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Skiing fun in the southern hemisphere

Year after year, while Europe is getting ready for summer, sun and beach vacations, the ski resorts south of the equator kick off their winter season in June. In this post, we're looking south and showcasing some of the ski areas in Argentina, Chile, Australia and New Zealand. And to get the inside track, we talked to local experts to find out what to expect at each resort.

Argentina: Winter vacation "at the end of the world"

The terrain in Cerro Castor extends itself to a height of 3467 ft (1.057m)!
© FOTiar The terrain in Cerro Castor extends itself to a height of 3467 ft (1.057m)!

Cerro Castor holds a very special record: It is the world's most southern ski resort! Situated in the midst of Tierra del Fuego National Park (which roughly translates as "fire land"), the resort offers skiers and snowboarders some quite astonishing views. The resort opened in 1999 and has, thanks to its location, a virtual snow guarantee. Seasons here even last up until mid-October! In total, Cerro Castor maintains around 30 kilometres of terrain and operates eleven lifts. One highlight of the resort and a must for all proficient skiers is the "El Cóndor" run. It begins at the highest point in Cerro Castor at 3,467 ft (1,057m) and leads you all the way back into the valley to a height of only 639 ft (195m).

The resort Las Leñas is often described as the St. Moritz of the Andes. This exclusive resort welcomes skiers and snowboarders to the so-called Valle de Las Leñas (which translates as "firewood valley"). The 29 slopes here extend all the way up to 11,253 ft (3,430m), which also makes Las Leñas the highest ski resort in Argentina. From the summit, skiers can enjoy a quite unbelievable 360° panorama of the Andes' eye-catching volcanoes. As 60% of the trails are marked as easy or even very easy terrain, beginners have a huge selection of slopes to choose from. All these runs are perfect for honing your skiing skills. The comparatively small amount of black-marked slopes (some 5%) shouldn't keep experts from visiting Las Leñas though. The ski resort is a popular destination for freeriding and it's not hard to see why. The Marte lift offers access to diverse terrain, famous for hundreds of steep couloirs and exciting drops.

Chile: enchanted lakes and sun-blessed slopes

Portillo provides unbelievable views!
© Ski Portillo Portillo provides unbelievable views!

In the very heart of the Andes, the resort Valle Nevado extends up to 9,842 ft (3,000m). Due to its location, the resort is blessed with plenty of snow coupled with 85% cloudless days! With an area covering 890 ha, it is one of the largest resorts in the country and forms the ski network "Tres Valles" together with the neighboring resorts of La Parva and El Colorado Farellones. Valle Nevado is known for its modern facilities and innovative approach, which is why it should come as no surprise that in 2013 it introduced Chile's very first gondola lift. The resort also offers heliskiing - with the stunning panorama of the impressive nearby mountains before you, you'll reach slopes offering descents of up to 6561 vertical feet (2,000m).

Portillo is the oldest ski resort in South America. Established during the 19th century, Norwegians settled in the area and worked as engineers here. The first lift was built and installed in the 1930s. Nowadays, Portillo is a resort offering some 500 ha of terrain and 35 slopes in total. The surroundings are magnificent: every now and then you'll have a view of the crystal clear lake Laguna del Inca. According to legend, the ghost of an Inca resides in the lake.

We asked Greg Fitzsimmons for more info!

Snow-Online.com: What's unique about Portillo?
Greg Fitzsimmons: For northern-hemisphere skiers and snowboarders, the most unique thing about Portillo is swapping summer for winter and traveling below the equator in search of snow. Falling asleep in the airplane on the tarmac in a hot, northern-hemisphere airport and waking up after an overnight flight in cold, wintry Santiago, Chile is the best dream a skier can imagine. Logging powder days in mid-August at Portillo, while friends back home are baking in the summer heat and counting down the days until ski season, is so fun.

On top of that, Portillo offers a really unique ski experience. Most ski resorts are trying to expand and grow, build fancy new hotels and high-speed chairlifts. That is not what you find in Portillo. Portillo is a throwback to the old days that I hear my grandfather talk about. The pace is slow, there aren’t shops and restaurants, the hotel is similar to what it was generations ago; Ski Portillo is how skiing used to be, and I find that really refreshing. Rather than riding on cushy high-speed chairlifts, Portillo has the Roca Jack—a five-person va et vient platter lift—that slingshots skiers and riders up the slope and accesses world-class terrain.

