High in the Andes – Skiing Valle Nevado in Chile

It was actually Valle Nevado that attracted me to Chile as a destination for skiing. Valle Nevado has joined the Mountain Collective Pass as an affiliate partner, which means buyers of the pass gets 2 free days in the mountain or 15% off the all-inclusive lodging package. However with winter in Chile being summer in the northern hemisphere, only early bird buyers of the Mountain Collective Pass gets the 2 free days here.

Morning sunshine on the slopes
Morning sunshine on the slopes, with the Prado base visible in the middle

The resort is billed as the largest in the country and it is also one of the few that has gondolas installed. Located north-east from the capital of Chile, Santiago, Valle Nevado is centrally located on the Andes mountain range.

Resort perched near the top
Resort complex perched near the top

GETTING THERE

Skiers could either rent a car and drive to the resort where there is free parking or they could take the various ski shuttles departing from Santiago. One of the largest is Ski Total which I used. They have several rates available with some that includes ski lift tickets and equipment rentals. A return trip costs CLP 27,000 (~$44) with a van picking guests up from the hotel. For skiers who live near the Las Condes area, it is best to just head there yourself and save CLP 10,000. The ski shuttle works in such a way that all guests picked up from the hotel will be transferred to their office along Avenida Apoquindo before they pay and board another shuttle to the ski resorts. So guests doing the hotel pick up need to get ready much earlier and if you’re staying in the Las Condes area, one can just head down anytime before 8:30am especially if you have your own ski gear.

Ski Total van
Ski Total van

The ride with Ski Total takes about 2 hours and passes some winding mountain passes close as the van ascends up to the resort.

Gondola plaza
Gondola plaza

CHAIRLIFTS & GONDOLAS

Skiers visiting for the day usually start by either taking the gondola to the Bajo Zero restaurant, while skiers who stay overnight at the resort starts higher up in the mountain closer to the top of the Vaiven 2-person chairlift.

Vaiven chairlift
Vaiven chairlift from the gondola

The resort has a major high-speed quad chairlift called the Andes Express that whisks skiers up to the summit (Cima Andes) at 3,485 metres (11,434 ft). From the top there are red (advanced) and black (expert) runs and this is also the highest point accessible by chairlifts. It is also the point for skiers to ski towards the La Parva ski area or explore the Ballicas (western facing slope) side of the mountain. Intermediate skiers could then ski to the Embalse double chairlift that would carry them back to the south-facing portion of the slopes.

Andes Express chairlift
Andes Express chairlift

The other main chairlifts include the quadruple Mirador chairlift and the triple Prado chairlift, whose base is at the lowest point in the resort. Go any lower than that and it walk/hike back to the lifts.

On the Prado chairlift
On the Prado chairlift

Other than the chairlifts, skiers generally rely on the ‘Teleski’ or T-bars to get around. There are several of these catering to the beginner slopes while Valle Nevado is also home to one of the longest T-bar, which brings skiers to the highest point at Tres Puntas (3,670 metres/12,041 ft).

Queueing for the Embalse chairlift
Queueing for the Embalse chairlift

COST & VALUE

The cost for a day lift ticket on the weekends and peak season was CLP 45,000 (~$72) which is not exactly cheap for the resort especially when compared to some other ski resorts up north. They were somewhat cheaper in the weekdays.

Ski racks outside the reception
Ski racks outside the Gondola plaza reception

As I mentioned earlier, day skiers who have purchased the Mountain Collective which goes for between $379-409 depending on how early you get them would be able to enjoy 2 free days on the mountains. In addition, guests could get certain deals like 2-for-1 tickers on Tuesdays for Entel mobile phone clients and 2-for-1 for every one on Thursday. On Wednesday and Friday, there was a promotion for 3-for-2. Since Entel was one of the major sponsors in the resort, be sure to check at the ticket booth if there are any further specials.

Ticket counter
Ticket counter at the Gondola plaza

BEGINNER RUNS

According to the trail map, only 9% of the trails are suggested for beginners. However there is a long ski-trail named ‘Camino Bajo’ that is the easy route from the top of the Mirador chairlift. This is one that would be recommended for skiers who just got off their first few classes.

Learners' area
Learners’ area at the top of the gondola with Bajo Zero being the building on the right

Otherwise the ski school and thus the learners area are to be found at the top of the gondola and the area between the bottom of the Vaiven chairlift and the gondola base.

INTERMEDIATE RUNS

There are 2 types of runs that I would classify as intermediate, the blue runs labelled as intermediates and the red runs labelled as advanced. The latter is of course for the more skilled intermediate skier and rider. What I noticed in the main difference was perhaps the intermediate blue runs were usually smoother with less surprises and perhaps showing more signs of being groomed. On the other hand, some of the red runs could be closer to black runs depending on conditions.

Camino Bajo ski trail
Camino Bajo ski trail

Like most resorts, the blue runs comprise of nearly one-third of the marked terrain while the red runs comprise up to 40 percent. This means that intermediate skiers would be able to explore nearly the whole resort for sure!

The Mirador quad chairlift
The Mirador quad chairlift with Diablada run on the left

For speedsters, the Diablada run could get some of the heart warmed up in the start of the day while the Retorno Medio and Bajo runs provide a nice view of the hotel complex on the way down. The latter is also a great way to return to the hotel for a snack or a meal.

Wide Diablada run
Wide Diablada run

Personally I liked the south-facing red runs better for its length. Both the Sol 1 and Sol 2 runs from the top are nice ways to end the ski day and enjoy the sunset, so I would reserve them for the end since these are long runs that could really drain your energy. In addition, the view from the Sol run is amazing especially in the afternoon when the sun is shining in the right direction.

