As the ski lift reached the mountain top, I released my white knuckled grip on the J-bar and slid forward toward the majestic snow capped Andean peaks looming large in the distance. It was spring in South America and the backside of the mountain, was nearly empty, inhabited only by myself and the occasional lift operator. The resort was visible as a spec in the distance beyond the lift I had just exited, and a mountain vista of astonishing beauty stretched out before me. At that moment, I felt to be among the most privileged of people.
The Tres Puntas lift is a bucking bronco of a thing, with a tendency to violently throw its riders into the air at the start having handed me my first and only fall of my ski trip to Valle Nevado in Chile. It’s a J-Lift, usually referred to as a Poma, as are most of the lifts at this particular mountain. To a Colorado resident accustomed to chair lifts and Gondolas, the many long surface lifts provided an unexpected thigh burner of a workout up the mountain. As such, it’s good to take a break at the top of the lifts.
It’s worth noting that I was informed by several people during my six days on the mountain that I was lucky – at this time of the season in the year prior there had been no snow. The year of my visit I was treated to an almost completely open resort that was largely devoid of other skiers. It felt like my own personal mountain. I advise calling ahead to check on conditions prior to booking.
The Tres Valles System
Valle Nevado is part of the Tres Valles system of Chilean ski resorts, which also include La Parva and El Colorado to the north and west. Both of those other resorts are visible from various parts of the mountain and are accessible by skis if you can afford the lift tickets to them. Actually, in the case of La Parva, it’s possible to accidentally ski down the mountain to it. In this case, you would be stuck buying a lift ticket to get back to Valle Nevado on skis. Caution is advised in this regard. I caught myself just time – take note that any unmarked lifts in your Valle Nevado map may not be Valle Nevado lifts at all.
The resort is situated in a high mountain bowl and is known for its excellent powder in peak season, but spring visitors to all resorts in the area should be prepared to ski ice and crud. The mountain groomers did an excellent job with what was available and only one of the six days I skied was icy enough that I quit the mountain early for the bar. However, spring conditions are spring conditions, and visitors should be prepared for them.
Visitors should also be prepared to get to watch an incredible array of ski racers train in the mornings. One of my favorite activities was to sit on the patio outside the gondola unloading area and admire the skills of the racers after I had myself completed my morning runs.
Skiing aside, the resort has other offerings for non-skiers or skiers taking a break from the slopes. There’s a hot tub, outdoor fire place, and several shops, restaurants, and bars. It’s best to purchase a food package, as it’s particularly expensive to eat if you don’t. One can save a bit of money by filling up on soup and hot cocoa at the daily apres ski event before dinner. Tipping is expected and will be added to your bill at the end of your stay if you don’t tip along the way.
The treacherous class VI drive up the mountain is far enough from Santiago that transport will need to be arranged in advance and if you choose to not rent a car, it can be difficult to get to other areas. A shuttle is available from the hotel area to the base of the gondola and non-skiers are allowed to ride that gondola up to its end at mid mountain if they have a lift ticket. Some other shops are available at the gondola base, and food and drink are available mid mountain for skiers who do not pack snacks.
While reportedly not the most affordable ski resort in Chile, Valle Nevado is absolutely worth your time if you can manage it. The skiing is excellent, the vistas stunning, and the staff friendly and welcoming. They are also incredibly patient towards those with poor Spanish language skills and will even accept money in USD if you forget to exchange for some Chilean Pesos in advance. To these things I can attest from personal experience. Ski Chile, starting with Valle Nevado.