I had literally just washed and packed all of our family’s ski gear away for the season when my husband floated the idea of a summer ski trip to Chile. In fairness, it was not the first time he had brought up the idea of a South America ski trip during our North American summer vacation (it was more like the 10th).
While I am almost always game for an interesting adventure, I’ll admit to a bit of hesitation as I considered the logistics. Several planes, so much gear, so much money…it all seemed to be too much. Add to that the fact that if we were going to fly all the way to Chile, there was no way I would miss visiting the Atacama Desert (the driest desert on earth – requiring more planes and a whole different trekking wardrobe).
If I have an Achilles’ heel, however, it is the fact that I have a very hard time resisting the allure of a unique adventure (commonly referred to as a fear of missing out). A Chilean ski trip sounded really rather unusual and interesting.
Oddly, part of the appeal for me was the fact that the infrastructure at Chile’s ski resorts seemed a little rudimentary in comparison to what has become the norm in North America (Hello Vail Resorts). It’s not that I don’t enjoy my creature comforts (the heated gondolas, the gourmet food etc.), but sometimes I long for simpler times. (Does anyone remember bagging a lunch on the hill and having only enough change in your down-filled jacket pocket for a hot chocolate?) In the end, it was a good seat sale to Chile’s capital city of Santiago that finally tipped the scales, and a family South America ski trip was born.
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Where to Ski in Chile
Some of the best ski resorts in Chile are located close to the country’s capital city of Santiago. Within a 2 hour drive, there are no less than 6 ski resorts including the 3 interconnected resorts of Tres Valles: El Colorado, Valle Nevado, and La Parva. There is also the rather exclusive Portillo Ski Resort (a Warren Miller favourite) that is only a 50 minute drive from the capital.
When to Ski in Chile
Typically, Chile’s ski season runs from June to October. As our August Chile ski trip dates approached however, the snow gods were not cooperating, and the slopes close to Santiago were nearly bare. In theory, this should have been the best time to ski in Chile (peak season)…but of course, one cannot control the weather.
Where Else to Ski in Chile
We were now forced to find out where else we could go skiing in Chile in August. We extended our search and eventually decided on Nevados de Chillan – a ski resort that is a 6 hour drive south of Santiago (you can also fly to Concepción + drive 2 hours). Not only did this ski resort promise some decent snow, it had the added allure of the fact that you ski on a volcano.
It seemed like a great plan until the news outlets began reporting on an orange alert (2nd highest on the volcanic activity scale) due to increased ash plumes, unusual lava flow and multiple tremors. Yeah…pass. I wasn’t even remotely comforted when someone on a forum replied to my concerns with: “It usually erupts in the opposite direction of the ski hill.”
Not one to admit defeat easily, I extended our search even further south. Our final plan, firmed up only about a week before our trip, was to visit one of Chile’s newest ski mountains – Corralco Ski Resort.
Why Ski Corralco?
Like Nevados de Chillan, Corralco Ski Resort is uniquely situated on a volcano (Lonquimay Volcano). You ski entirely above the tree line, on wide open runs. We found this very interesting since on a clear day, you have unobstructed views of basically the whole ski hill.
Although we missed having tree runs, there was also never really a danger of running into anything (I live in fear of my kids falling into a tree well). The one negative to this wide open mountain was the fact that when the wind would blow, there was nowhere to take shelter (unless you wanted to build yourself a snow cave or go in for a hot chocolate).
With big, wide, mostly groomed runs, Corralco Ski Resort is a great beginner-to-intermediate mountain. Also, being quite remote, it is not nearly as busy as many of the ski resorts near Santiago. In fact, I don’t recall us having to wait in line at all for lifts or t-bars during our time there.
The in-bound terrain is not extensive at Corralco, with only two 2-person chairs (slow ones at that) and a handful of t-bars. The area is known, however, for its good off-piste and backcountry skiing – something we did not have the time to experience. Who am I kidding? I am never going backcountry skiing, but I imagine my kids will probably eventually go with my husband.
Want a better look? Here is a terrain map of Corralco ski mountain.
One potential challenge for visitors is that unless you speak Spanish, group lesson could be interesting (although you should be able to arrange private or family lessons with an English speaking instructor).
In addition to skiing, a couple other things we enjoyed at Corralco included the wild foxes that ran around hill (quite oblivious to the nearby skiers and boarders), and the large tube and sledding park at the lodge base.
Where to Stay at Corralco
I love a nice ski resort hotel, so part of my interest in Corralco was the 4 star Valle Corralco Hotel and Spa. This modern property is uniquely nestled into a grove of monkey puzzle trees at the base of the mountain offering incredible views of the volcano. A shuttle is provided to and from the lifts, but you can alternatively walk/ski back at the end of the day (easier down than up).