Andes Mountain View
Andes mountain view from the Sol run

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EXPERT RUNS

Expert runs form 20% of the resort though most of them are located at the other face of the mountain that leads to the Ballicas base (eastern facing). Another thing to note is that these black runs are mainly accessible via the towbar mechanism that means it can be difficult if you’re not used to it.

Signs to the trails
Signs to the trails from the top of Andes Express
Cima Andes
Cima Andes with the Momia run

The easiest of the black runs to get to would be the one right by the top of the Andes Express. The Eclipse and Momia run form the upper part before merging into the Sol/Luna advanced piste. Momia is usually the better of the 2 due to the shelter it gets from the wind, meaning the snow could be better when it has not snowed. Eclipse was a bit bare and icy at the top when I visited.

View of the Ballicas face
View of the Ballicas face from the summit

It is also worth noting that from the top of the Valle del Inca towbar, skiers could also head down to La Parva ski area.

TERRAIN PARK

The main terrain park in Valle Nevado is located near the base of the Sol 2 run and the top of the gondola. There are some bumps here as well but due to the high elevation of the resort, trees are non-existent.

Valle Nevado ski resort
Valle Nevado ski resort with the terrain park in the center

While I did not try the terrain park, this is probably the best resort in Chile for it since Valle Nevado seems to be popular amongst the younger snowboarding crowd who are into the tricks and all. The large and convenient area dedicated to it would also add to the appeal here.

ON-MOUNTAIN LODGES

Valle Nevado is one of those ski resorts where the base is actually situated high up such that even the hotel complex and gondola plaza can be termed to be on the mountain already but in this case, Bajo Zero is probably the only lodge right in the middle of the chairlift. It is also one of the most crowded lunch venue especially on the weekends. I visited Valle Nevado twice, and one of them was on a weekend, while the photo below shows the difference in crowds on a weekday and a weekend.

Bajo Zero on the mountain
Bajo Zero on a weekday
Patio deck at Bajo Zero
Bajo Zero on a weekend

Other amenities in the mountain includes a ski rental area, lockers and a shop at the gondola plaza where the gondola departs from. There is also an outdoor dining area opposite from the ticket booth here. Aside from that, the hotel complex probably has more amenities such as a small minimarket, ski shops and boutiques as well as several other dining establishments.

The store
The store at the Gondola plaza

FOOD & BEVERAGES

There are several places where food is served and for the most variety, skiers would be better off heading to the hotel complex where there would be a sit-in restaurant, a waffle/crepe stand and a burger stand with lots of outdoor seating.

Fried nuggets
Fried nuggets at Bajo Zero

For those who like the convenience, Bajo Zero is the only establishment mid-way at the base of Andes Express and the top of the gondola. Bajo Zero sells a variety of food though it can be mainly termed as ski resort fast food like burgers, fries and nuggets. I had a burger on day one and a skier whom I shared the table with mentioned of a nice grilled meat section on the outdoor deck which I missed since it was crowded on the weekend.

LODGING OPTIONS

Hotel Puerta del Sol
Hotel Puerta del Sol

Valle Nevado is one of the several resorts in Chile that has all-inclusive lodging by the week. That means skiers need to pay for a week of lodging that includes meals, rentals and ski lift tickets. There are some dates with mini-weeks available (Saturday to Wednesday or Wednesday to Saturday) but that all means that staying in Valle Nevado is a bit costly. There are some apartments for rent but since you will still need to pay for food in the hotel restaurants unless you bring some food to cook, they are not that much cheaper either.

The hotel complex
The hotel complex

Hotel Valle Nevado is the luxury option here, with its location just right beside the slopes. Hotel Puerta del Sol is the mid-level option and this property is actually the iconic tall tower in the middle of the resort. A deck with a hot tub and pool is located between both hotels.

Hot tub at the resort
Hot tub at the resort

Then for the budget conscious, there is Hotel Tres Puntas which is somewhat connected to the other 2 hotels but is located on the ledge of the mountain.

Hotel Tres Puntas
Hotel Tres Puntas

APRÉS-SKI

The place to be with a pisco sour after the ski day ends is probably by the hotel complex where overnight guests staying in the resort would unwind. There is the hot tub deck in the middle of the hotels or the outdoor patio facing the slopes to choose from and the ample seating by the deck makes sure there is lots of space for everyone.

Hotel Valle Nevado
Patio deck at Valle Nevado

On the other hand, Bajo Zero is actually not a bad place to hangout too, but it is a shame the restaurant closes early so no chance of having a couple of drinks here after the skiing.

SUMMIT VIEWS

While the skiing was not the best during the the 2 days I was there, the clear sunny skies meant I got to savour some of the best views of the Andes. If you like mountains, the views from the top is something to savour for a long time! In fact, I might even rate it as one of the best summit views from a ski resort!

Panorama from the top of Andes Express
Panorama from the top of Andes Express

OVERALL EXPERIENCE

Valle Nevado offers a very good introduction to skiing in South America and a fresh take on skiing the Andes mountain. The wide range of facilities would be friendly enough for beginners and families so that ought to be good for a majority of skiers. However there are some notable issues I had and one of them was the relatively higher cost of ski tickets for this resort. In addition, the gondola only goes up to the middle meaning skiers need to take the chairlift to the summit. Then there was also the outdated maps and lift tickets for a resort that tries to bill itself as the largest in Chile.

On the Mirador Chairlift
View of the resort from the Mirador Chairlift

Even with all these small issues, I think Valle Nevado is still worth visiting if you are in the region but it would not be one of those destination ski resorts where skiers should visit at least once in a lifetime. In addition, I would also encourage skiers to spend some time at the neighbouring ski resorts of La Parva and El Colorado. And the review for skiing at La Parva would be up shortly where I would also compare it to Valle Nevado.

View of the Gondola plaza
View of the Gondola plaza
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