m not sure exactly WHERE the money is ploughed as the lifts are extremely slow.

Las Lenas

There are 2 main sections to the resort itself…

The ‘front’ section comprises of some excellent piste boarding and skiing and you can traverse off to the right to find some off piste which, though I didn’t experience myself, looked like it would’ve been fantastic on a powder day.

There are some great blacks and long reds but the real value for me was in all the natural features. There’s natural half pipes, step-ups, hills and jumps aplenty and I managed to learn a new trick despite being hamstrung by the hire board strapped to my feet (‘strapped’ being a loose term – the bindings broke twice).

Las Lenas

The ‘back’ section was fascinating – you have to get a reeeeaaalllllyyyy long, slow lift that takes you along a flat to the base of the mountain before getting another such lift up to the top – if you do these together you’re going to be sat on lifts for anywhere up to half an hour.

Underneath the second lift was off limits on the day I was there but if there was a nice covering of powder, there was a chute that looked positively terrifying and awesome in equal degree. We’re talking Jeremy Jones stuff (not really, he’d probably find it too easy, but it was very steep and very narrow).

That’s one of the things that struck me about Las Lenas; you could have the standard fun shooting down the long pistes, throwing a few tricks off the edge of the piste (I got into a bit of a freestyle battle with a clearly superior boarder but that was half the fun) but I can imagine the real fun at Las Lenas comes on a powder day – there are some seriously steep shoots, faces and runs in the off piste sections which would be just a little too dangerous for the average boarder/skier.

Las Lenas

I seem to remember reading about there being a double black diamond section but I don’t think I actually saw it.

That said, even without powder, Las Lenas was a lot of fun. It was coming to the end of the season so the park was gone, the mounds of mud they use to build kickers were clearly visible, the off piste was strictly off limits and I may as well have had a piece of wood lashed to my feet but that’s the beauty of snowboarding or skiing. It doesn’t matter how many things are conspiring against you, there’s fun to be had anywhere where you can find a little dusting or something to throw yourself off of.


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About Ben Hankins

Ben knew that once he left university that an instant career wasn't for him. Immediately, Ben set off on his travels. After his first spell of 'gap yah' travel, he is now a full-on snowboarding addict!