Skiing in Chile, and in all of South America, began with the building of the Trans-Andean railway from Valparaiso to Buenos Aires around the turn of the century. As no roads accessed Uspallata pass, near the present-day resort of Portillo, the Norwegian and British engineers and workers contracted to build the railway were forced to ascend (and descend!) on skis. In the 1930’s, the first ski clubs in Chile constructed mountain refugios, and by 1946 Portillo could boast the continent’s first chairlift. Skiing spread quickly throughout the country, though operations remained modest until the 1980’s, when a number of Chilean ski resorts improved lifts, services, and other infrastructure to world-class levels.

Understanding snowfall here is simple. Much like the Sierra Nevada and Cascade ranges in the western US, the Andes form a barrier for moisture-laden westerly winds off the Pacific. Storms and clearing high-pressure systems are large and powerful, producing periods of heavy snow followed by perfectly blue skies. During el Niño years, warm water from the north backs up along the Chilean coast and leads to increased evaporation and truly epic snowfalls. Single storms have dumped as much as thirty feet of snow on the Central Andes.

As always in Chile, conditions from north to south vary dramatically. The ski areas in Central Chile are the highest and best equipped, and though their seasons are normally shorter than areas in the south, the snow is lighter and the skies more consistently sunny. To the south, Andes gradually lose height, and the snow which falls upon the southern volcanoes resembles that of the Pacific Northwest.

The ski areas listed here offer a wide range of skier services, including a range of accommodations and dining, ski rentals and lessons, snowboard parks, childcare, ice skating, and so on. Heli-skiing and guided off-piste services are available for interested parties. Prices are somewhat lower than in the US or Europe. As a general rule, the season here lasts from late June to early October, though conditions vary greatly from year to year. All inclusive ski weeks are excellent option for foreign visitors.

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