Powder Skiing in Nevados de Chillan

Chile is famous for its volcanoes and with volcanoes, there are usually hot springs around. I remember enjoying my time in the hot springs (onsen) of Japan while snowboarding there, and thus what better way to experience skiing on the side of a volcano and having a soak at the hot springs after. After some googling, I decided on Nevados de Chillan, a ski resort located nearby the city of Chillan.

Snowboarding at the summit
Snowboarder at Nevados de Chillan

The ski resort of Nevados de Chillan can be split up into 2 main areas, the first one located lower in elevation around Plaza Tata with the more upscale Hotel Nevados de Chillan. The other area is higher in elevation around Plaza Otto and Plaza Tio Willy anchored by the Hotel Alto Nevados.

GETTING THERE

Supposedly there are some scheduled bus and train service to Chillan from Santiago. However the long travel duration of up to 5 hours just by driving meant it can be quite troublesome to get to Nevados de Chillan from Santiago. There is a nearby airport at Chillan, but the best route I got was a short flight to Concepción and then getting a transfer from the hotel.

Car park at Plaza Tio Willy
Car park at Plaza Tio Willy

Transfers from the resort to Concepción airport can be quite expensive since it still takes about 2 hours in driving time. In fact the return transfer (~$190) costs more than my airline tickets but the hassle-free convenience made it worth it.

CHAIRLIFTS & GONDOLAS

On the Tata chairlift
Snowing whilst on the Tata chairlift

Like the other Chilean ski resorts, there are no modern gondolas here. In fact there are only 2 quad chairlifts with one being Tata that connects the lower elevation Plaza Tata with Plaza Otto. The other quad chairlift is Cornisa located higher up in the mountains which can be closed during bad weather.

On the Wenche quad chair
Wenche chairlift with gully on both sides

For intermediate skiers and boarders, the most commonly used chairlift is probably the 3-seater Wenche, which brings skiers to the mid-mountain. There is also the long 2-seat Otto chairlift that reaches the higher elevations and opens out to the freeride ski area. Finally, there is the Mirador chairlift at the alpine level with lots of tree-less skiing and the 2-seat Iglu chairlift serving the area between Plaza Otto and Plaza Tata.

Plaza Otto and the Iglu chairlift
Plaza Otto and the Iglu chairlift outside Hotel Alto Nevados

COST & VALUE

For my stay in Nevados de Chillan, I got a ski and stay package that includes 3 days of lift tickets with half board (breakfast and dinner) and accomodations at a cost of $765. The price was one of the reason I travelled to ski in Nevados de Chillan, since I thought it was a good value. Considering there is not much in the form of restaurants in the area other than those in the village of Las Trancas, it was nice to have the dinner included and I thought that would save me some money as well.

Plaza Tata
Plaza Tata

Even with the additional costs of the transport, the total price per day of skiing works out to be around ~$320 per day of skiing with lodging, meals and accomodation, which is not bad at all, since a night’s stay and meals in Whistler can hit that much in cost.

BEGINNER RUNS

Beginners area
Beginners area around Plaza Tata

Green runs and learners’ area are mainly constricted to the runs around Plaza Otto and Plaza Tio Willy near the Hotel Alto Nevados. A larger learners’ area can be found in Plaza Tata. All the beginner runs are served by T-bars.

Escuela T-bars
Escuela T-bars around Plaza Tio Willy

A total of 3 Escuela T-bars serve those new to the sport and are close to both hotels located in the resort.

Carpinteros green run
Carpinteros green run

About 20% of marked trails are geared towards beginners to progress and a circuitous route traversing the mountain from Plaza Otto at 1,700 metres to Plaza Tata at 1,530 metres allows for beginners to explore more of the mountains. Though the green runs here marked as Bosque Nevado Alto and Bosque Nevado Bajo are quite narrow with a lot of flat areas meant really for skiers rather than boarders.

INTERMEDIATE RUNS

At Benno ski trail
Benno ski trail

For the 3 days of skiing in the resort, cloudy and windy weather meant much of the chairlifts in the higher elevation was actually closed. Thus the major runs are Benno and Estadio Slalom which is accessed via the Wenche chairlift.

