South America Backcountry Skiing!

Post by blogger | July 23, 2012      

South America — every North American skier envisions one thing when he thinks of that place: summer pow.

I’m lucky enough to be headed down there on August 1st for five weeks of adventure travel and backcountry skiing with my good friend Skyler Mavor. This winter I was focused on school, and as a result didn’t ski as much powder as my pow addicted self would have liked (three times between March and May– unbelievable!). Needless to say, I’m excited. I’ve been dreaming about summer skiing in South America for years. Due to a tight budget, and because it’s fun, we’re going to try to human-power tour for most, if not all our turns. I’m hoping to explore many of the famous areas, and maybe head down further south into Patagonia if conditions cooperate. I haven’t done much of this type of travel before, so it will be a big learning experience.

I’ll be testing some gear down there as well, and will file reviews documenting the effects of the southern winter on carbon fiber, plastic, and skin glue. Expect some trip reports and gear reviews.

We’ll be landing in Santiago, and then quickly heading out to do some ski mountaineering from there and then moving south towards Patagonia if springtime conditions appear. The weather and legendary snow snatching winds will force our hand I’m sure. I have some rough plans and ideas, but I don’t know whole lot about the backcountry skiing options down there as well as general ski/adventure travel.

Esteemed Wildsnowers, any tips or ideas for backcountry skiing and ski mountaineering in South America? I’m sure others are interested as well.


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37 Responses to “South America Backcountry Skiing!”

  1. David Hackbarth July 19th, 2012 10:27 am

    Consider skiing he Super C at Portillo ski area. Hopefully sometime during week of Aug 12-17? Chris Davenport is there that week with his class so the booter up there may be put in.
    You can stay in the INCA dorm at Portillo at a very reasonable price. I will be there to make an attempt to get up to the SUPER C- E mail


    David Hackbarth

  2. Kevin C July 19th, 2012 10:57 am

    Lou, near Santiago it hasnt snowed in quite a while so be prepared for variable conditions and thin coverage…but we hope it is coming for August. I dont have a ton of experience in the Andes but my suggestions for while in the central andes area is to check out the Refugio Lo Valdes in Cajon del Maipo where there are some great touring options available when the snow falls. Also, near the close-to-santiago resorts there are some good bc options just off the road, where you can get some 1000-1500 foot shots of chutes and rollers. Finally, perhaps come up to Ski Arpa (about 2-2.5 hours from Stgo on dirt road for last 1 hour) and do some touring. It is a cat skiing operation with some amazing terrain when the snow is right and has some great touring with good access. Also, whether in tent or maybe refugio, Im sure you could stay there. I can get you more info if you are interested.

    Also, a line I have been eyeing (also in Cajon del Maipo) is the central couloir on Punta Negra. A 50 degree sustained line for about 500-700 meters followed by 35-40 degree rollers all the way to a lake. However, the approach could pose some difficulties, especially in August. I have climbed but now skiied so could explain the approach.

    Finally, once you head south consider getting into Arg and hitting up refugio frey where I hear there are amazing bc skiing options in a very beautiful location!!

    All the best of luck!!


  3. Lisa July 19th, 2012 11:54 am

    David, thank you! I know that’s the type of info that Louie is looking for. Best of luck on the Super C.

  4. Pablo July 19th, 2012 12:50 pm

    It could be:
    – Parva del Inca or Gloria (in the Portillo Area). 2 hours from Santiago.
    – Cajon del Maipo, Morado area, Union, Mesoncito (very close to Santiago).
    – Loquimay, Sierra Nevada, Villarrica, Araucania region, 8 hours drive to the south.
    – Volcanoes on Lake District.

    For approachs an info on climbs check this site:
    Is a very complete guide of andes mountains, specially Chile. It’s on spanish but you can use google translate .-)

    This book is a guide of ski mountaineering written by a french guy:
    You can find it in some climbing stores here in Santiago. I have a copy, I could scan you some sections if you need to read it before your trip.

  5. Diego Rodríguez July 19th, 2012 1:07 pm

    Hi Lou
    If you come to Bariloche I can show you some of the backcountru around here is pretty nice

  6. Diego Rodríguez July 19th, 2012 1:11 pm

    Here is video of the skiing in the area

  7. Joe July 19th, 2012 1:15 pm

    Louie it may help to setup a temporary gmail account say “” so people can email you ideas incase they don’t feel comfortable putting their email addresses in the comments.

