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  • Writer's pictureAndy Hirschfeld

Escape The Heat: Tres Valles: The Ski Resort You Probably Haven’t Heard Of

Today in New York, it’s sunny and thundershowers — mid to high eighties but with high humidity if it feels so much hotter. Millions of people across the city seek refuge with illegally opened fire hydrants or overflowing public pools. Speaking of urine, its stench is baked into our sidewalks — whether it be from your dog, your neighbor’s dog, or your neighbor.

Don’t get me wrong, summer in New York City is magical with lively rooftop parties, picnics in the park with your closest friends and if you have central A/C, the world is your oyster.

You are by far the most popular person at least for the season and to be honest makes “I have central A/C” to be the most seductive seasonally based pick up line.

Despite its magic, there is a place even more magical to go to — a place that doesn’t regularly smell like a neglected bathroom —the Andes Mountains in Chile.

The unrivaled fresh air is just a 10 hour flight away — dew south.

It’s a key destination for the avid skier or boarder that just can’t wait until December to hit the slopes.

Headed Uber and cabs with their gear — confusing drivers in the process — I opted for the nonstop to Santiago Chile’s Arturo Merino Benítez International Airport with the group of 18 I traveled with. Even upon arrival you know this place is something special simply the view from the parking lot leaves you in awe.

Choosing where to ski in South America is a bit challenging for the average traveler. That’s because the majority of the global press focuses on one key resort called Portillo.

I fell victim to that information gap. Part of the reason I wanted to try out Chilean skiing in the first place was because of the significant coverage of Portillo in the New York Times. The first time for me was a piece I read 15 years ago while I lived in steamy Houston, Texas. Escaping the often unbearable heat of the Gulf Coast was a motivator. A piece in the Travel section invigorated my curiosity. The report convinced me that at some point I would ski there. The stream of articles since then only reinforced that desire. That I would get to make regular “Andy In The Andes” pegged jokes was just an added bonus.

But once I got on the ground, a resort town off of the beaten path, at least from the context of global north, caught my attention. Situated near the town of Farellones there are three resorts — El Colorado, Valle Nevado, and La Parva — an area dubbed Tres Valles (three valleys).

Farellones is a short although treacherous drive from Santiago. The road is so daunting authorities only let people drive in one direction at a time.

Once you make up the zig zagging, stomach-churning mountain pass you are in a ski resort that (although close to a major city with a population bigger than Los Angeles, California proper, feels more like you are in a remote portion of the Andes Mountains.

There is no way around it; the altitude is a challenge. Even with medications like Diamox along with rest, water and chlorophyll drops, adjusting can be rough.

The highest of the three is Valle Nevado which has a skiable area as high as more than 12 thousand feet above sea level. If you opt to adventurously venture higher — which you’ll need to access by hiking — is Cerro Plomo peak which reaches around 17 thousand feet above sea level. El Colorado is the lowest — just shy of 11,000 feet.

Once acclimated the skiing varies in a way that U.S. ski resorts just can’t play ball with. First off, the terrain is actually fairly diverse.

There are runs that are really easy and great spaces to learn for beginners. Simultaneously there are challenging back country off-piste runs that appeal to experienced boarders and skiers.

I cannot overstate how important this is.

Snowbird, Utah – one of the United States’ most notoriously difficult ski resorts — a green circle there could easily pass as a black diamond on the east coast. The resorts alongside Farellones are properly assessed.

But even before your skiers or board touch the snow the first thing you notice is the whole resort is above tree line. The marked trails are separated by fences if at all.

There is an abundant variety of terrain to try out. It ranges significantly. From groomed trails that give the snow the manicured look — you can embrace the satisfaction of breaking through the serrated carvings of a snowcat or being the first to innocence of fresh untouched virgin snow where avid riders long to get fresh tracks.

Best of all, if you want to try both, it’s not a haul across the mountain. These runs are often right next to each other without the coniferous tree boundaries that are part of the standard in much of North America.

This is a blessing and a curse.

There is a lot of space to navigate and work on your skills and technique.

The mountain’s have stunning straight ways where you can pick up a superb amount of speed to show off. However with no trees it's much harder to navigate rocks and other troubled spots that could obstruct your path ahead.

That can turn your speed demon moment into a showcase for your potentially debilitating wipeout that can put you in a cast for months at a time (yes, I am speaking from personal experience on this one).

If you have an accident fortunately the resort is within an hour and half of some of the best hospitals in the country.

The lifts are an attraction in and of themselves in an intellectual curiosity kind of way. There’s a disproportionate amount of T-bar and J-bar lifts than chair options.

If you’re like me, this whole experience was brand new. Of my 30 years on the planet (27 of them skiing) I have never used a T-Bar lift in the states. At El Colorado, the chairlifts have their charm. The rustic and frankly scary maintenance adds to the authenticity of the ambiance. In one case, while on a triple chair I shared with two snowboarders the safety bar just broke off.

While it is scary, it has a certain unhinged charm to it. It gives you the authentic feel of a place that’s more about the experience rather than the looks. I’ll take good skiing over pretty chair lifts and gondolas anytime.

If you are looking for something aimed towards the most advanced skiers and boarders among us, Valle Nevado is considered the most challenging mountain in the area. It is rated both number one for the best expert terrain in South America and best intermediate terrain in all of Chile. It also has the most ambitious mountain village of the three— with a dusting of stellar culinary options.

More broadly speaking, Farellones isn’t a place that really caters to U.S. tourists quite like Portillo — a U.S. owned resort. Valle Nevado is — to an extent — the exception with the most robust village.

The mountain is used for early season training for the U.S. national ski team as well as Germany, Norway, Austria and Russia.

For the boarders and skiers without Olympic ambitions, this is not a ‘gringo’ heavy destination. Noticeably there are very few that speak any English. That’s very reassuring to the seasoned traveler that wants to escape the U.S.ification of much of the world.

Work on your Spanish and enjoy world class skiing at the same time— a win/win in my book.

Where to stay is a big question for your trip to Tres Valles. The town is brimming with warm and inviting cabins, world-class hotels and charming Bed & Breakfasts like The Powder Lodge.

The Powder Lodge is intimate. With wood fired hot tubs and its large family size solo shared dining table this place is perfect for a midsize group (like 15 or so) to get to know each other or even a place to make new friends or have a more private experience with your partner away from the hustle and bustle of larger lodging options.

Portillo is a visually stunning resort in its own right but there is plenty more to see and ski in the Chilean Andes. At the top of a winding treacherous mountain pass it embraces the beauty and rawness of the Andes, overlooking Hotel Portillo which has become one the single most iconic ski hotels in the world.

Disclosure: This trip was a travel opportunity with OVRRIDE — the backer of this publication.


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