Regional Differences

Chile is a country that is over 4000 km long and only 180 km wide, bordered by the Pacific on the west and by the magnificent and impenetrable Andes to the east. Thus it has always been a virtual island, isolated from the rest of South America. These features have produced a very unique culture, offer amazing geography, and make for an incredible ski experience on fantastic snow.

In central Chile at the resorts of Portillo, Valle Nevado, La Parva and El Colorado you are skiing the Andes at altitudes over 3600m / 12,000ft. The base areas are above the altitudes of most ski resort summits in Canada and Europe! Combine this altitude with the arid climate (cacti grow up to the snow line) and you have the most unique snow conditions in the world. The snow falls as a small particle and is extremely dry offering some of the best powder in the world. The snow is so dry that on the piste there is no such thing as hard pack or ice. It stays soft and playful. A fact worth experiencing as a skier just to believe it!

In the south of Chile at the ski resorts of Nevados de Chillan (formerly Termas de Chillan), Corralco, and Pucon, you ski on volcanoes - live volcanoes! Their conical peaks tower over the ski resorts with steam rising as you ski on the lower portion at altitudes between 1800m/6000ft and 2700m/9000ft. The snow here is of the same extreme dryness and offers incredible snow conditions and powder skiing. At some of the volcanoes you have the opportunity to hike up or take a snow-cat to the top, look right into the mouth of the volcano and then ski it from top to bottom.

In both central and southern Chile the ski resorts have no trees. You are either at high altitude above tree line or skiing on a volcano which consists of old lava flow where no trees can grow. This results in large open acreage for skiing. Combine this with the fact that not many Chileans ski, as outdoor sport is not a big part of their culture yet and skiing is only for the wealthy, and you have virtually empty slopes. In addition Chileans do not ski off-piste. Skiing is a social event for them, not an athletic endeavour. This all adds up to you being able to ski fresh tracks in-resort for days and days after a snowfall! No need to hike or head into the back country – the fresh is all chair accessible.

Chile ski resorts offers unique and varied terrain, from challenging expert slopes and endless powder, to amazing intermediate skiing that no one else talks about. There is loads of long and rolling terrain that makes for great fun and great skiing, whether cruising is your style or ripping it up!

During the winter Chile is sunny 80% of the time as the weather fronts come in from the Pacific, dump for a day or two and then move on, leaving sunny skies. The temperatures are mild averaging -5C or warmer yet the snow is dry and light, due to the unique climate and geography. You will be spring skiing on winter snow!

You must mention the people of Chile when talking about the skiing. They are the friendliest and warmest people you will encounter. They are happy, easy going, and always willing to help you. This contributes to a very relaxing ski experience as well as Chile being a very safe place to travel. As well it is politically and economically the most stable country in South America.

Of course there is wonderful Chilean wine to be had with lots of great new food experiences. You will get to experience the infamous “Pisco Sour”, the Chilean national drink. Nightlife in Santiago, a city of over 6 million, is abundant and you can carry on into the wee hours of the morning.

Chile does not have the infrastructure at its ski areas that other countries do for accommodation, restaurants or entertainment. This is due to how few people ski in Chile and the isolation of the resorts. The three ski area that tour operators offer week stays at (Valle Nevado, Portillo and Nevados de Chillan) have a hotel for your week stay and that is it.

Consider exploring Chile and it’s skiing with a guided tour so you can experience more than just a ski resort hotel as Chile has so much more to offer.

Learn more about guided tours in Chile

Argentines are known for their passion and vibrant style and should come as no surprise with it being the home of the Tango. This passion and lively energy is very evident at all the ski resorts in Argentina. Latin beats playing and lots of patios for enjoying the fabulous wine and après ski. The resorts have an energy and vibrancy that is enticing and contagious. It makes for a great ski experience.

There is, as well, a distinct European influence in the setup of Argentine ski resorts that contributes to the Latin energy. A ski resort will have various independently owned “refugios” located around the mountain offering great home cooked hearty lunches of soups, goulashes and such with wine and patios to enjoy it all from atop the mountain.

Argentina is a large country, the second largest in South America behind Brazil and probably surprising to many the 8th largest in the world only smaller than Russia, Canada, USA, China, Australia and India. At 2.77 million square kms and a population of only 40.6 million, there is a lot of open space and that is what you must cover to go skiing in Argentina.

Buenos Aires, the capital and airport hub for international flights, is located on the far eastern side of the county near the Atlantic and all the ski resorts are spread along the impenetrable Andes on its far western border with Chile. To reach Las Leñas Ski Resort, the most northern resort, you travel due west from Buenos Aires 1200 kms. 1600 kms south is Bariloche with four ski resorts in the immediate area. And the most southern of all ski resorts in the world, Cerro Castor near Tierra del Fuego is south 3200 kms. There are 3 other smaller resorts spread between Bariloche and Las Leñas.