Setting up for a race
Setting up for a race around Estadio Slalom

Otherwise most of the intermediate blue-marked runs are focused around the Mirador chairlift area and the runs between the top of Otto and the Restaurant Pillan. There is also a long ski trail that goes around the mountain from the top of Mirador chairlift that winds up to the base of Plaza Tata for skiers to end the day with. This trail called Tres Marias Altas is sometimes closed due to the distance as it might not be groomed. A lack of good signage around the resort means that skiers can also get lost along the way and veer off accidentally into the backcountry. A lack of skiers in the alpine areas can add to this possibility as well!

Estadio Slalom
Estadio Slalom view
View from the Mirador Base
Tobogan ski trail leading into Benno

EXPERT RUNS

Landscape underneath Tata chairlift
Terrain underneath Tata chairlift

For advanced skiers and riders, Nevados de Chillan has a lot more in store for them. A special catskiing area would open up more of the mountain all the way to the peak at around 3,186 metres.

 

Bowl around Huemul
Powder bowls around Huemul

Meanwhile those on a tight budget could just go down through the free-ride area from the top of Otto chairlift. There are numerous routes marked as black diamond and double-black diamond for advanced riders and skiers. And these are all a lot of fun after a snowstorm, or on a powder day. These areas can also be accessed with a bit of a hike from the top of Wenche in case the Otto chairlift is not open.

Lower Condor
Lower Condor Black Diamond run
Freeride area lower in the valley
Freeride terrain closer to the valley

TERRAIN PARK & BACKCOUNTRY

Due to the closure of the Mirador chairlift on 2 of the days, I did not really see anyone heading to the snowpark area which is located just beside the Restaurant Pillan. Lack of visibility in the area meant it is also closed and probably a springtime activity. But just for those keen on terrain parks, do know that Nevados de Chillan does have one for you.

Snowpark area near Mirador
Snowpark around Mirador chairlift
View from the chairlift
Backcountry gully around Wenche

On the other hand, the backcountry area does offer lots of possibilities here. The interesting terrain formed by the volcano does make for some fun though. Though the huge closed area in the map, which is not at all patrolled, means one enter at your own risk.

First time in backcountry
Backcountry skiing in Nevados de Chillan
Fluffy clouds over the backcountry
View from the backcountry terrain

While the upper half of the mountain is tree-less due to the alpine winds, the lower half especially the area marked close has a lot of tree-skiing if one is into that sort of thing. Though I would suggest doing it closed to the lower half of the Tres Marias Altas run since that area offers more visibility.

ON-MOUNTAIN LODGES

The lodge with the highest elevation is probably Restaurant Pillan which has a view of the Mirador chairlift. As expected, this lodge is closed if the weather is bad or if the Mirador area is closed.

El Pillan del Pillin
El Pillan del Pillin lodge

The other lodge not part of the hotel complex is Restaurant Iglu-glu which was also closed when I was there due to the lack of skiers and boarders. The main lodge for day-trippers is perhaps Plaza Tio Willy which has a small ski store, cafeteria, and counters where they sell tickets and rent equipments along with the ski-school reception.

Plaza outside Otto Ski Area
Plaza Otto

Plaza Tata and Plaza Otto both also cater to the majority of skiers and boarders and there are also scheduled shuttle service that runs between these 2 areas for the convenience of guests. Amongst the major plazas, I find Plaza Otto to be the most crowded due to Hotel Alto Nevados being located just beside Plaza Otto as well.

FOOD & BEVERAGES

Because I had the half board package, I made sure to have a heavy breakfast and brought along granola bars and energy packs for lunches, which was a good thing since only the major cafeterias in the Plaza was open. In fact I tried checking out the cafeteria in Plaza Tio Willy and the staff was actually playing cards amongst themselves. Speaks a lot about the number of people dining on the slopes and the number of visitors during the time I was there.

