During the Northern hemisphere summer months, down below the equator where the mountains rise up from the sea and ancient fossils rest on the rocks, the snow is falling and the couloirs are calling. This is skiing in Argentina.
Argentina and Chile (plus another 5 countries) are home to the Andes, the longest continental mountain range in the world. 7000km long and host to the highest peak outside of Asia, Aconcagua. There is something magical about this range of active volcanoes, salt plains, deep ravines, Inca temples and snow covered summits. Whole fossilised whales have even been found on the mountain tops. It is a very special place indeed.
The Andes attract a committed rat-pack of hard-charging global skiers and snowboarders. They arrive with anticipation of steep couloirs, a rustic raw experience and expectation of powder, good wine and tasty meat. Come skiing in Argentina and one of the first things you will encounter is the overwhelming friendliness of the people and their famous Asados. Any excuse will end up in an Asado, a get together of friends to BBQ the most delicious free-range, grass-fed meats on an open fire. Just yesterday we were walking back from a 3,500ft run down to the muddy road, when we were called over to a group of enthusiastic Argentinians, bent over a dried mud outdoor grill, drinking Fernet and coke. What followed was the most delicious lamb and beef I have ever tried, dripping in juices mixed with lemon, sundried tomato, chimichurri and rosemary. Sharing what you have and enjoying time spent with friends in a beautiful environment is what my asado experiences in Argentina were all about.
With lifts that top out at over 11,000ft, offering 24km of possible runs or endless backcountry options, a good day skiing in Argentina or South America can be one of the best of your life. In Las Leñas where I spent the Southern Hemisphere spring, the famous Marte chair (arguably the best chair in the world), pops you above some of the steepest, narrowest, most technical chute riding on earth. Think heli-skiing from a chair lift. But definitely know where you are going, with south facing chutes with names like ‘Sin Salida’ aka ‘No Exit’, a ride into this couloir can leave you with a mandatory air or a big hike out.
Just under the chair alone, you can ski ‘Marte Classico’ and enjoy laps on a 50º couloir. That’s when it is open. With no signage, boards or public information posted by the resort, days will be spent enquiring in your best Spang-lish, what the status of operations is – “Marte abierto?”. Any wind or bad light and it will most likely be closed and you’ll be riding the poma and chairs at the base. For all the great skiing Las Leñas offers, it comes with serious lack of organisation, a pinch of chaos and a touch unpredictability. The wind blows hard and the resort organisation is a mess. We’ve been calling it the Argentinian shit-show… and the shit-show comes in many forms!
While the skiing and snowboarding can be some of the best you will ever have, the resort living much like the weather, isn’t that easy. Unless you are staying in one of the all-inclusive hotels (The Pisces is the best) or your own apartment, your digs will be a ski-bum’s dream: dirty, cramped, smelly but full of love for the mountains and creative cooking. And if you’re a vegetarian well, I wish you the bets of luck! Vegetables are hard to come by and expensive, so different variations of chorizo sausage aka chori, incorporated into stews becomes the nightly staple. With full bellies and some form of drawn-out constipation or stomach cramp, you await the next Marte chair powder day… which makes every struggle worthwhile.
Argentina has some strange import tax laws. By strange, I mean everything imported comes with a 70% import tax so bring your ski gear with you and do not ship anything ahead. Last week, a ski brand that shipped their kit for the next year’s catalogue had a good shoot… without next year’s clothes and goggles as all their gear still sat in customs – oups! The Andes are also full sharks just waiting to snap at your heels and tear your edges out of your skis or board. Rocky is an understatement. Never have I ridden somewhere where boulders chase you down the couloirs. A result of the high desert climate and rock fall from the exposed heated rocks. Helmets should definitely be mandatory and it’s a good idea to bring two snowboards or skis. The repair shop at the base of Las Leñas is by far the best I have ever used. A+ effort for fixing my board – see below, owch!
Overall, a trip down to South America is well worth the struggle even if it is just for the tasty meat, malbec wine and incredible, raw scenery. If you score a powder day while you are down here, you will have struck gold and it will be etched in your memory forever… as will those delicious asados, friendly faces and fossils you are sure to collect on your adventures.
Other things to know when skiing in Argentina:
Car rental in Argentina is expensive and you will have to get separate papers if you want to take it over the boarder to ski a Chilean ski resort, like Portillo for example. You will get these papers a few days into your car rental (if you are lucky), so plan ahead if this is what you want to do.
Chilean Boarder Crossing
The boarder crossing is another example of the ‘shit-show’ mentioned previously. You will be required to take your bags off the bus and open them to show officials their contents. If you have new gear take it out the packaging or they may charge you that 70% import tax. They aren’t keen on bringing in food items either. Flights are often cheapest into Santiago so a land boarder crossing is likely to be part of any trip on a ski-bum budget. Take all new stuff out of the packaging to avoid issues.
Bring spices for cooking
Unless you want all your food to taste the same, bring a good selection of spices and hot sauce. If the availability of food stuffs doesn’t stump you, the in-resort prices will.
Argentina electric plug socket
Same as Australia. Two prongs angled inwards like this. The plug socket in Chile is different (two circular prongs but smaller then Europe!).
Water bottles & suncream
The Andes are a high desert and you will get dehydrated so quick and burnt to a crisp. Bring a good water bottle for your pack and lots of sun cream, lip salve, rich moisturiser and balms.
Seasonal accomodation or place to stay in Las Lenas
Corvis is the place to stay in Las Leñas if you are on a travel ski bum budget. A really solid crew of hard charging gringos and Europeans, there is a lot of local knowledge amoungst this crowd.
Contact Yaya Moon for info (he owns the building). Best get him on WhatsApp number,+54 9 261 5699949 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Thank you to everyone to made my Argentina trip so special. Zach Paley, Lee Lyon, Sunny and Mike Hamilton, Alfred, Yaya, the Spanyids and all the gringos as Corvis ghetto.
Editor’s note: If you are after ski travel insurance for your next snow adventure, Still Stoked recommends World Nomads. Prices are really reasonable and they insure actions sports (including heliskiing!) without charging a mega premium. You can also purchase the insurance after you have left home for your trip and extend the trip online during your trip; something that is quite unique to World Nomads and really helpful if your plans change as you travel.