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The secrets of skiing in Chile

We may be in the smoky, humid depths of late summer, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be dreaming about snow.

If you’re particularly antsy to get skiing, it’s winter in the mountains of South America, and they’ve been having one of the best seasons in a while. Here’s what you need to know about making some turns in Chile.

The closest places

You can be on snow within an hour and a half of landing at the Santiago airport at the Three Valleys — three interconnected ski areas, each with its own personality. Valle Nevado is swanky and has a happening bar and hot tub scene, La Parva (the website is in Spanish only) has steep, narrow chutes and El Colorado (the website also is in Spanish only) is mellower. Take your pick or ski them all.

The cat skiing

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Ski Arpa, run by father and son Toni and Anton Sponar, is Chile’s only cat-skiing operation. It’s high in the mountains above the town of Los Andes, which gives you access to high alpine chutes and view of Aconcagua, the highest mountain outside of Asia.

The yellow castle

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Ski Portillo, with its giant yellow hotel and wide-ranging terrain, is a throwback to the older, cooler days of skiing. Most people stay for a week, which gives them plenty of time to explore the steep chutes of the Roca Jack, the constantly busy disco and the roof of Tio Bob’s, which doubles as a restaurant and a heli pad.

The “nutcrackers”

Portillo is home to a kind of ski lift not found anywhere else: the slingshot, or va et vient (French for “come and go”). They’re essentially multiple-person T-bar lifts, which you have to dismount while they’re still moving.

Get on the outside if you can. Hilarity can ensue when things don’t go quite right.

The pisco and the discos

Pisco! Photo: Courtesy of Catherine Lindbloom Guanas/Flickr

Chile and Argentina fight over which country invented the pisco sour. We’ll let them battle that one out, but you can expect to see the cocktail everywhere, along with its slightly less classy cousin, the piscola. Because of that, don’t expect to sleep much, especially if you’re a first-chair kind of person.

The late-night dancing scene is strong in South America, whether it’s at Portillo’s underground club or Valle Nevado’s Tres Puntas. That’s what naps are for.

The couloirs

The steep, rocky terrain of the Andes holds tons of narrow, sustained couloir skiing. Portillo’s Super C is one of the most famous, but Valle Nevado, La Parva and El Colorado all have plenty too.

The volcanoes

The Andes from above. Photo: Courtesy of Jorge Gobbi/Flickr

Southern Chile is home to a range of skiable volcanoes. Most of them are accessible only under your own power. The backcountry skiing can be technical and remote, but you can also visit the small-scale Ski Pucon (Spanish-only website) or Nevados de Chillan resorts to get some turns in.

The Olympians

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World Cup ski teams from all over the world go to South America to train, so you might see Lindsey Vonn in the pool at Portillo or Olympic gold medalist Matthias Mayer on the hill at Valle Nevado. Be cool.

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