  8. Kaj July 19th, 2012 1:17 pm

    Refugio Frey near Bariloche is a must: a cosy cabin with bunk beds for 15 or so people with unbeatable access to a variety of couloirs facing all aspects. It attracts an interesting crowd of ski tourers from around the globe who can give up to date beta on conditions in surrounding areas too. The place is stunning- can’t recommend it highly enough.
    Here’s the view from the Refugio:

  9. Kaj July 19th, 2012 1:27 pm

    The volcanoes of the lake district are pretty classic too, Osorno, Llaima, Lonquimay, Quetrupillan, Villarica, Lanin etc. Not too spicy by their trade routes, but very aesthetic.

  10. WS editors July 19th, 2012 2:09 pm

    If you want to contact Louie privately, please use Facebook private messaging. Thanks, as always, for your comments.

  11. Lou Dawson July 19th, 2012 5:56 pm

    One thing fun about this is Louie’s prompting my own memories of skiing in the Chile lake district, Vulcan Villarica after a long stint in Portillo, way back around 1978 or so. I’ve got photos. Time for some scanning action once we’re back at WildSnow HQ (still on the road, but home soon).

    Thanks all for the suggestions, golden having all you guys as resource.Louie abscondinated to the Cascadian wilderness so he’ll be jumping in here in a day or two.


  12. Fernando Pereira July 19th, 2012 10:44 pm

    I second previous recommendations of Lonquimay, Villarica, and the Bariloche area in Argentina. A favorite of mine is Nevados de Chillán. A funky, unreliable ski lift operation leads to a wide range of backcountry terrain, with three volcanos to summit. The most remote, Nevados de Chillán proper, is especially tasty (you might still find my signature on the summit logbook fron a decade ago…). Lots more terrain, way more than I have explored. Around Bariloche, besides Frey behind Cerro Catedral (which I’ve not got to yet), there’s nice side country off Cerro Bayo across lake Nahuel Huapi (one of the most beautiful areas I know of anywhere). I met the author of this at the summit fo Villarica, it has a lot of detail on other objectives.

  13. Frame July 20th, 2012 6:43 am

    Twice as much money, half as many clothes.

    If you are concerned you’ve eaten something dodgy, follow it with a coke… Cocal cola that is. May kill bugs off – completely medically un-substantiated.

    Good luck, sounds like a sweet trip

  14. Matt July 20th, 2012 11:39 am

    Hope to go down there next year. Looking forward to your TRs!

  15. Andrew July 20th, 2012 12:19 pm

    Hi Louie – I’d highly recommend the Southern Patagonia Ice Cap, which is right outside of the fabled climbing town of El Chalten. We did a circumnavigation of the FitxRoy/Cerro Torre peaks and found some excellent skiing on the backside, as well as tons of amazing scenery. It is more expedition style skiing, with tent camping, approaches, crevasses, etc.. The fun stuff. 🙂

    I’ve got some images up at:

    The whole trip can be done via bus transportation, which is a nice benefit.

  16. trevor Jones July 20th, 2012 12:40 pm

    I live in southern Chile. Near llaima. Sept tends to be wonderful down here… It’s quite difficult to find pow unless your on the mountain during the storm on the volcanoes themselves… Between the abundance of storms and the wind, it makes spring a very good option… It is BEAUTIFUL here.

  17. Lou Dawson July 20th, 2012 1:39 pm

    Hi Trevor, what kind of snow season are you having down there for the vulcans around you? Lou

  18. Robert Hölzl July 20th, 2012 2:36 pm

    Hi, I was Last October for a backcountry Ski Trip in Chile. The trip itself probably is not of great interest for you, but perhaps the pictures could give you some feeling for the volcanos there. You can find the gallery at the following address
    There is also a guide Book about backcountry skiing in Chile written in english by a french guide
    Chile Argentina – Handbook of Ski Mountaineering in the Andes, vacalila collection, 1. Auflage 20071, Frédéric Lena,
    Belu Press, ISBN 978-2-9529800-1-12
    Have Fun Robert

  19. James Broder July 20th, 2012 4:53 pm


    I am an American, a member of the Kitzbuheler Ski Club, and have skied:

    Nevados de Chillan
    Valle Nevado
    El Colorado
    La Parva
    Lonquimay (Corralco)

    Nevados de Chillan is my fave. Half the lifts are usually out of commission, but to anybody on this forum, lifts are probably optional anyway. Epic sidecountry in the adjacent Piragallo Valley, with volcanic flumes spewing steam up through vents below the snow. In some spots you must take off your skis and walk across the rocks, as the steam will have melted the snow right down to the ground. The on-mtn hotels are a ripoff, but you can find lodging in the nearby town for a reasonable amount of money.

