Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The Endless Winter

The 1960s documentary The Endless Summer chronicled the quest of two California surfers who circled the globe in search of the perfect wave. To my knowledge, no filmmaker has ever done anything comparable for skiers and snowboarders who spend the southern hemisphere winter - June, July, August - in search of perfect runs when northern hemisphere snowmelt turns the Alps, Rockies, Sierras and other great mountain ranges into destinations for hiking, whitewater rafting and kayaking, and other summer pursuits.

In reality, the southern hemisphere landmasses are much smaller than those in the northern hemisphere, and there are far fewer options for skiers than for surfers. Australia, New Zealand, and even South Africa offer some skiing possibilities, but only the Andes of Chile and Argentina offer the diverse terrain and heavy high-altitude snowpack that brings professional and Olympic level skiers for extended training, and recreational skiers for relatively quick getaways from North America and Europe.

In Chile’s case, some of the best resorts, such as Valle Nevado (pictured here) and La Parva, are just an hour or less from downtown Santiago, so there’s no changing planes or extensive overland trips to get to the slopes (though there are also more distant areas such as Portillo and Termas de Chillán). Last weeks’ storms brought about seven feet (more than two meters) of new snow, which makes it likely the season will extend well into September.

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