Skiing powder during August, sampling Chilean culture, and experiencing Portillo’s old-school atmosphere are three things that combine to make Portillo a one-of-a-kind ski resort! Portillo has a level of authenticity, character and charm that you won’t find anywhere else in the world.

Which slope is the most challenging run?
The challenging terrain in Portillo is one thing that beckons big-mountain skiers and off-piste enthusiasts to travel all the way to Chile. Everything is accessible by hiking and traversing, and there is an “earn-your-turns” ethic that runs deep in Portillo. Without a doubt, the most challenging off-piste run in Portillo is the iconic Super C couloir. A three-hour bootpack and hike puts you on top of one of the most aesthetic ski lines I’ve ever skied. 4,000 vertical feet of untracked snow, surrounded by vertical rock walls, and 45-degree pitches make the Super C a classic ski run. There isn’t anything in the world like the Super C, because it’s challenging to access, a beautiful visual experience, and an unforgettable ski run.

Portillo has plenty of challenging runs that don’t require hiking for hours with your skis on your back. The Lake Run is a classic, challenging run that promises good conditions and feels like you’re being pulled down into the crystal-clear waters of Laguna del Inca. Garganta chute is a challenging run that sits directly beneath El Plateau chairlift. And, my personal favorite is the zone known as El Estadio. You’ll find spines, chutes, rocks, and untracked aprons of pristine powder in El Estadio. Every time I explore the area I find something new, challenging, and exciting to ski.

Which are some of the best places for beginners?
The runs for beginners in Portillo are conveniently located right next to Hotel Portillo, so they are easy to access for beginners. If you’re looking for the best areas for beginners, check out the gentle runs off Los Lamas chairlift and the easy Canarios runs. Plus, the Portillo Ski & Snowboard School is world-class. Some of the best ski and snowboard instructors from all over the world teach in Portillo, which makes Ski Portillo a perfect destination for learning how to ski.

Is there a run with the best panoramic view?
I’m not joking when I say: every single ski run in Portillo will take your breath away because of the absolute beauty you get to experience. The hotel sits on top of a high-mountain pass, it rests on the banks of the Inca Lake, an amphitheater of jagged peaks encircles Portillo, and the towering peak of Aconcagua looms in the distance. You are surrounded by natural beauty in every direction in Portillo. So, in my opinion, the best panoramic view isn’t from a ski run. Instead, sitting in the hot tub with an après-ski beer and soaking in the beautiful panoramic scenery of the Inca Lake and Tres Hermanos peaks is my favorite view in Portillo! (There isn’t a better hot tub in the entire world, at least I haven’t found one yet…)

Tell us about the best spot for enjoying a break!
Tio Bob’s is the place to have lunch, drink a beer, take a break, and kick back. The mid-mountain restaurant is a refugio at the top of El Plateau chairlift, and it overlooks the lake and surrounding mountains. The views are incredible, the food is delicious, and après usually starts early at Tio Bob’s on sunny days.                                                                                     

 

Australia: Skiing with an extraordinary backdrop

Falls Creek is the largest ski resort in the state of Victoria!
© Falls Creek Resort Management Falls Creek is the largest ski resort in the state of Victoria!

The slogan at Mt Hotham is "Aim Higher" - an apt claim for a resort where the slopes extend up to a height of 6,053 ft (1,845m). This makes it one of the highest resorts in all of Australia. The location is a little unconventional: most of the slopes run beneath Hotham Village, which is only about 328 ft (100m) down from the eponymous summit. The descents at Mt Hotham are perfect for advanced skiers and experts: 80% of the 245 ha area are classified as intermediate or hard. Freeride fans also have a great amount of space to enjoy some untouched powder, too. From the top station of "The Orchard" lift, a snowcat departs every 15 minutes (depending on the weather) to take winter sport enthusiasts to the best deep snow areas for free!

With an area of 450 ha, Falls Creek is one of the largest resorts Down Under. High above Rock Valley Lake it serves up unusual but incredible scenery for skiers and snowboarders. With 60% intermediate terrain, the resort is perfectly suited for advanced skiers. In addition, the resort provides four terrain parks, which helps attract the freestyle ski and snowboard crowd.

We asked Jo Prothero for more info!

Snow-Online.com: What’s new this season?
Jo Prothero: There are new popup food vendors at Slalom Plaza and the Village Bowl as well as a new toboggan slope in the Bowl. Furthermore, teenagers (up to 17) will ski and snowboard for the same price as kids.