    Villarrica is also pretty cool, if the conditions are right you can hike/skin up to the very top and peer down into the bubbling lava inside the crater. Then put your skis on and schralp about 5000 ft vert back down into the ski area.

    In general, the snow, the weather, and the infrastructure are wildly erratic across Chile and Argentina, so don’t expect Deer Valley. Like everything else in Chile, avalanche control, cat operations, medical care, and patrolling may or may not occur depending on ????. On the other hand, getting lift passes yanked for crossing ropes is unheard of, since there are no ropes and almost no patrollers.

    Be conservative, bring plenty of safety gear, and proceed with extreme caution. Avalanche info resources are sketchy. Hire a local guide if possible for at least the first few of your days. Also, bring plenty of backup gear & tools because good backcountry gear is almost impossible to find or purchase.

    Having read this blog for a couple of years, I’m guessing backup gear will not be a problem for you!

    In general, restaurant food in ski towns like Chillan, Pucon, and Farallones is plentiful, simple, and fairly inexpensive. Big leafy salads, hot quinoa, and of course massive slabs of seared cow flesh.

  20. Sergio Fuentealba July 20th, 2012 5:07 pm

    Hi Louie, if you like come to Aysen Region (Chilean Wild Patagonia) to do some turns around Castillo Range (“Solitaire” from sweetgrass production) don’t hesitate and contact me to receive all Logistics, Guide & Support.-

  21. trevor Jones July 20th, 2012 5:57 pm

    Lou, It’s been quite dry (RELATIVELY) and warmer than normal, which means it’s still good above about 5000 feet. We get a tremendous amount of precipitation here. In a normal year there should be good coverage down lower, as low as 2000 feet. But of course the volcanoes themselves have good coverage, it just makes the approach annoying, and If the snow level drops just a little, this will change very quickly…. Hope your trip goes well

  22. Zap July 20th, 2012 9:48 pm


    Jill and I made our first trip to Patagonia in October 2005 and our last trip in August-September 2007. We went to Bariloche and rented a vehicle for a month. Then we travelled west into Chile and followed roads to ski area for access for touring and some lift skiing. We are “old folks” at 65-plus, but you could certainly use the same road access for visiting more challenging terrain. We travelled from Bariloche to the many valleys near Santiago, and then went east to Las Lenas, Caviahue and Chapelco and down to La Hoya. I have a couple of books which have useful mountain-access info: “Trekking in the Patagonia Andes” and “Adventure Handbook Central Chile”. If you’re interested in them you can have (and keep) the books. We are leaving shortly on a trip to the Mayo Clinic to have a pulmonary vein issue fixed (hopefully). So if you’re interested, send me a PM in the next few days. We have a few trip reports at TAY about our trip in October 2005.

  23. David July 20th, 2012 10:34 pm

    Refugio Frey

  24. Louie Dawson July 23rd, 2012 5:32 am

    Thanks for all the great info! I’ve been gone the last few days skiing Glacier Peak, hence the late reply. So many amazing looking areas, it’s going to be hard to decide where to go.

    The volcanoes in the lake district are definitely on the list. I just hope I’m not going to be there too early. (I am flying home on Sept 19th).

    I made a email address at, if anyone wants to email me, comments are generally better though, that way other people can have access to the info as well.

  25. Louie Dawson July 23rd, 2012 5:58 am

    I also moved this post up to the top for a little while, now that I’m around to reply to comments. Thanks again for the info, it’s awesome!

  26. Silas Wild July 23rd, 2012 12:36 pm

    TGR forums is the best information I have found for up to date conditions, touring partners, where to go, and where to stay.

  27. Mike Marolt July 26th, 2012 3:34 pm

    I hope to see some posts about the trip. I have been all over south america in a dozen or so trips but mostly in our spring for the high peaks. No powder, but steep hard snow, and super weather. But never this time of year so will be interested in trip reports.

  28. Louie Dawson July 26th, 2012 5:46 pm

    From what I hear, the north areas, around Santiago, don’t have a whole lot of snow. Looks like I might head further south as soon as I get there.

    Mike, is our spring the end of the summer down there?

  29. Caleb Wray July 26th, 2012 7:21 pm


    I am guessing you have already done so, but contacting Anton should yield you up to date info on the north half. I have been talking with him for my own southern ideas and he has been helpful. Looking forward to your posts bud.