The rooms at Valle Corralco Hotel are modern and nicely appointed (rain shower, nice toiletries, robes etc.). For families, they have a number of adjoining room options. The hotel has a full service restaurant, a separate bar, a spa, an indoor pool, outdoor hot tubs and several fire pits. There is also a gorgeous lounge area with nightly activities, a kids’ club (2-6 years), several pool tables, ping pong, a cinema and games for loan (Monopolio anyone?). Honestly, there was almost too much to do – we felt we needed more time to enjoy it all.
The food at the hotel was fine (not amazing…just fine) and they did offer a kids’ menu and a kids’ buffet on weekends. The service in the restaurant was a little lacking, but that could have been because we are accustomed to service standards in the U.S. and Canada. It could have also been because we were not always able to communicate proficiently in Spanish (the staff members did their best in English as well).*
*Aside: Part of the fun for us at Corralco was trying out our Spanish. For example, after a bit of a struggle, I managed to get a robe for my daughter. I had initially requested a “clothes” (una “ropa” instead un “túnica”). A little embarrassing, but we got there.
The one thing that really was subpar about this hotel was the WIFI. Although they say they have it in the rooms, during our stay, it was non-existent. We were able to get the odd email out from the lounge area, but that was all. Upon inquiring at the front desk, I was told that it was because of “the storm”, but I have a feeling this may happen regularly.
Embracing Cultural Differences
One of the most interesting things for us in our experience staying a this hotel was getting used to the schedule. We have traveled rather extensively in Latin America, so it should not have come as a surprise…somehow I just thought skiing would be an exception.
On our first evening, we had dinner at 7pm in an empty restaurant. It was only as we left at 8:30pm that all the families with babies in tow started to pour in. We then had the pool all to ourselves while the Chilean families dined.
As we rushed to catch the shuttle to the hill the following morning at 9, someone from the hotel stopped to tell us that stretches in the lobby were soon to begin. We took a pass, and boarded a nearly empty shuttle. The following day, because there wasn’t any new snow, we decided to let the kids sleep later to help them get over their jet lag. We almost missed the shuttle due to the much larger crowd sauntering onto the hill for an 11am start. For a family that is used to getting out on the hill shortly after the lifts open, the whole scene was rather comical, but also what made things interesting.
Getting to Corralco Ski Resort
The nearest airport to Corralco Ski Resort is Temuco, which is a 90 minute drive away. We booked an airport pickup through the hotel, but you can also rent a car there. We originally considered driving to Corralco from Santiago (8 hours), but the flights to Temuco were very inexpensive so we opted for that route instead.
We also decided to rent our ski gear at the mountain rather than bring our own equipment. For the 3 days we were skiing it hardly seemed worth it to tote it all over Chile. As we had two layover stays in Santiago (staying at the same hotel), we did leave our ski clothing bag with them while we went to the Atacama Desert.
How Much Did it Cost?
A ski holiday is never cheap, but somehow I was a little surprised by the high prices at Corralco (mind you, we were visiting in high season). The total package cost for our family of four (kids 11 & 14) for 3 nights, including 2 side-by-side hotel rooms, 3 days of lift tickets, daily buffet breakfast, daily à la carte dinner and an airport shuttle, was about $3000 USD. On top of that we had to pay for on-mountain lunches, ski equipment rentals and alcoholic beverages (probably another $500 USD).
Trip Hack: Oddly, LATAM airlines offers a locals’ rate for domestic flights that is half the price of booking the same ticket on their U.S. or international sites. You need to go the the LATAM Chile website and you need to fill out the forms in Spanish. There is a TripAdvisor forum dedicated to this topic and I encourage you to read it here. What I can say, however, is that it worked for us.
Was it Worth it?
For the skiing alone, it wasn’t worth it. The price we paid would be comparable to what you would pay at many North American ski resorts but with way less terrain and very limited infrastructure.
For the whole international skiing experience, however, it was absolutely worth it. We really enjoyed the hotel, the gorgeous view of the volcano, the monkey tree forest, the wild foxes running around the hill and the unique challenge of trying to communicate in Spanish with the staff and other guest (all Chilean). Our excursion to Corralco made our family trip to Chile really very special and memorable.
Who Does Ski Trips to Chile?
I couldn’t help but wonder as I started to write this post – who on earth will ever read this? Who…outside of the professional or expert skier or boarder, plans a family Chile ski trip during their summer vacation? Well, we do. We are those people. If you have read this far, perhaps you are too. Please feel free to reach out in the comment section below to ask a question or share your Chile ski trip experience.
P.S. That’s me, Tara Cannon, in the black. For the record, I have given up trying to look attractive or stylish in ski photos. I just want to be warm and not get windburn. Oh, that northern skin…it does not fare well in extreme weather. As if a glass of red wine was going to make that better. Sometimes you just have to live a little though – après ski is admittedly my favourite part of the day.