How to do ski camp in South America
In the past five to 10 years, heading south to attend summer camp has become a viable and increasingly attractive option for those looking to shred all year round. At first thought, traveling to Spanish-speaking South America can seem intimidating. We’re here to tell you it’s not. Here are some pointers from top camp coaches to help you take the first step towards skiing powder 12 months a year.
Perhaps the most intimidating part of traveling to a new country is the language barrier. The first language of both Chile and Argentina is Spanish.
“From my travels to Argentina and Chile I’ve found that people are really excited to practice English with me,” says Michelle Parker, a coach with SASS Global Travel (SGT) in Argentina. “They usually are much better at English than I am at Spanish. They are very kind and helpful people so I have never run into an issue with language barriers.”
Like with most cultures around the world, making an effort is the best way to communicate. Show that you’re trying, and most locals will respond in kind. “Just a simple please and thank you and a smile go a long way in any language,” says Ingrid Backstrom, a coach at Powder Quest in La Parva, Chile.
Some South American ski camps, like SGT, offer Spanish language classes so you can come back from ski camp not only a better skier but a better traveler.
Before setting off on your trip, search the app store for language translation and lesson apps. There are many available, but Languages offers the best bang for your buck for offline translation. It costs just 99 cents and comes with Spanish translation built-in, and no Internet connection is required.
Chile vs. Argentina
“Everything in South America goes at a slower pace,” says KC Deane, a coach at Evolve Chile. “Busses don’t show up on time, lifts don’t open as planned, there is always something coming up it seems, so you just have to go with the flow. As they say in Chile, tranquilo, which means chill. Oh and don’t expect much for Internet.”
The lack of Internet across South America is a common complaint. So plan ahead, and tell your girlfriend or boyfriend you won’t be posting multiple-times-daily Instagrams. You’ll instead be too busy immersing yourself in the local culture and local snowfalls.
“Argentina is a bit more of a flamboyant, European culture,” says Backstrom on the differences between the nations. “Super late nights (most Argentineans wouldn’t even think of getting a dinner reservation before 11 p.m.), loud music, laissez-faire attitudes. In general, Argentina is cheaper, but since the entire valley of Las Leñas is independently owned it can be sort of a racket sometimes if you don’t plan ahead.”
Where Argentina is more Wild West, Chile brings with it a calmer vibe. “Chile is easier to get to, with down-home, salt-of-the-earth, friendly but perhaps a bit more reticent people, and it has more of a social and political charge to it,” adds Backstrom. “Depending on where you go, you can do some amazing skiing in Chile on a budget, too.” Where cultures, expenses and political climates vary between the bordering countries, the differences on the hill are much more subtle, since they share the Andes. “The main differences have to do with latitude,” explains Chris Davenport, who runs Superstars Ski Camp in Portillo, Chile. “For instance, there is no tree skiing, or treeline for that matter, in the Santiago zone, including Portillo, and then all across the range to Las Leñas. Just high alpine goodness. The Chilean side typically gets a bit more snow and a slightly more maritime snow quality then the Argentinian side, where Leñas is.”
“Now down south towards Bariloche in Argentina you do have forests low down and lower elevation skiing as well,” he continues. “Same for Chile, south of Santiago, 500 miles or so at Pucón and Chillan and Villarrica you have some forests low down.”
“It’s not like skiing in North America or Europe, it’s a bit more wild and you have to take responsibility for yourself and be prepared for delays and surprises,” adds Backstrom. “But if you can be open-minded and go with the flow, it can be an unforgettable ski experience.”
Most South American camps will help you with your travel plans, as there can be some tricky layovers required. For instance, to get to Las Leñas, you are usually required to fly to the international airport in Buenos Aires and then travel by bus or taxi to the domestic airport to catch your flight to Mendoza. Each camp will have its travel plans dialed (some even have their own shuttles between stops), so reach out to the camp coordinators before you book your first flight or shuttle to ensure the smoothest travel day possible.
No visa is required to enter Argentina or Chile, but you may need to purchase a Tourist Card upon entry into the Santiago International Airport for $160, which is good for 90 days.
Both Argentina and Chile are relatively safe countries, and the camps are located in tourist-friendly locations. Argentina has seen more economic turmoil over the past three decades than Chile (and thus, higher crime rates), although the only thing to really worry about when traveling is petty theft.
Petty theft is especially prevalent in transportation hubs and hotel lobbies, so keep your valuables in closed pockets and do not leave valuables unattended at any time. Also be wary of counterfeit bills in Argentina. Pay taxi drivers in small bills to avoid the potential for being given counterfeit change.
Like when traveling anywhere, use your head and stay alert. “Keep an eye on your stuff at the bus stations,” adds Parker. “I’ve always felt really safe there, but I am very aware of the people around me while traveling and have heard stories, for sure.”
When your local resort stops spinning the lifts this spring, consider heading south this summer to enjoy the best of what South America offers.