A Valle Nevado heli-ski guide points out a line in the distance. Jonathan Desabris photo.
For skiers and snowboarders, the dream of the endless winter can be found in South America. While the states swelter in July heat, a winter paradise can be found in the high elevation of the Andes Mountains. One of these such places is Valle Nevado. For those who have not traveled internationally before, this ski resort can be the perfect starting point for those wanting to ride and ski all year round.
The idea of an international ski trip can seem difficult and daunting for those who have not navigated the ins and outs of chasing snow, but travel to Valle Nevado is extraordinarily simple compared to other destinations. A direct flight to Santiago's Benitez International Airport is direct from most international hubs in the United States. I took a LATAM flight from Miami to Santiago, which took about nine hours. There is also direct flights from New York City and LAX.
Once you arrive in Santiago, Valle Nevado is located about 37 miles away. This is about a 90-minute drive depending on weather and road conditions. From the airport, you can either rent a car, arrange a shuttle or take a helicopter.
Claire Smallwood rips some ideal corn conditions. Jonathan Desabris photo.
The Valle Nevado road is sometimes subject to one-way restrictions. On weekends and holidays, the road is one-way for drivers heading uphill between 8 am and 2 pm. The road is only open to downhill traffic from 4 pm to 8 pm. Coming from the United States, the road and drive itself is a unique experience. The road features a large amount of hairpin turns that only add to the feeling that you’re heading someplace a little wild.
Ripping cord with the resort in the background. Valle Nevado photo.
Valle Nevado consistently gets some of the best snow in South America. Because of its high elevation, it receives about seven meters of snowfallsannually, so if you time the trip right there will be plenty of powder to ride.
Valle Nevado by the numbers is pretty impressive. It’s a large resort, with 2,225 acres of rideable terrain and a vertical drop of 2,657. They have invested heavily in their infrastructure, which is largely considered one of the best in South America. This includes a detachable quad chair and gondola, a rarity in the Southern Hemisphere.
About to fly. Jonathan Desabris photo.
There is a large amount of beginner and intermediate terrain throughout the entire resort, which makes it ideal for a variety of different ability levels. There is plenty of well-graded high alpine groomers to rip turns if it has been a couple days since the last snowfall. If the snow is fresh, I would recommend skiing the terrain off of the Tres Puntas T-bar. This is where you can find more of the advanced terrain on the mountain, with plenty of chutes, steeps, and cliffs for the adventurous minded skier.
Being surrounded by such large mountains is a surreal experience. Jonathan Desabris photo.
Where an extraordinarily amount of potential lies is in the backcountry surrounding the Resort. What was easily the highlight of my time at Valle Nevado was a morning of heli-skiing. I visited in August and it had been a couple days since the last snowfall so was eager to potentially poke into some steeper powder conditions. The experience was incredible, one for its varied terrain, the other for the length. I skied over 6,000 vertical feet, one of the longest runs of my life. The terrain started in more steeper, protected, technical chutes, which meant soft snow then descended into perfect corn skiing.
Getting picked up by the heli. Jonathan Desabris photo.
Even more overwhelming was the combination of flying and skiing in this terrain. The massive Andes range has the ability to make you feel so tiny compared to other mountains in the United States. Rates do drop in August, so if you’re looking for a deal I would plan on booking then.
Valle Nevado at sunset. Valle Nevado photo.
There are three different lodging options at Valle Nevado. All are dramatically located at almost 10,000 feet, with different price points depending on your budget. The options are Hotel Tres Puntas, Hotel Puerta del Sol, and Hotel Valle Nevado. During my time I stayed at Hotel Puerta del Sol. I found the accommodations to be very clean, cozy, and comfortable. You can easily book a hotel with a package deal through the resort.
In terms of dining, there is really any type of experience you are looking for. From the high-end La Fourchette, which is more of a white tablecloth type of place to Restaurant Sur, a buffet that serves traditional Chilean food.
Valle Nevado at night. Jonathan Desabris photo.
The pulse and energy of Valle Nevado are a big draw for those looking for a good time. There is a fascinating mix of Europeans, Brazilians, Americans, and Chileans staying at the resort. It’s easy to wander to a party during your stay. Whether it’s the après scene (I recommend the pisco sour, a local favorite) or something later in the night, a good time is easy to encounter. My personal highlights include watching the Chilean national soccer team play against Argentina with a crowd of rowdy Chileans and listening to cover band spout glorious renditions of Justin Bieber and Macklemore at 2 am.