Photography: By Edward Clem
The distance from Bozeman, Montana, to Santiago, Chile, is 6,017 miles, which is over 1,500 miles further than mainland Europe. While Chile may seem like another world, you’ll arrive after 14 hours of travel with a lone stop in Atlanta (if you’re flying the same route I took). A happy detail of my voyage down South was that after waking up for my red eye, I received a full night’s sleep thanks to the last row of an Airbus A350. Once I touched down in Chile, I was comfortably operating on EST, no different than being in New York City.
Growing up as an avid consumer of ski media, skiing in the middle of summer in a true winter wonderland was a fantasy that never escaped the back of my mind. So, when the phone rang, and a trip to the legendary Valle Nevado resort with FREESKIER was offered, I accepted without even considering what prior engagements lay on my calendar. I didn’t really know what to expect, but if I did go into this trip with any expectations, they were all blown out of the water by the mountains, locals and fantastic crew that greeted me upon arrival in Santiago.
At a latitude of 33 degrees south, Valle Nevado roughly equates to that of Phoenix, Arizona, if you translate it to the Northern Hemisphere. The opportunity to ski exists thanks to the sheer scale of the Andes, with the base area of Valle sitting at nearly 10,000 feet above sea level, dwarfed by Cerro El Plomo looming overhead at 17,783 feet. The weather in Santiago was cool and comfortable, but as our team ascended the impossibly windy road to the resort, the cacti disappeared, and fresh snow from the previous night quickly replaced the foreign flora.
Eager to get back on snow after a long break and record heat throughout the United States, the crew skipped formal introductions and quickly donned our ski gear to get out on the hill and explore the massive terrain of Valle Nevado. Skies were blue, snow was fresh and Jonah Williams, Brooks Curran, Hannah Melinchuk, KJ Read, Charlotte Hoeft and I did our team building in the most natural way possible—sliding down snow-covered mountains on two pieces of wood.
The stoke was high on day two, with more bluebird skies and plenty of fresh snow to be found for those willing to seek it. Valle Nevado is a massive resort, and we barely managed to scratch the surface of what it has to offer.
Valle is kind of like one giant terrain park. All above treeline, the rolling and open mountains are dotted with wind lips, natural hits and gullies full of powder days after the storm.
Just because Valle doesn’t always have a Mt. Baker-esque snowpack, that doesn’t mean there aren’t stashes to be found several days after a storm. The diversity of aspects and elevation meant that we were finding nipple-deep powder and big smiles throughout our entire trip.
The harsh alpine landscape of the Andes does not lend itself to too much wildlife viewing on our trip, but we did manage to spend time with this Carancho Cordillerano, who was hanging with the crew at the top of the tallest lift at Valle.
The scale and sheer size of the mountains in Chile left all of us with a constant sense of awe.
I didn’t know much about Chilean wine going into this trip, but it is just as good as anything I’ve had in France, Italy or the United States. Jodie Schmidt and Aaron Stover, the winners of the FREESKIER x Valle Nevado trip giveaway, joined us for this all-inclusive wine tasting, and one might say we had a little bit too much fun.
Much like Salt Lake City, Santiago lies deep in a valley that is prone to inversions and frequent smog in the winter. Valle Nevado is perched far above the pollution, and when the wind blows in, you can often steal glimpses of the massive metropolis only 30 kilometers away.
Jonah Williams was so inspired by the service of Chilean restaurants that he decided to emulate it atop a ridge overlooking the city as we settled in for a sunset to remember.
As we gathered our belongings and set out for the long ski down, Jonah took a few moments to reflect on the majesty of the evening we had just experienced. Good wine, good friends, new mountains and the thrill of skiing in such a foreign place put on a high that will last a long time.
As the last day on-snow rolled around and the powder started to become harder to find, we spent our morning hunting fresh corduroy and jealously looking at the forecast. Just as we were set to leave, a massive 200-inch storm was set to descend upon the Andes. Funny how things work sometimes.
Our last afternoon was spent in Valle Nevado’s small but perfectly manicured terrain park. Two large rails and two pristine jumps provided the perfect opportunity for Jonah Williams to practice his best impersonation of the giant Andean Condor bird.
As we headed down the ‘cuarenta curvas’ (that’s 40 turns for non-Spanish speakers) away from Valle Nevado and back towards the city, I couldn’t shake the feeling that this short trip was the beginning of a long and storied relationship with Valle Nevado and Chile as a whole. As great as the skiing was, the culture, people, scenery and food make visiting Chile an experience that would be worth pursuing even without the amazing recreating it offers. Once back in Santiago, we were greeted by a city that would take years to properly explore. The next two days were spent seeing, smelling and tasting the colorful capital of Chile, and bathing ourselves in the rich history of the city that feels more like a European capital than I ever would have dreamed possible.
Taking a break from the dog days of summer in the United States and hopping on a flight down to Chile is something that every skier should try to do once. If you’re anything like me, a few days spent at Valle Nevado and a few days exploring Santiago will quickly prioritize it to being something every skier should do more than once.
Valle Nevado was recently purchased by the US-based Mountain Capital Partners, and skiers can use the company’s Powder Pass to ski at Valle. Valle Nevado is also a member of the Ikon and Mountain Collective passes, which can be used for lift tickets or discounts on package stays.