Destinations: Valle Nevado in Chile

Take a ski trip to Valle Nevado in Chile for gorgeous scenery and excellent skiing.

As the ski season comes to a close in the northern hemisphere, it’s just getting ready to begin for our neighbors to the south. The ski season at Valle Nevado typically runs from approximately June to October, depending on snowfall. Located in the Andes, east of Santiago, the resort is pretty accessible from the airport via one of the many transport services available. I got a great deal through Turistik, a company I would highly recommend over the much more expensive Ski Total.

The road to the resort is narrow and twisting and is limited to one-way traffic at certain times, so be prepared. You’ll also want to keep an eye out for livestock because they can access the road, so watch your speed lest you hit a stray cow or horse.

The road from Valle Nevado Ski Resort to Santiago Chile is long, windy, narrow, and stunning.
The road connecting Valle Nevado Ski Resort to Santiago is a Class VI drive.

Why Valle Nevado?

In my case, it’s easy – I won my trip. As in, I filled out a form on the internet, and the contest was actually real and not just data mining. Yeah, I was shocked, too. The prize did not include airfare, but it did include 6 days of hotel, breakfast & dinner, and lift tickets, all for two people. It was pretty sweet.

The prize was only for late season – I went in September – and the conditions were appropriately slick for late season skiing. However, I had a lot of the mountain to myself. There were days that I was pretty much the only person skiing the backside and all of the lifts back there were open. It was like having my own private mountain.

I do think I was lucky to have the coverage I did. Even though it was icy, the vast majority of the runs were open. One worker I talked to told me that the prior year there had been almost no snow left that late. If you plan a late season trip to Valle Nevado:

  1. Don’t count on powder
  2. Don’t even count on snow.

Just research conditions before you book anything.

The balconies of the Hotel Puerta del Sol have a stunning view of the Andes
View from the balconies of the Puerta del Sol looking out over the frontside of the ski runs in the Andes.

Where to stay?

There are three hotels of varying price range at the resort. The Hotel Valle Nevado is the most expensive, followed by the Puerta del Sol, and then the Tres Puntas. There are also condos (the Mirador del Inca being one), that our driver told us can sometimes be rented. A quick search on Airbnb brought up some possibilities, so I’d consider trying there and comparing prices to the hotels. My prize included lodging at the mid-range hotel – the Puerta del Sol. The view from the room was stellar, with a little patio overlooking the Andes, but the room was average. It was older and a bit small, with two little twin beds and not very many outlets. The hotel did provide a little set of outlet adaptors, but you’ll likely want to bring your own so that you have more than one.

In short, you might do better in an Airbnb. I wasn’t overly concerned, I was simply excited to get to ski, but it’s worth noting and likely worth a bit of research.

Two of the three hotels at Valle Nevado Ski Resort - Hotel Valle Nevado and Puerta del Sol
The Hotel Valle Nevado on the left and the Puerta del Sol in the back to the right.

The Tres Valles System

Valle Nevado is part of the Tres Valles system of Chilean ski resorts, which also include La Parva and El Colorado to the north and west. Both of those other resorts are visible from various parts of the mountain and are accessible by skis if you can afford the lift tickets to them. Actually, in the case of La Parva, it’s possible to accidentally ski down the mountain to it. In this case, you would be stuck buying a lift ticket to get back to Valle Nevado on skis. Caution is advised in this regard. I caught myself just time – take note that any unmarked lifts on your Valle Nevado map may not be Valle Nevado lifts at all.

The resort is situated in a high mountain bowl and is known for its excellent powder in peak season, but spring visitors to all resorts in the area should be prepared to ski ice and crud. The mountain groomers did an excellent job with what was available and only one of the six days I skied was icy enough that I quit the mountain early for the bar. However, spring conditions are spring conditions, and visitors should be prepared for them.

Visitors should also be prepared to get to watch an incredible array of ski racers train in the mornings. One of my favorite activities was to sit on the patio outside the gondola unloading area and admire the skills of the racers after I had myself completed my morning runs.

