Where should I ski in South America?

I'm headed down to Argentina and Chile late this summer, and want to go snowboarding. Where do you recommend? —Ned, Winston-Salem NC

Greg Melville

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You know, Ned, I once heard that there are a bunch of great ski resorts here in North America. You just have to wait a few more months until the cold weather in this hemisphere arrives. But if you insist on taking away time that could be spent in Buenos Aires to hit the slopes, I can certainly help you out.

Portillo, Chile
Portillo sits high among alpine lakes and angular peaks of the Andes, a couple of hours from the Chilean capital, Santiago. Owned by a U.S. company, it’s South America’s premier resort and the training site for U.S. Ski team members during the North American summer. Portillo’s statistics don’t sound impressive—35 runs, a vertical drop of 2,500 feet, 800 acres of terrain—but the off-piste skiing goes on forever, and the resort caps the number of lift tickets issued per day at 450. Don’t expect a base village, just the yellow Hotel Grand Portillo, slopeside, at 9,450 feet in elevation. But in this case, less is definitely more.

Valle Nevado, Chile
A taste of the Alps in the Andes, about 90 minutes outside of Santiago. Valley Nevado was built by French developers in the late 1980s, and measures up to any top-notch resort north of the equator. Its 11 lifts serve 34 trails, and the vertical drop from its 12,000-foot summit is slightly more than 2,600 feet. Half of the attraction to this resort is the lively night scene at the pubs, bars, and discos congregated at the base.

Las Leñas, Argentina
Hands-down the favorite resort in Argentina, and for good reason. Consider the statistics: 17,500 skiable acres, a vertical drop of 4,000 feet, summit elevation 11,250 feet, 28 trails, and 13 lifts. The snowfall at Las Leñas isn’t as consistent or plentiful as at the two Chilean resorts mentioned here, but after a huge dump, there’s nowhere better on the continent. The resort is a 90-minute plane ride from Buenos Aires, and it boasts a surprising variety of hotels (of all prices) and restaurants (from Italian cuisine at Il Legno to French at El Refugio to Argentinean fare at Malbec).