Friday, 27 July 2012 14:43

Understanding Andean Snow Conditions

Fresh tracks this week at Nevados de Chillan Fresh tracks this week at Nevados de Chillan Gerry Winchester

Theses days Chile and Argentina are much better known as a ski destination and this combined with better reporting from the ski areas plus the internet has now made it easy for people to check out the snow statistics for South America with just a few clicks.  That was not the case as recent as 4 years ago.  This access to stats without the understanding of the unique properties of the Andean snow actually creates a problem with misinterpretation…

The problem with sites reporting the snow stats is they do not reflect what goes on with the uniqueness of  Andean snow combined with the altitudes and shape of the mountains combined with the lack of people.  Most of us are use to European or North American snow conditions and know what mild temperatures or weeks without fresh snow means  - not the best skiing.  

However in the Andes the snow behaves much differently and the stats without knowledge of the unique snow properties is very misleading.  Large volumes are not required to experience great snow conditions and powder due to shape of the mountains and the low volume of skiers!  Resorts can open with as little as 50cm of snow at the start of a season. Plus mild temperatures are the norm.  Since my first season in Chile in 2001 I have always described Andean skiing as “spring skiing on winter snow”.  Temperatures are always close to zero or even above zero once in a while, but the snow is so dry it does not deteriorate like other snow and remains in dry winter condition. In fact over the years I have spent many a day skiing powder with above zero temperatures on winter snow that is playful, not heavy and wet.  It may sound far-fetched but it’s true. The higher altitudes combined with the unique snow allows this and adds to what makes skiing in the Andes so special and unique.2012-07-27-Fresh tracks at Nevados de Chillan-Sue

We have just finished a tour in Chile where we had winter snow conditions while the ambient temperatures were above zero at the start of the tour and sitting outside in the sun required all layers to be removed. Yet we were ripping around as the snow stayed dry!!  We had amazing groomed snow where your skis grip and go and off-piste Chilean "carton"!  No freeze thaw cycles like you would experience in other parts of the world.

Another important thing to know is it only takes 10-15 cm to completely change the snow conditions in the Andes.  Towards the end of the Chile tour this week it was unusually warm on our first day in Nevados de Chillan and the snow was great however it started snowing during the afternoon and melting on our coats.  After as couple hours we were very wet but stayed out as the snow was still good!  It was playful and not heavy as you would expect in other parts of the world.  The snowfall continued throughout the evening as temperatures dropped as they always do at night in the Andes. The next day we had a bluebird day and 15cm of fresh.  Both of the photos shown was taken on July 21 in-resort at mid day and after lunch respectively!  The skiing was fantastic as evidenced by these photos.

Another factor to consider is the low volume of skiers.  It allows for skiing as in these photo days after a snowfall.  Skiing is growing in Chile but the numbers compared to other parts of the world are still very low and there are no trees which results in lots of terrain for fresh tracks days after a storm!

So if you are reading the snow reports posted on many of the ski websites and they are saying no new snow or spring like conditions – these must be interpreted correctly and not considered in the same context as North America or Europe.  The Andes always deliver a great ski experience.  I have seen it all in my 10 plus years here in South America and there is no such thing as a bad ski day in the Andes!

If you are considering a get away this summer there is still time to join us this season in Chile.  We have space available on two of our Chile tours.

Chile Tour T4: Aug 25 - Sep 07 (10 days skiing)
Chile Tour T5: Aug 25- Sep 02  (6 days skiing)

Visit the Chile Tour page for full details:

See you on the snow!

Gerry Winchester - Founder
DreamSki Adventures

Gerry's Blog