Skiing in Valle Nevado (Chile): a unique experience for Europeans

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Globalisation means that everything and everyone is less and less different, and we resemble each other more and more: in attitudes, fashion, even in food and the way we ski or queue up for a ski lift.

Possibly the main expression of this phenomenon are airports: all have the same fashion shops and even the souvenirs are almost the same. Luckily there are many other things that remind us that we are far from home: the uniforms of the police to whom we show our passports and, of course, the landscape we can see through the large windows.

For a European skier, landing in Santiago de Chile after observing a capital of 6.5 million inhabitants with a backdrop of snowy mountains from the air, but knowing that there ski resorts awaiting you, ends up being a mix of excitement, emotion and intense views.

So I’m going to explain to you a bit of my three-day experience at the Valle Nevado ski resort, in Chile’s central Andes. Ready?

Skiing in Valle nevado-la gondola valle nevadoThis is how beautiful the Valle Nevado ski resort is seen after a good snowfall (Valle Nevado)

Santiago de Chile

The Chilean capital is a modern, cosmopolitan city where you’re as likely to breathe in the smoke from its busy avenues as the pure air of the nearby mountains. From June to October its backdrop is an authentic, majestic white winter scene.

So it shouldn’t seem strange that in brochures and tourist maps of the city, tours to visit the snow or to go skiing in the capital’s outskirts are advertised. Just 35 kilometres from this megacity we find four ski centres: Los Farellones, La Parva, El Colorado and Valle Nevado, also known as the “metropolitan ski centres”.

In Santiago there are two areas where you can experience the renowned world of skiing: the outskirts around Constitución Street, in the neighbourhood of Bella Vista, and around Las Condes Avenue, towards the road that takes us up to the four ski centres. Here you can find different businesses linked to the snow: transport companies, equipment and clothing rental and tour agencies, amongst others.

Skiing in Valle nevado-view general area valle nevadoMagnificent view of Valle Nevado as seen from a drone (Photo of Valle Nevado)

Accessing Valle Nevado

This resort is found just 46 kilometres from the capital and is accessed by a winding road that takes between 60 and 90 minutes to travel, depending on weather conditions and peak times for going up and down.

There are police controls that stop vehicles to check that they are carrying chains and there are also a couple of posts by the roadside where, for a few pesos, fitters will help us to put them on (if necessary, of course). The road weaves through a narrow valley, through the centre of which the rough waters of the River Mapocho flow. At the sides of the river the slopes are steep and covered with bushes, trees that form small woods with large clearings and – watch out! – some beautiful cacti that for Europeans are something of an exotic contradiction.

Skiing in Valle nevado-hotels valle nevado Valle Nevado was created in 1987 adopting, in part, the aesthetics of the Alpine ski resort Les Arcs (Photo of Valle Nevado)

Surprises upon arriving at Valle Nevado

After leaving behind Farellones and its 40 numbered turns, a mountain town situated at more than 2,000 metres altitude where the snow covers everything, the road took us gently snaking as we headed higher, until reaching the foot of the slopes of Valle Nevado. The arrival at this resort was made by beautiful, unique landscapes of outcrops, geological stone structures that resemble cliffs at the beach.

Once at the resort, two things surprised me: the first was the escalators to reach the foot of the slopes and the second was seeing the hotel and apartment buildings, one of which was clearly inspired by the French ski resort Les Arcs in the Alps.

Skiing in Valle nevado-snowboard valle nevadoValle Nevado is a resort that is equally popular with skiers and snowboarders (I.S.T.)

Historical note

Valle Nevado is one of the four metropolitan ski resorts in Santiago de Chile and its origin owes to the start of skiing in this zone at the beginning of the thirties, in the last century. From then, other ski centres were born and developed, such as El Colorado, La Parva and finally Valle Nevado, which is the most recent. It was prompted by French companies in 1987, hence the similarity with the aforementioned Alpine resort in Savoy.

Skiing in Valle nevado-cenral sector vallenevadoIn Valle Nevado there is always high-quality snow due to its height and orientation (I.S.T.)

A residential complex and a modern resort

Valle Nevado spreads out in the setting of a residential complex of hotels and apartments, situated at 3,100 metres above sea level, from where a good part of the regular clients come from.

Valle Nevado is a resort that surprises you, not just because of its landscape with high-quality snow, but also because when you just arrive and start to go up the mountain, you do so with a magnificent lift (unique in Chile) that takes you up to the resort’s main centre. From there you can access the rest of the area using the Andes Express ski lift, a four-seat detachable chairlift, a facility that is far from common in South America.

