Epic Chile #3: Ski Arpa
Hidden outside the authentic Chilean town of Los Andes is a small slice of Heaven known as Ski Arpa. The resort is hard to get to, dirt roads take you past simple homes, rugged streams glisten as they dump snowmelt towards the Pacific and itâ€™s not unusual to have to slow down for cattle in the road. Soon enough, though, the road starts to climb higher and high and you leave all traces of civilization behind. At the end of the line is Ski Arpa: two simple shelters built into the hillside, a dirt parking lot, a couple of snowcats and massive Andean ridges rising above you.
You have to actually ski at Arpa to understand how special this place is. How it represents a gamble and a gutsy commitment to creating something unique. You also have to ski here to understand what it is like to have effortless cat skiing access to steep faces, bowls and chutes that remain untouched all day long.
Since you canâ€™t be there right now (although you can book your trip right now, at their website. Skiarpa.com), weâ€™ve caught up with Arpa guide Brian Pearson to share his insights on what makes Ski Arpa one of the best places on the planet.
FS: Ski Arpa has an interesting history, give us a run down on when and how it started.
The owner, Anton “Toni” Sponar, came over to Chile to start his own resort after he built Los Penitentes in Argentina. One of his employees at los penitientes was a Chilean guy from the town of los andes. This guy “Carlitos” told Toni about this great piece of land that might make some good ski trails. Toni checked it out and got pretty excited. he ended up buying the whole thing – all 5000 acres – back in 1983
FS: And the terrain that the operation serves? It’s definitely not your usual cat skiing operation, right?
We are pretty lucky to have the best terrain of any resort around Santiago and definitely the only resort in Chile that can claim 3000 vertical feet in the same run. we are perfectly south facing so we have a limited amount of baked snow or wind crust like other resorts in the Andes. We are lucky to have some of the best snow around. Even if it hasn’t snowed for a month we can get you some fresh tracks.
As far as cat ski operations go we are certainly unique. We try our
best but in South America you still have so many variables beyond your control, I like to think this makes life more interesting. Fortunately, our guests are mostly adventuresome and roll with it when they have to help us shovel the road or something like that.
FS: You guys have hosted some of the best skiers in the world, give us the dirt, who has been there?
Julian Carr, Ingrid Backstrom, Sage, Ian Macintosh to name a few. it is definitely fun to ski with these guys and pretend you are even close to keeping up with them.
FS: And the access road? That’s an adventure in itself. Tell us about it.
Part of the road is through a small village that has no money to maintain it. They also forget to shut the irrigation off sometimes and the road can be a real mess. It is a bit of a jeep track through this section. Going up the valley we have 8km of of our own road to maintain. This is a single lane switchback that climbs over 2000 vertical feet. Vlearing it after a big storm can be a hassle and it can sometimes be a bit hairy when our little bobcat hasn’t made the track quite wide enough or has left it at an angle sloping your truck off toward the edge of the road. Some people get a little freaked out and every now and then somebody loses their breakfast. One driver
just quit because he was too scared.
FS: People probably don’t understand how much snow the Andes get. Tell us about it and some of your most epic days.
We average over 20 feet of snowfall annually and all this comes in during a short three month season. So the storms are big, sometimes shutting us and all the other resorts down for a few days. You just have to wait it out and then comes a bluebird day and lots of skiing. Once we did 8 runs, close to 20,000 vertical, in one day with about 3 feet of powder. There were six of us skiing that day and nobody wanted to go home. This day I will remember for a long time.
FS: And your base lodge. It’s a funky place, Fill us in on the vibe there.
Rancho Avalancha is a stone hut built into the side of the mountain to
withstand avalanches. Its small size makes it more intimate and you automatically get to meet everyone and hangout together, it’s like an extension of the snowcat in that way. After a long day of skiing people just like to hang out there and soak up the sun.
FS: What about the surrounding area and towns? Wineries, culture, cool places?
We try to book everyone in casa san regis which is a hacienda built in 1748 by the spanish army. The chilean owners are super friendly and make great pisco sours and fantastic food. If people want to take a day off there are three wineries nearby with great wines. the town of Los Andes gives a real sense of everyday life in Chile and visitors should check out the plaza de armas and have an empanada.
FS: Toni is a living legend, although he probably wouldn’t put it that way. Any insights into the iconic figure of the ski industry?
He is one of the hardest workers I have ever met. That is true here in Chile where he spends two months working non-stop to get ready for the season and also back in aspen where he teaches more hours than almost any other instructor so he can keep living his dream of having his own ski resort.
FS: You’ve been in Chile a while. Give our readers five of your best reasons why they should ski Chile, and more Imporantly, ski Arpa.
Skiing in august is something everyone should do at least once in their
The andes mountains are some of the most beautiful mountains in the world.
Blues skies â€“ I threw away my goggles a few years ago and have never regretted it.
Powder – some of the best in the world and it comes in large quantities
Terrain – at Ski Arpa we have some of the best terrain in all of South America.
FS: Any thank you’s or final words?
Thanks to all the people who have visited Ski Arpa and who spread the word so we can keep on going.