With the vast size of Argentina the skiing can be broken into two options for a ski holiday. You can go to Las Leñas for a week or two or you can travel to the Bariloche area in the 7 Lakes District of Patagonia where you have 4 ski resorts all within a 3 hour radius of Bariloche.

Being 16 hours driving from Buenos Aires and 10 hours from the closest other ski resort, Portillo in Chile, Las Leñas is a small, self-contained and rather isolated village specifically built around skiing. This isolation requires a minimum week stay by the resorts various hotels. Your only exposure off the snow to Argentina is the village with a few restaurants and nights clubs. The night life though can be a great Argentine adventure that takes you well into the morning.

Las Leñas will reward you for your travel with the best steep and deep skiing on offer in Argentina and all of South America. This is the place for expert skiers to challenge themselves. Las Leñas receives the famous dry Andean snow and the most of any resort in South America. A price comes with this as with its elevation, when it storms, lifts shut down for sometimes days having to be dug out leaving you with no other options on or off the snow other than an intermediate area that does not inspire.

Patagonia’s Seven Lake District centered by the bustling city of Bariloche offers four ski resorts: Catedral, Cerro Bayo, Chapelco and La Hoya. This area provides you with skiing variety and the ability to see more than just a ski area. In fact the Seven Lakes area is described often as the most scenic skiing in South America with two of the resorts situated next to the 100km long lake Lago Nahuel Huapi and surrounded by white capped mountains. It is stunning and a highlight.

Each ski area has a vibrant ski town next to it that offers a great variety of restaurants, shopping and night life. You can savour famous Argentine beef to wild boar and trout, take in a tango show in Bariloche and dance the night away in the towns of San Martin, Esquel, and Villa La Angostura, mixing with the locals.

Over a two week period you can visit the four areas for a wide scope of skiing and exposure to the world famous Patagonia area. An option to fully experience this area and maximise your holiday time without the work and hassle of self-travel is to join a guided tour. This removes the language barrier, the winter road driving, and allows you to relax and immerse yourself in the experience with all the details looked after for you.

Skiing in Argentina is an adventure in itself discovering the vibrant people, the culture, the food and wine, and the flare Argentines bring to all they do. Add the great skiing in the Andes and it’s a ski holiday well worth the travel unlike any ski experience that can be had in North America or Europe.

Learn more about guided tours in Argentina

The scale of Japan skiing is mind boggling. Japan is comprised of five islands: Honshu, the main island, home to Tokyo and most of Japan, Hokkaido to the north, and three small islands to the south. Eighty percent of Japan is covered in mountains and with most of the population of 127 million less than 3 hours from a mountain Japan offers a staggering 500+ ski resorts!

With this many people some of the ski “areas”, meaning large groupings of ski resorts all side by side, are on a scale that you cannot begin to imagine. They dwarf the large areas in Europe and make a Whistler look tiny in regards to size and volume of people. One area called Hakubo has over a dozen ski resorts lined up side by side over a 30 km stretch of mountains and is not even considered one of the biggest!

Where would you even start to choose a destination for your Japan ski holiday?

It’s easier to look at Japan’s skiing broken into four regions or prefectures as they are called that contain the majority of the skiing. Starting due west of Tokyo and moving north the 4 prefectures are: Nagano, Nigata, Tohoku, and Hokkaido. As you go farther north you get less people and better snow and more of it with the colder weather.

Nagano prefecture is in the heart of the mountains of central Honshu Island (main island). It is home to the famous Northern Japan Alps. Some of the ski areas here hosted the Nagano Olympics in 1998. Hakubo, mentioned previously as quite a large collection of ski resorts, is located here and is the most popular winter sports region on the main island with truly spectacular mountain scenery. The giant of all Japanese resort areas, Shiga Kogen, is in this prefecture and considered one of the largest in the world. Contrasting this is the birth place of Japanese skiing in the 1920’s, a ski resort called Nozawa Onsen. It has a traditional village of 5000 at its base. It is considered by many as the best single ski resort in Japan.

This prefecture tends to offer some of the most convenient skiing from Tokyo where a train can have you to the closest resort in 80 minutes. There are also huge resorts here with resort towns of literally hundreds of hotels and vacation condominiums. One of these is Naeba and is arguably the most well known and fashionable in all of Japan. It has hosted World Cup races and national races for years and attracts millions of visitors each year.

Tohoku is the northern part of the main island of Honshu and has a number of resort regions that offer great snow condition. The Tohoku area is often thought of as being too far from Tokyo to be convenient, however the high–speed railways and expressways make it a good alternative, especially for those interested in better snow conditions and less crowds.