  30. Casey Earle May 20th, 2014 11:48 am

    Hi Louie, I am a Canadian skiing/living in Chile for decades. I can provide orientation for backcountry adventures, snow condition updates, lodging/transport options, etc. on request, for free (love of the art). I have a few outings scouted out which involve first descents, remote hot springs, and other cool stuff, and I can provide logistics. These could be done this year if the weather cooperates (which it may, see

    If you or anyone else from wildsnow is interested, contact me here at WildSnow and we’ll arrange how to chat. (Email address removed by Lou so it won’t get harvested.)

  31. Andy Hyslop May 28th, 2014 4:18 am

    Hi Casey,

    I thinking of coming to Argentina/Chile this September. I don’t have any set plans as yet so would be keen to get some alternative ideas. I’ve been looking at the possibilities around Bariloche and I would like to bag a few of the Volcanoes in Chile but not necessarily the busy ones.

    All the best,


  32. Casey Earle May 28th, 2014 6:42 am

    Hi Andy, I can´t give you much advice about the Bariloche area itself. I have been there a couple of times and had bad or little snow. With a good base, I am sure it will be fun. There is a new cat skiing operation called Baguales south of Bariloche. Cerro Bayo to the west is also a good bet. The town of Bariloche is kind of ugly.

    If you just cross the border from Villa Angostura into Chile, you will find yourself in volcano paradise. These can be done within 300 km of Lago Puyehue, first stop in Chile, starting with the nearest to the south and heading north:

    Osorno – has a chairlift for quick access on the south side, but the peak is dangerous, get a guide.
    Casablanca – easy skin up from Antillanca ski area, great run down. Hit the hot springs at Aguas Calientes.
    Puyehue – need a guide.
    Mocho Choshuenco – at Huilo Huilo ski area on the east side, you can skin up easily, there are guides and snowmobiles, and a funky little lift. A dozen hot springs in the area.
    Villarrica – lifts and snowmobiles, a long skin up. Remains to be seen if new management works better. A dozen hot springs in the area.
    Sollipulli – a dome camp at the east side base, with snowmobiles.
    Llaima – east side from Las Araucarias ski area, a slog, might need crampons.
    Llaima – west side from Conguillio Lake, snowmobiles, cool cabins in the forest, access to backcountry in general.
    Lonquimay – east side lift access to near the peak, snowmobiles for exploring the area. A couple of hot springs nearby.

    There are more, but you get the picture. Only Villarrica and maybe Lonquimay will be crowded. Have a good one!

  33. Casey Earle May 28th, 2014 6:44 am

    Some Chile ski photos here:

    And some vistas of La Parva, where I have an apartment which can be rented:

  34. Casey Earle July 15th, 2014 7:57 pm

    There is snow in southern Chile! 1 to 2 meter base in Chillan and Antuco, more where it drifts. PN Conguillio had 1 meter at the cabins (1,200 meters), but it was raining when we left. My first week had everything from windless bluebird to ice fog to serious Puelche winds, to rain. It is now snowing and we are headed to Malalcahuello and Corralco tomorrow.

    Some photos here: See captions for locations.

    As usual, whatever the ski conditions, there is extraordinary beauty to be found….

  35. Lou Dawson July 16th, 2014 8:34 am

    Thanks Casey, looks good down there!

  36. Casey Earle July 28th, 2014 10:14 am

    As of July 28 it still hasn´t snowed enough to build a good backcountry base in the central zone, but even so we got a fun day hiking up and around the back bowls of La Parva:
    As it is, the runs are hard packed and full of pebbles, and most off-piste is a mine field.

    There is some snow in the snow-forecast for later this week, but the forecasts differ and have been proven inaccurate this year. El niño hasn´t appeared.

    Southern Chile is going to get thumped with rain and snow this week, most websites agree.

  37. Jay Radochia December 17th, 2014 9:56 am

    Louie + all,
    Im a regular reader of wildsnow and really appreciate everything you guys do. Im graduating from school in May and have three and a half months to relieve my built up wanderlust before I start work. I have money saved (but not enough for one of those all inclusive deals), speak fluent spanish, and am an expert skier, but intermediate mountaineer (been hiking for turns for abt 4 years and took the classes, but east-coast backcountry doesn’t lend itself to avalanche knowledge/experience). I want nothing more than to explore and ski in Argentina and/or Chile. I read all of your trip reports and they are great, but Im wondering if this is a pipe dream or if its doable/safe for me. Seems like a unpredictable and dangerous place to ski. Any insight or resources would be greatly appreciated!
    Jay Radochia

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