In Valle Nevado, moreover, there is a network of snow produced, well-equipped snow groomers, well-trained workers, 46 kilometres of slopes and over the season it receives an average of 4 metres of snow. The climate is also pleasant at this ski resort, with the sun shining in a bright blue sky 85% of days. What more could you ask for?

Skiing in Valle nevado-vall enedo liftsThe Andes Express detachable chair lift forms part of the resort’s main centre (I.S.T.)

Three days tracking, 100 kilometres of slopes

In Valle Nevado I spent three days skiing, more specifically 22nd, 23rd and 24th July: on sunny day, one cloudy day and one snowy day.

For this, I used the Valle Nevado app, which is compatible with Skitude, and I started up the GPS tracker for the three days. Sliding down the 46 kilometres of slopes situated between altitudes of 3,000 and 3,750m, I added up close to 100 kilometres, without any hurry, of course. To take photos I used the option on the Valle Nevado app, and in this way the images are geolocated.

Skiing in Valle nevado-stats track valle nevado
Results of my tracking on 21st July using the Valle Nevado app, which is compatible with Skitude

Three points you can’t miss

In Valle Nevado there are three must-do visits which, in my opinion, can’t be missed under any circumstances. Here I explain why.

  1. Parador Tres Puntas, found at the entrance of the Tres Puntas ski lift. At this point you can observe the Cerro El Plomo close up. At 5,424 metres above sea level, it is the highest peak in this region. Seeing the summit and its two most famous glaciers, the Colgante and the Iver, is a natural spectacle and a display of the lofty beauty of the Andes.
  2. The Sol slope, located in the Olímpico Valley, the border between Valle Nevado and its neighbour, El Colorado. This is a red slope that is especially appealing because of its layout, the views over the rest of the resort and because the access is unmarked, meaning it is infrequently used.
  3. La Momia black slope. Its name, which in Spanish means ‘the mummy’, comes from the well-preserved remains of an Inca child found on the El Plomo mountain in 1954, that are currently preserved at the Chilean National Museum of Natural History. Some locals say that since the remains were discovered and unearthed in Chile’s central Andes they receive fewer snowfalls, so now you know – if you ski on this slope, remember to do it respectfully. Technically speaking, this is a demanding black-level slope that it’s best to avoid when conditions are icy or windy.
Skiing in Valle nevado-observing valle nevadoObserving the partially covered Cerro El Plomo (5,424 m) and its two glaciers

And finally, some suggestions and curiosities

Skiing in Valle nevado, there are a few things that should be clear. If there’s fog it’s best not to go out on the slopes. Below the urbanisation there are various gorges and despite being close to a capital of 6.5 million inhabitants, the mountains in this zone are extremely isolated and deserted, and because of their verticality they can be dangerous without good visibility and are far from controlled areas.

The slopes are close to 4,000 metres high and as such some people might experience difficulties when breathing and moving. It’s not too serious, just that you might feel more tired than usual. And at this altitude you can assume that it’s going to be cold!

Valle Nevado is one of South America’s great ski resorts and this is due to its modern facilities, good snow and varied slopes for all levels. The station features all services at the foot of the slops, with aprés-ski activities to suit all tastes and an international clientele mainly made up of Brazilian skiers with medium-high to high purchasing power.

There’s the possibility of acquiring a joint pass with neighbouring ski resort La Parva or with El Colorado, with which you can ski in an area of close to 100 kilometres. In any case, it should be said that the slopes in the northern sector (Ballicas, Ancla, Valle del Inca and Tres Puntas) are usually not very busy, as these are only used by skiers and snowboarders with an advanced or expert technical level, so it’s practically impossible that the Valle Nevado resort seems too small.

And, finally, something curious: a good number of the ski slopes are named after kinds of dance, including Vals (Waltz), Fox Trot and Twist, amongst others. I’ll leave you with this question, which links back to the start of this article. Which other “global” activity is as fun as skiing on good snow under a blue sky, in good company?

Skiing in Valle nevado-valle nevado skiAt the back, the El Ancla ski lift, which takes us to the northern sector of Valle Nevado. It facilitates access to the neighbouring station of La Parva
Skiing in Valle nevado-valle nevado ski liftValle Nevado has a good network of ski lifts and slopes for all levels
Skiing in Valle nevado-pista sol de vallenevadoThe Sol slope, one of the must-visit stretches if you’re skiing in Valle Nevado
Skiing in Valle nevado-track valle nevado 23
My tracking the 23rd of July
Skiing in Valle nevado-valle nevado experienceWe were skiing in Valle Nevado on 22nd, 23rd and 24th July. Ivan Sanz, on the left, and Anna Arnabat, on the right, who helped me to “humanise” the photos of these impressive landscapes.

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