Flanked in the east by the looming ridge of the Andes Mountains and with the glacier-strewn mountains of Patagonia further south, the Chilean capital of Santiago makes for the perfect base from which to indulge in the country’s most thrilling cold-weather activities. From skiing in some of the Southern Hemisphere’s top resorts, to hitting up world-acclaimed hiking destinations and encountering the second largest nonpolar ice field on the planet, Chile has icy adventures for every intrepid traveler.Read More
The Best of Santiago’s Cold-Weather Adventures
Portillo Ski Resort
The first resort in South America to host the World Skiing Championships, Portillo is Chile’s oldest, and widely considered best, place to ski. Here, snow storms dust steep pistes in thick powder before the weather transforms into crisp, clear conditions perfect for skiing — and for admiring the 22,838-foot Aconcagua, which towers over the landscape. With only a handful of accommodations available, this resort is tantalizingly exclusive, making lift queues not even a remote possibility. Ramp up the adventure an extra notch or two with an off-piste Heli-ski tour along the resort’s ample terrain.
For a truly Santiaguino skiing vacation, head east out of the capital to El Colorado, a no-frills resort jam-packed with day-tripping locals. With 100 pistes, it’s the largest skiable area in Chile and revered for its affordable lift pass prices and views across Santiago below. Runs are skewed toward beginner and intermediate levels; those craving off-piste powder should head elsewhere. However, its apres-ski game is on point; at night, the ski village below the slopes, Farellones, drums to the beat of rowdy parties.
Cajón del Maipo
Only a few hours southeast of Santiago, the Cajón del Maipo is the easiest way to come face-to-face with one of the country’s 24,000 glaciers. The crystalline waters of the river Maipo flow through this plunging gorge, fed in part by the El Morado Glacier, which hangs above a concealed lagoon. In winter, snowshoe tours grant access to white blanketed landscapes in the surrounding mountains and typically end at the Baños Colina hot springs.
The best-known resort south of Santiago, Chillán is similar to Corralco for its thrilling, volcanic origins. Situated on the flanks of Nevados de Chillán (not one, not two, but three overlapping stratovolcanoes), the resort is characterized by sweeping, long-distance runs and deep powder, making it one of the best in Chile for advanced and expert skiers. At the bottom of the slopes, you can practically ski right to enjoy an après-ski soak and pisco sour at the resort’s hot springs, complete with a poolside bar.
If there’s one resort that local Chilean powderphiles are raving about, it’s Corralco. Set among landscapes of araucaria (monkey puzzle trees), 26 trails offer something uniquely Chilean: pistes that traverse the slopes of a volcano. Lonquimay hasn’t erupted in almost 30 years, but historic activity can be thanked for forming the resort’s fabled off-piste terrain. A trip here means joining the trendsetters but not the crowds, with the added boon that snow lasts well into springtime.
The Exploradores Glacier
For any icy adventure whatever the season, nothing beats trekking on one of Chilean Patagonia’s glaciers. Cascading down the northern slopes of high-altitude Monte San Valentín, the Exploradores Glacier is a 11-mile-long slice of the Northern Patagonian Ice Field. From the nearby village of Puerto Río Tranquilo, day expeditions take you out onto the glacier, where you can scramble through caves or alongside deep crevasses as millennial ice groans beneath your crampon-shod feet.
The O’Higgins Glacier
The Carretera Austral is northern Chilean Patagonia’s lone highway, carving its way through isolated rural communities to reach the end of the road: Villa O’Higgins. It’s here that you find Patagonia’s best-kept secret, the O’Higgins Glacier. This 75,000-hectare glacier is part of the Southern Patagonian Ice Field, the largest nonpolar field on the planet, which is accessed by boat tour up to its dramatic, calving snout. Even better, opt for a fly-over in a six-seater GAF Nomad, where you’ll come within 20 meters of the ice.
Torres del Paine National Park
It’s not hard to understand why travelers head in their droves in the summer to Torres del Paine National Park. Rare Andean wildlife and isolated Patagonian landscapes culminate in the angular crests of the park’s eponymous granite towers. But for a unique taste of this iconic Patagonian wilderness, consider hiking the world-renowned W in winter. Expect snow-cloaked scenery and roaring log fires in mountain lodges on what’s quickly becoming Chile’s perfect cold weather adventure.