What’s unique about Falls Creek?
Falls Creek is Victoria’s largest all season alpine resort and is truly European style ski in / ski out. No vehicles, other than snow vehicles, are permitted in the village. The resort also has over 65km (40.4 mi) of free Cross Country Trails. Visitors can snowplay, ski, snowboard, snowshoe, back country ski, alpine tour or just relax and enjoy over 30 bars and restaurants.

Which slope would you say is the most challenging run?
In the Summit area, The Slot or Cabbage Patch.

Is there an area best suited for beginners?
Wombat’s Ramble, Australia’s longest beginner run.

Tell us about the run with the best panoramic view!
Main Street, with views over Rocky Valley Lake, Australia’s highest body of water.

 

New Zealand: mountain fun Kiwi style!

Mt Ruapehu is the highest point on the North Island of New Zealand.
© Ruapehu Alpine Lifts Mt Ruapehu is the highest point on the North Island of New Zealand.

The Remarkables is one of the three ski resorts in the area around Queenstown. The town is situated on Lake Wakatipu and is known throughout New Zealand as the capital of adventure and tourism. The Remarkables stretches out over an area of 265 ha and offers a relaxed and laid-back atmosphere. Various sun-blessed descents run along the hillside of Double Cones and beginners, advanced skiers and experts will all find enjoyable runs here. Since this season, The Remarkables has been part of The Mountain Collective. This fascinating network offers a ski ticket which allows access to twelve of the most renowned ski resorts worldwide.

We asked Craig Douglas for more info!

Snow-Online.com: What’s unique about The Remarkables?
Craig Douglas:
The Remarkables is a truly alpine location, nestled in a mountain range that has a real European feel with mountain tops towering overhead.

Which slope would be the most challenging run?
Alta Chutes, true big mountain terrain feeding down to a frozen lake.

Tell us about the best photo location!
The Look out at Shadow Basin. High above Queenstown and Lake Wakatipu.

Where is the best après-ski location?
The Club House at Jacks Point, an international golf resort at the base of the mountain.

What's your insider’s tip?
Make the effort to ski Homeward, the groomers can’t get out there so it is awesome after a snow fall.

 

Even though most of the resorts in New Zealand are located on the South Island, the largest NZ resort is actually on the North Island: Whakapapa. At Mt Ruapehu – an active (!) volcano – you have more than 1,000 ha of mountain to explore. Not only is that an insane amount of terrain, it is incredibly varied as well. Should this diversity still not be enough, you could always head on over to the neighboring slopes of Turoa, which are located just a little further south on Mt Ruapehu.

We asked Crystal van der Heyden for more info!

Snow-Online.com: Why should you visit Whakapapa for skiing?
Crystal van der Heyden: Whakapapa is New Zealand’s largest ski area with more than 65 trails across 1050 hectares. Whakapapa is home to a premiere beginner’s area, Happy Valley, which has its own valley with a separate slow-moving chair lift, café, rental complex and ski school meeting area.

For intermediate and advanced skiers/boarders, Whakapapa offers a variety of options. The volcanic terrain offers a massive diversityof trails, giving you the choice of bumps, chutes, drops, bowls or wide runs. There are more than 30 groomed trails that intermediate skiers and boarders will love.

With 24 ‘black diamond’ advanced trails plus the lift-accessed Black Magic backcountry area, there is plenty of adrenaline-pumping opportunities for even the most expert of skiers.

With regards to food and beverages, Whakapapa’s Knoll Ridge Café is a must. Being New Zealand’s highest café, it boasts incredible views over the upper slopes, offers a stunning selection of food and fantastic Barista-made coffee, all served by a truly international team. There are two other cafes on Whakapapa – Lorenz’s Bar & Café and Happy Valley Bistro, allowing skiers/boarders to conveniently take a coffee break, people watch or simply relax after being on the slopes.

Where should you start your ski day?
Catch the Waterfall Express Chair up to the Knoll Ridge Café (New Zealand’s highest café) and grab a morning coffee. Then head down the waterfalls to warm your legs before a day on the slopes.

Where is best to ski in the afternoon?
That is heavily dependent on the time of season. In the spring – out West.

Tell us about the run with the best panoramic views!
On a clear blue bird day, if you head out far West and onto the far west T-bar, you will experience amazing panoramic views of The Pinnacles, Mt Ngauruhoe, and on an good day Mt Taranaki.

What can you do after the lifts close?
There is really nice après-ski at The Chateau in Whakapapa Village, Schnapps Bar in National Park or at Powderkeg in Ohakune.

 

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created on 23 Jun 2016
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