A view of El Colorado from Valle Nevado during a stunning pink sunset.
The sunsets at Valle Nevado are stunning

Off-Piste

Skiing aside, the resort has other offerings for non-skiers or skiers taking a break from the slopes. There’s a hot tub, outdoor fire place, and several shops, restaurants, and bars. It’s best to purchase a food package, as it’s particularly expensive to eat if you don’t. One can save a bit of money by filling up on soup and hot cocoa at the daily apres ski event before dinner. Also, there’s a little grocery a short walk from the Puerta del Sol and Tres Puntas which can be used for food to save you from having to eat at the expensive restaurants. If you do visit the restaurants, tipping is expected and will be added to your bill at the end of your stay if you don’t tip along the way. When we visited, there were three restaurant options – Chilean, French, and Italian. They were all excellent, but the Italian place offered a free glass of wine if you booked early.

We ate Italian all but two nights.

The treacherous class VI drive up the mountain is far enough from Santiago that transport will need to be arranged in advance and if you choose to not rent a car, it can be difficult to get to other areas. A shuttle is available from the hotel area to the base of the gondola and non-skiers are allowed to ride that gondola up to its end at mid mountain if they have a lift ticket. Some other shops are available at the gondola base, and food and drink are available mid mountain for skiers who do not pack snacks.

The hot tub at Valle Nevado as viewed from above.
The view down onto the hot tub makes it look a bit like human soup.

A Note on the Lifts

The majority of the lifts at Valle Nevado are surface lifts, which is to say they are mostly J-bars (Poma lifts) with at least one T-bar. There is a gondola and a high speed 6 pack up front as well as few others chairs, but every lift on the backside is a surface lift except one. That includes the Tres Puntas Poma which is like riding a bucking bronco. It throws you up into the air at the start, so be ready. It’s fun once you get used to it, but it handed me my only fall of the trip. Beware of Tres Puntas lift.

This is all fine, really. It just gets a little tiring, so it’s good to know. I’m told it can get pretty windy, so this is probably part of the reason for the abundance of surface lifts.

The Tres Puntas lift is mildly treacherous, so beware.
View from Tres Puntas Lift

The Verdict

If you can afford to ski Valle Nevado, do it. It’s a beautiful place with excellent skiing, even in late season. I will say that if you are into steeps or trees, this isn’t your mountain. The runs labeled as steep here really aren’t and everything is above tree line. There is some nice looking skiing out of bounds here so, if it’s a good snow year, consider the resort’s heli skiing services or a reputable backcountry guide service such as Powderquest. If you want powder, don’t come late season, though that goes without saying. The reason I enjoyed myself was:

  1. I got to ski. Anytime I get to ski, I’m a happy human.
  2. There were almost no lines. This is likely the best perk of skiing late season here.
  3. It was free, or nearly so (I bought snacks, plane tickets, transport via Turistik, and I tipped).
  4. I got to ski.
  5. The Andes are spectacularly beautiful.
  6. I love to travel.
  7. I got to ski.

If you want a cheaper way to ski in Chile, I’ve heard that it is more affordable to stay in Farrelones. This is a small mountain village from which El Colorado can be accessed. Since Valle Nevado is accessible via El Colorado, this is one way to ski that resort without staying there. Unfortunately, this option would require lift tickets for both El Colorado and Valle Nevado since, to the best of my knowledge, the resorts do not co-operate in an fashion in regards to lift tickets.

Regardless of all of this, Valle Nevado is worth your time if you can manage it. Not only because the skiing is excellent, but the staff are lovely and very forgiving of those with poor Spanish language skills, as personal experience attests.

On City Adventures

Why City Adventures?

A black and white image of the Chicago River
Taken in Nov. of 2011 on a trip to Chicago.

It is perhaps incongruous that I start this blog with a post about city adventure given where I live and what I generally prefer. The eastern slopes of the continental divide are my backyard and Rocky Mountain National park is my northern neighbor. I came to Colorado in large part to play in the Rockies, and yet here I write of cities.

The thing is that, despite my predilection for solitude and wild places, I do not reject cities. I do reject suburbs, but cities are full of their own sort of adventure. They are the places in which humans have carved most deeply into the wilds to make our own unique space. Like in nature, proper cities are walkable, which allows you to move about at a slower pace, which I would argue makes it easier to discover things than traveling about in a vehicle does. Tall buildings mimic mountains, giving you a similar feeling of smallness. Humans make up the majority if the wildlife.

The suburbs are designed for cars, but cities seem to be designed despite them and very old cities pre-date them. We could get into the weeds when we consider what defines a city, but when I define it, I mostly consider population density. Places that have built up, instead of out. New York City vs. Columbus, OH.

It’s also relevant to note that most of us live in or near cities and are trying to live the lives we dream in that context. It’s how I’ve spent most of my life and now, even though I live in a rural mountain area, I still spend much time in cities because that’s where the jobs and resources are.