Cafeteria in the hotel
Cafeteria at Plaza Otto

The food in the cafeterias are nothing fancy and resembles a lot like a university canteen with the usual nuggets and fries options for snacks and burgers and sandwiches making up the majority of choices.

Cafeteria menu
Menu at the cafeteria

LODGING OPTIONS

Tata Condominiums
Condominiums around Tata chairlift

Aside from the numerous apartments and condominiums around the Plaza Tata area, there is the Hotel Nevados which is considered the most luxurious with its own restaurants, enclosed spa and outdoor thermal hot springs. Rates for the Hotel Nevados was indeed more expensive. However guests staying here need to trek a bit to the bottom of the Tata chairlift and I would not say it is a true ski-in/ski-out property.

Lobby and reception
Lobby of the Hotel Nevados

The newer and more contemporary styled hotel is Alto Nevados. While I would review my stay in a separate post, let’s just say this is more like a budget hotel option but it is a ski-in/ski-out property with guests being able to ski downt to the base of Otto Chairlift and the top of Iglu chairlift being right outside the hotel’s courtyard. Since there are hotel shuttles between both properties, I would rather just stay at Alto Nevados since it is somewhat newer and has similar facilities and located higher up in the mountain closer to where all the ski action is at!

Hotel Alto Nevados
Hotel Alto Nevados and Plaza Otto

Other than the resort lodging options, guests can stay at the village of Las Trancas and probably hitch a ride every day to the resort since it is quite close to the village and an easy drive as well.

APRÉS-SKI

As I mentioned before Nevados de Chillan is located on a volcano and one of the most active volcanic range too. Thus the resort actually labels itself as a ‘Mountain Resort & Thermal Spa’. While the thermal spa is free for hotel guests, members of the public can also pay to enter the outdoor thermal spa beside Hotel Alto Nevados. However do not expect spa-like facilities since there is a small locker and shower facilities but other than that, there does not seem to be much rules and regulations unlike in Japan for accessing the thermal pools.

Thermal Hot Springs
Thermal spa pools at the resort

The warmest of the outdoor thermal pool is located at the lowest section and also the most crowded since it also has a small bar where guests can order drinks. Music is also played by the loudspeakers and there is a somewhat enclosed area for friends and family waiting. Though maybe due to the low season or just the lack of skiers, there was very little people sharing the thermal pools.

Plaza Tata rest area
Plaza Tata rest area at the base

Other than that, the lack of visitors and the half-board accomodations also meant that there was not much partying and drinking going on. Even the hotel bars are pretty quiet after the last chairlifts end their run.

SUMMIT VIEWS

Due to the higher elevation in the summit, the view can be constricted due to clouds. Furthermore the true summit are not readily accessible unless via cat-skiing. Thus the best views from the top are generally from the top of Otto chairlift and Mirador. However being considered the mid-mountain elevation, these areas can usually be cloudy so poor visibility is common. But when the skies clear up, the views are generally not bad.

Panorama of the Freeride area
Panorama from the top of Otto chairlift

On clear days, one can see the extend of the mountain range and even into the valley so that does make for some impressive lookout from the summit.

Wenche chairlift
View from the top of Wenche

OVERALL EXPERIENCE

The scarcity of skiers probably made it a good choice for the Canadian ski team which was doing some racing trials for their skiers around Estadio Slalom and Benno. And this also meant there were next to no queues for the chairlifts. Lastly the lack of crowds meant I was able to have multiple runs making fresh tracks after a powder day when the Otto chairlift opened.

View of the Chillan ski area
Nevados de Chillan ski resort

While I did not really enjoy the food included, they were palatable as long as one does not expect anything fancy. Even if the chairlift accessed terrain can be quite limiting, this resort does have lots of backcountry and off-piste possibilities that makes it really enjoyable. Add to the fact that the resort is an active volcano and has much more reliable snowfall than the ones around Santiago, I think Nevados de Chillan should be on a list of resorts to visit in Chile.

Snow terrain
Winter terrain with lots of snow

Overall, I had one of the best day snowboarding in Chile at this resort, mainly due to the powder and the skies clearing up a bit giving me some of the nice views in the photos I used for this review.

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