Where to Go Skiing and Snowboarding in the Southern Hemisphere
Situated between three active volcanoes, Nevados de Chillán offers some of South America's most dramatic skiing terrain. In ancient times, lava carved out the mountain’s smooth trails as well as molten fields and rivers. Today the region’s geothermal activity heats the resort’s natural hot springs—which happen to make the perfect spot to end a day spent on the slopes. There are luxury resort accommodations at the base of the volcanoes, but if you’d rather save your lift-ticket money, the nearby town of Las Trancas offers affordable lodging and dining alternatives.
- Where in the world: 90 miles west of Concepción in Coihueco of the Bío Bío region in the Andes
Featuring 113 trails and 47 lifts spread out over seven mountain peaks, Perisher is the largest ski resort in the Southern Hemisphere. With so much terrain, there’s something for everybody here, ranging from a “Devil’s Playground” for the advanced to areas of exclusively green and blue trails for the rest of us. The resort’s unsettling name comes from the term early cattle farmers used to describe the vicious storms that would occasionally sweep into the high valley. Today, high winds no longer prevent access to the slopes, thanks to an alpine railway—called Skitube—that takes passengers through the Ramshead Range mountains and into the resort. At the base, Perisher Village offers a wide variety of hotels, lodges, and condos along with many fine-dining restaurants and lively bars.
Affectionately called the Big One by its fans, this place is for diehards only. The website even has a “warning to the uninitiated”: “You will not find any chairlifts, gondolas, grooming, snow-making, golf courses, day spas or fine dining here.” To get up the mountain, you either have to hike or take a nutcracker rope tow—a New Zealand invention named after the nutcracker-shaped bolt that connects you to the tow. If you go to all this trouble, though, you’re rewarded with some enviable skiing conditions, including no crowds, pristine expanses of snow, and huge open powder bowls. Maintained by an enthusiastic nonprofit, Craigieburn is one of the world's purest monuments to the sheer pleasures of skiing and snowboarding. At the end of the day, relax with an unpretentious meal and exchange stories with your fellow powder junkies at either of the two cozy base lodges.
One of the best-known ski destinations in South America, Catedral Alta Patagonia has earned its acclaim with a prime combination of modern amenities (high-speed six-person lifts, an enormous glass shopping mall) and stunning natural beauty. The peak it’s on, Cerro Catedral (Mount Cathedral in English), gets its name from towering crags that look like gorgeous church steeples from the chairlift. Once you reach the top, you can admire the unbelievably blue Lake Nahuel Huapí and surrounding national park. Downhill trails here are mostly intermediate to advanced, though there are some beginner-friendly slopes near the base of the mountain. For après-ski fun, the nearby city of San Carlos de Bariloche offers a host of dining, eating, lodging, and nightlife options, as well as a chance to admire a unique combo of Argentine and Swiss influences in the architecture and famous chocolate shops.
- Where in the world: 500 miles southeast of Concepción, Chile in Nahuel Huapí National Park of Patagonia
Spectacularly steep—that’s the only way to describe Portillo. Indeed, national ski teams come here from all over the world to get in summer training on the resort’s near-vertical chutes. Because a lot of the trails are too steep for traditional lifts, the resort had to develop a contraption that drags five riders at a time up the mountain like pebbles in a slingshot. The sharp angles of the slopes can result in some blistering speeds; the 200 km per hour (124 mph) speed barrier for skiing was first broken here in 1978. But not every run has a sheer drop: There are several long intermediate trails for saner skiers and boarders, as well as a collection of beginner slopes. You won’t find a charming resort village at Portillo, just its characteristic avalanche-proof yellow hotel (pictured above). It may not look like it from the outside, but this lodge is actually quite luxurious. Amenities include a bar, dance club, movie theater, pool, and outdoor hot tubs famous for breathtaking views of the nearby lake, Laguna del Inca.
The coolest thing about Whakapapa—one of the few ski areas on New Zealand’s North Island—is that it gives you the chance to shred down the side of an active volcano. Set above the tree line on Mount Ruapehu, the resort has unique and well-balanced terrain that’s been warped by ancient lava flow. As this is New Zealand’s largest skiing destination, you’re unlikely to run out of trails to explore, but if you do, the Turoa ski area on the mountain’s southwestern side awaits. Your lodging options in the villages close to Whakapapa run the gamut from no-frills motels to classy chateaus.
Las Leñas attracts a curious mix of very advanced skiers and vacationing families. Pros from all over the world come to tackle the mountain’s plunging fall lines and grisly off-piste terrain, while parents bring the kids to enjoy a nice collection of beginner and intermediate runs. The most famous trail here is Apollo, which combines with the trails below it, Neptuno and Venus, to form a 4.4-mile run that is one of the world’s longest (not counting manmade slalom courses). The area is also known for spectacular views of light brown ridges running up massive Andean peaks. The village below is full of ski-in, ski-out accommodations, adding to the relaxed vibe of the place.
- Where in the world: 390 miles southeast of Santiago in the western part of the Mendoza province in the Andes
Boasting an alarming number of double black diamond runs with names like “Purgatory Spur” and “Wall of Death,” this may not be the best choice for a relaxing family vacation. But it’s undeniable that Mount Hotham has some of the best skiing in Australia. Just be sure to warm up on one of the intermediate trails before you take on the “Twilight Zone.” Getting here is an adventure all to itself. From Melbourne, you can drive up the famously scenic Great Alpine Road, which features spectacular mountain views. Keep an eye out for kangaroos playing in the snow.
- Where in the world: 230 miles northeast of Melbourne in the Victorian Alps
Situated not far from Queenstown, Treble Cone is the largest ski area on New Zealand’s South Island. Given that almost half of the slopes here are ranked as advanced or expert, this is another destination geared more toward the experienced than newbies. If you appreciate the sort of difficult pitches and steep drops found at New Zealand’s Craigieburn Valley, but you’d rather not have to hike up them as the liftless Big One requires, Treble Cone may be the place for you. And though there aren’t tons of trails for novices, they’re not completely left out—in fact, beginners ski for free!
- Where in the world: 55 miles north of Queenstown near the town of Wanaka in the Southern Alps
This large, modern resort is one of Chile’s prime destinations for family skiing. Generally, the mountain is intermediate, with long sinuous trails, but there are also plenty of beginner runs as well as a few powder bowls and steep pitches to challenge your clan’s more seasoned members. If Valle Nevado’s 44 trails aren’t enough to keep you busy, a lift connects to the nearby ski destinations of La Parva, El Colorado, and Farellones. There aren’t a lot of hotels and restaurants in the vicinity, but what’s there is top of the line, especially the ski-in, ski-out flagship, Hotel Valle Nevado.
- Where in the world: 42 miles east of Santiago in the El Plomo foothills of the Andes