The 16th Street Mall in Denver, Colorado on a snowy night. I used to drive horse drawn carriages here.
I spent a winter driving horse drawn carriages here.

How to adventure in the city

When living in cities, I amused myself by framing tedious daily tasks as quests – “The quest for clean dishes” (the worst) or “The quest to determine how long I can park on my street before the city decides my car is abandoned (answer: 72 hours in Denver). I dreamt of climbing mountains, but filled my days with roller derby and took a side job driving a horse drawn carriage in the city. When I was in Denver, I made it to the mountains some weekends. In Kentucky, I sometimes managed kayaking. West Virginia was easiest as I could rather easily teach skiing or work as a raft guide on weekends. Ohio was the worst as I was surrounded by corn and football instead of opportunities for adventure.

You have to either get creative in cities or be willing and able to pull the weekend warrior thing in your free time. I found it easy to get depressed and instead get lost in video games or books. One of the things I loved the most about the original Shenmue on Dreamcast was that playing it felt like getting to explore Japan. I couldn’t afford to go to Japan, but Shenmue allowed me to realistically pretend. If the car was having issues or I couldn’t afford gas, I could run around Norrath or Hyrule. Not a productive use of my time, but pure escapism.

If you prefer outdoor adventure, it’s becoming increasingly difficult manage living near those activities in an even remotely affordable way. I’ve slept in vehicles and tents for seasonal work. Some companies offer dorm style housing and some resort towns are taking steps to address the issue.  I suppose there’s a promise to that, but if you aren’t a seasonal worker or trying to be one, but rather just want more time on your hands to actually do your activity, then your solution likely lies elsewhere. One thing I would do differently and am backing into now, career-wise, is to learn a skill that allows remote work. It was not really an option when I was figuring things out, but it is now, and I crave that freedom. To me, success is freedom. Society will push a definition of success on us, but we can choose our own. Not having to be tied to a location or a set schedule is to me freedom at the most basic level and is what I seek.

So, you can choose your own adventure – pick a city activity, be a weekend warrior, work a seasonal job, or gain a remote skill, but if you crave adventure, just don’t give up. I love gaming, but don’t let Hyrule be a substitute for the real world of adventure that still exists all around us.

Tall buildings in downtown Denver, Colorado loom over you like man made mountains.
Buildings loom like mountains.

The Beginning

20160709_095705

It feels like an odd time to write this blog as I’m not traveling right now. I dream of it, read of it, make lists of places to visit and sites to see, and now write of it, but I’m broke. It’s been this way for 10 years – my salary goes up, but the cost of living also increases and boom – I’ve gone nowhere.

I am fortunate to live in a place where people vacation, hence the cost of living issues, so I can take “trips” in what is essentially my backyard. Early on, this will be a lot of my content. Also, I was lucky to get to travel a bit with my family when I was growing up, so some of my pieces will be retrospectives. I’ve always been a photographer, so I have lots of photo evidence of those times.

A lot of what I read and part of what I’m trying to write is science fiction and fantasy. I also game and take a weird sort of inspiration from those worlds, especially when trail running and backpacking. Colorado looks a lot like Skyrim and parts of Norrath, minus the overabundance of curiously aggressive wildlife. It’s probably good we don’t have owlbears here and it’s definitely good we don’t have orcs.

However, jokes aside, it’s easy to imagine that I’m running through Hyrule, Rohan, or Skyrim when I’m out on a trail run and that’s probably the thing that inspires me the most. There’s a good chance that my propensity for escapist fantasy is a big part of my lack success in real life, so I’ll be taking those frustrations out in this blog by writing about adventure, travel, and fitness from the perspective of a introverted, over-read, underachieving, sort of scientist, who is a part time ski instructor and former roller derby athlete that is attempting to be a film maker. Not sure how valuable that background is, but it might be at least a little unique.

Some ideas:

Sci-Fi, Fantasy, and Gaming inspired travel

Trail Running inspiration (and running in general)

Reality vs. Escapism and finding a healthy balance between the two.

Avoiding a life of quiet desperation

Sci-Fi, Fantasy, and Gaming inspired workout ideas (non running)

I’ll come up with more and I also welcome any suggestions. I’m going to start out with monthly posts and see how that goes.

Welcome to my wannabe travel blog written by a depressingly infrequent traveler with a weird background and a terrible commute.