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.

Destinations: Nederland, CO

The eclectic little town of Nederland is a great addition to your Colorado vacation.

 

The sunset over Barker Reservoir in Nederland lights the sky aflame
Sunset over Barker Reservoir

Tucked into the mountains above Boulder, at the edge of the Indian Peaks Wilderness and in the shadow of the Continental Divide, is the little town of Nederland. It’s an eclectic place, having evolved from mining town to hippie enclave to it’s modern state. In the 70’s, it was known for it’s vibrant music scene, enhanced by its location near the now defunct recording studio at Caribou Ranch. The town continues to evolve, but has maintained some of its unique character in the face of changing demographics.

Gateway to Adventure

The town is easily accessible from Boulder via Boulder Canyon. Although the distance is only about 16.7 miles, there is an elevation gain of 2900 feet (883.92 meters), so the temperature and weather differences are often significant. Dress and choose your vehicle accordingly. It’s actually possible to take the RTD city bus from Boulder to Ned, which is a great option if you aren’t sure about driving. The bus makes stops throughout the canyon, including at Boulder Falls. This short hike can be crowded, but is quick and pleasant. If you do choose to get off here, know the bus schedule ahead of time so you aren’t stuck there for a long period.

Once you do get to Nederland, you have several options depending on your adventure of choice and the time of year.

Keep Busing

If it’s winter and you love to ski, Eldora Mountain Resort is just west of Nederland and it is the only Colorado ski resort that is serviced by the city bus system. The buses have plenty of room for your ski gear and can save you the drive and parking-related headaches. Gear is available to rent and ski and snowboard lessons are offered.

Looking up a ski run named Windmill on a beautiful day at Eldora Mountain Resort.
Looking up Windmill run on a bluebird day at Eldora.

In the summer, the Nederland RTD Park & Ride lot is the pickup location for the Hessie Trailhead shuttle. You can drive or take the RTD city bus up and then catch the shuttle in for a hike. If you don’t take the shuttle, be aware that parking is limited and fills up early, so be prepared. There’s a reason the shuttle exists, so take advantage of it. The shuttle only services the Hessie Trailhead, so if it’s the Fourth of July Trailhead that interests you, you’ll have to drive to that. Leave early so you can get a parking space. The shuttle is seasonal, so check out the website to make sure it is running if you plan on using it.

Jasper Lake, a high alpine lake in the Indian Peaks Wilderness of Colorado, during a period of low water.
Jasper Lake during a time of low water.

Stay in Town

The little town of Nederland is worth exploring. The Barker Reservoir allows fishing (no swimming or boating, however!) and there is a little trail than runs along the northern bank that offers nice views of the town and reservoir.

Pedestrian Trail sign and view of Barker Reservoir in Nederland, Colorado
The start of the Pedestrian Trail near the eastern end of the reservoir.

If you need information or gear, stop by the Indian Peaks Ace Hardware store for maps and information or by The Mountain Man outdoor outfitter store, for an even bigger selection of equipment. Also in town are the Carousel of Happiness, the Mining Museum and several neat little shops such as Blue Owl Books and Boutique and Nature’s Own rock shop. If you are hungry or have a thirst, there’s the Pioneer Inn, a relic of the old Caribou Ranch days, as well as Crosscut Pizza, The Branding Iron, and The Very Nice Brewery, among others.

The event that the town is most well known for, Frozen Dead Guy Days, occurs annually in March. Winter is also a good time of the year to check out the local ice rink or rent some snowshoes from Wild Bear Mountain Ecology Center.

A Charles Bukowski quote on the wall inside the Very Nice Brewery in Nederland, CO.
The Very Nice Brewery

Head North

There are several great trails and wilderness areas north of town. Mud Lake and Caribou Ranch Open Space (closed April 1st to June 30th seasonally) are both pretty close, whereas Rainbow Lakes Trailhead and the Brainard Lakes Recreation Area both require a bit more of a drive. The Peak to Peak scenic highway that you take to get to these places is a treat in of itself and if you take it far enough, you’ll end up in Estes Park, the home of Rocky Mountain National Park.

A view of an old ranch building at Caribou Ranch Open Space in Boulder County Colorado.
Caribou Ranch Open Space

Head South

If you head south on the Peak-to-Peak Highway, you’ll pass by West Magnolia, a popular mountain biking area. If you don’t have a bike, you can rent one in town at Tin Shed. These trails can also be hiked.

Continuing on past West Magnolia, you’ll hit the town of Rollinsville wherein, if you take the Tolland Road to the west, you can reach the East Portal Trailhead. If you are headed here, you’ll pass Rollins Pass Road, a popular place for ATV riders and mountain bikers. Due to the collapse of the Needle’s Eye Tunnel, you can no longer drive over the continental divide at this point, so don’t plan on it. I am told that it is possible to port your bike around the collapse, but the bike ride up is strenuous. Do not try to drive this road without the appropriate skill and vehicle.

Hiking up from the East Portal Trailhead to S. Boulder Creek trail, you can reach several lovely high alpine lakes and the Continental Divide at Roger’s Pass. If you are fit and prepared, you can also access James Peak from this point.

A view of Heart Lake in the James Peak Wilderness with the Continental Divide in the distance.
Heart Lake and the Continental Divide

Stay Safe!

It’s important to plan ahead for your safety and others. Fire risk is high in these areas, so look up the current conditions and obey all fire bans. This frequently means that NO CAMPFIREs are allowed, so plan ahead with a legal camp stove if you are staying overnight. If you head south of Nederland to trails at the East Portal, you’ll be in Gilpin County, an area that has separate fire ban information from the trails in Boulder County.

Weather can change quickly and is usually much colder at altitude than down below. Wear proper footwear, carry a fleece, rain gear, snacks, and plenty of water. It’s best to understand how to use a map and compass, but at a minimum, stay on the trails. If you see bad weather rolling in, get below tree line. If you plan on camping overnight, permits are required for the Indian Peaks Wilderness. They can be purchased the day of your trip at Indian Peaks Ace Hardware store. Remember to keep your pets on leashes and obey Leave-No-Trace principles. Be aware that it’s always wise to treat your water before you drink it due to the high traffic these areas experience.

Finally, if you are visiting the Nederland area from a low altitude location, be aware of the symptoms of altitude sickness and act accordingly if needed. Be sure to consult a medical professional if you experience issues. Some people will experience sickness even if they are coming from somewhere relatively high like Denver, so keep that in mind.

The Continental Divide still has some snow, even in the summer.
A view of the Continental Divide from the trail.

Have fun!

This area is spectacular and I’ve only covered the basics of what is available. I feel like I could spend my entire life exploring Colorado and I still haven’t even explored all the trails near Nederland. The town itself and the surrounding natural resources are well worth your time. Stay safe, be respectful, and have fun.

A memorial for "Red the Cat Legend of First Street" in Nederland, Colorado.
The Memorial of Red the Cat in from of Town Hall in Nederland