Skiers in search of powder invariably flock to the northern island of Hokkaido in search of deep powder, off-piste runs and challenging terrain. Hokkaido is the coldest and most northern Japanese island and arguably gets the most snow and the driest. It also has considerably fewer people. Some of the main resorts are Niseko, Furano and Rusutsu amongst others as there are still another 124 resorts on the island. Although many of these are quite small and do not warrant a visit.

For a powder experience this is the place to be as it receives massive amounts of snow. Central Hokkaido receives an average of 9 meters. Western Hokkaido, closer to the Sea of Japan receives 15 meters of snow per season. The majority of the snow falls between December and March and during the heart of the season in January and February it snows almost every day from 10-30 cms. This is the most consistent source of powder anywhere in the ski world available to recreational skiers.

Hokkaido has become by far Japan’s ski area of choice for foreigners as it offers much fewer people and conceivably the best powder destination in the world.

To travel that far you will want to take minimum 10 day trip with a 14 day trip ideal with the length of flight and adjusting to the large time difference for westerners. And with that amount of time you will want to make the most of your trip and visit a few ski areas as they tend to be within manageable distances of 3 hours or less from each other.

Of course there is virtually no English other than at Niseko where the foreign invasion began over 8 years ago with Australians having worked hard to develop this area for Australian tourism. Menu reading is by picture only and customs are very different.

Guide ski tours are offered that will take you to the best skiing and alleviate the large language and cultural barriers that Japan poses. With so many resorts to choose from it makes good sense to let local experts choose for you to maximise your holiday time and adventure.

Learn more about guided tours in Japan

Western Canada is blessed with consistently good amounts of snow, a good quality of snow, drier than your European snow. Thus the skiing here has a great reputation among the British, European, New Zealand, and Australian skiers who have been. Canadians don’t travel too far to ski as they have it well off in their own back yard.

One reason commonly attributed to the consistent Canadian snow is the “pineapple express”. This is a weather system that originates in the Hawaiian tropics and thus the name. When it hits its first land mass, the Pacific coast, it dumps a lot of snow. Whistler gets it first then as it progresses over the interior of British Columbia to the continental divide and then finally into Alberta. The snow gets drier with altitude and volumes depreciate as the system’s amount of precipitation dwindles.

This helps explain some of the snow statistics you may read. For example Banff may get less snow than Whistler on average but Banff also has much drier snow. Whistler is known for lots of snow but in can be wet, even too wet. While Banff can be cooler, sometimes too cool! So there are always trade offs when selecting an area to ski in Canada.

Canada offers many top quality ski resort destinations and just as many ways to book a ski holiday. It can be a daunting task to just decide where and how. Following is some information to shed some light on skiing in Canada and a possible option to experience some of Canada’s best skiing in an intimate manner.

From the Pacific Coast of British Columbia and it’s Coastal Mountains to Alberta and the Canadian Rockies, there are 25 ski resorts spread over a span of 1000km from east to west.

There are the two large and common destinations of Whistler Blackcomb and Banff (Lake Louise and Sunshine Resorts). Outside of these two there are eight other ski destinations commonly known to destination skiers through tour operators and publicity: Big White, Silver Star, Sun Peaks, Jasper, Panorama, Kicking Horse, Kimberley and Fernie. You can book into any of these through a tour operator. Outside of this group there is another collection of resorts with great skiing, in fact some of the best hidden gems Canada has to offer and highly coveted by locals.

This group includes Castle Mountain in Alberta, Red Mountain, Whitewater, Revelstoke, and Apex Alpine in British Columbia. These resorts are more isolated and have less infrastructure to satisfy the requirements of tour operators for bringing large numbers of guests. However, this is where some of Canada’s best ski experiences can be had on and off the slopes. These areas have small cozy mountain towns with great ski & mountain culture, great terrain, fewer skiers, and more opportunities for fresh tracks.

If experiencing this brand of Canadian skiing intrigues you then you will want to look into a travelling trip to various ski resorts. For this you have two options. One, you can plan a driving tour with a rental car and plan it yourself, an exciting option and an adventure in itself. The second option is to join a guided ski tour, something you may not be aware of.

A guided ski tour offers a convenient and hassle free experience without any wasted time or stress. You are looked after, your holiday time is maximised and you will have a known and proven itinerary to get you to the best areas and make the most out of your ski holiday time.

This is an option to consider if you want a Canadian ski adventure for your next ski holiday that will take you to places you never thought possible. It may cost slightly more than a packaged holiday to Canada, but the experience with the quality and amount of skiing you will do more than makes up for the little extra up front.

Learn more about guided tours in Canada