Saturday, July 31, 2010

Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow

Only occasionally do I find myself in Argentina or Chile during the northern summer and, even then, it’s most often for urban doings in Buenos Aires, which I visited last year for a magazine feature in the March issue of National Geographic Traveler. In reality, many visitors prefer to escape the cold winters of Europe and the Atlantic seaboard for the austral summer but, given the recent heat waves in the northern hemisphere - even Moscow temperatures have reached triple digits on the Fahrenheit scale - maybe it’s time to seek the snow in the South American Andes.

According to David Owen, who leads ski and snowboard trips along both sides of the cordillera through his Powderquest Ski Tours, “Overall it has been a great start of the season, especially from Nevados de Chillán south to Chapelco [pictured above, courtesy of David Owen, just outside of San Martín de los Andes, Argentina] and Bariloche [where Cerro Catedral is the top area]. Deep dry snow, cold temperatures and numerous storms back to back have made this season one of the best in recent memory.” Because the Andes are so high, Pacific storms drop most of their moisture at lower elevations, leaving only the finest powder on the slopes.

This week, David is visiting Chile’s Valle Nevado (pictured above, courtesy of David Owen), barely 45 minutes from downtown Santiago (which, among its other virtues, must be the largest major metropolis in the world to have so many first-rate ski areas so nearby). He comments that “Valle Nevado, La Parva, and El Colorado (pictured below, courtesy of David Owen) have received significantly less snow than the southern resorts, but thankfully, very cold temperatures have maintained good snow conditions.” On the other hand, he adds, the legendary area of Portillo, about three hours northwest of the capital near the Argentine border, “has not fared as well this season. The storms have not quite reached Portillo with the same intensity and they are only now just opening the resort to day visitors.” Portillo has been the site of several downhill speed records, including Michael Prufer’s 217.68 kilometers per hour, set in 1987.

Conditions may improve, though, as “six to 17 inches is the forecast over the next days, with the deepest forecasted around Chillán and Pucon,” where the main ski area is at the base of the smoldering Volcán Villarrica. If those hot and humid temperatures continue to plague the northern hemisphere, this could be the time to pull those boots, skis and snowboards out of the closet, board a plane, and cross the equator for the southern hemisphere’s highest slopes and finest snow.

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