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Caviahue Ski South America

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Argentina Travel > Ski Resorts > Caviahue Ski Resort

CAVIAHUE


Text and Photos © 1992, 1996 Chris I. Lizza. All Rights Reserved.
Chris' South America Ski Guide can be purchased at amazon.com

The Caviahue Lake and Volcan. The hotel and ski area are up the wooded canyon on the right.
Nordic skiers in the spectacular
araucaria forest.








Ski Area Facts and Figures:

Elevations:
Top:
2,095m (6,875ft)
Bottom:
1,685m (5,530ft)
Vertical Drop:
410m (1,345ft)
Season:
mid-June to late-October
Lifts:
4:
1 Double Chair, 1 T-Bar, 2 Surface Lifts
Runs:
7:
40% Beginner, 40% Intermediate, 20% Advanced
Tickets, 1998:
unavailable



Introduction

About half-way between Las Leñas and Bariloche, against the border of Chile between Antuco and Lonquimay, is the 2,980m (9,775ft) summit of the Volcán Copahue. On the east side of this broad mountain, near the west shore of the U-shaped Lake Caviahue, an international-level ski resort is being built. What's impressive about this plan is not the five-star hotels, the French restaurants, or the flashy discos, but the mountain itself. A study undertaken by Montistudio Sherpa of Bolzano, Italy determined that the ski area has a potential for 120km (75 miles) of runs. It is shaped like a smaller Mammoth Mountain, with steep bowls on top and gentle hills near the base. Some 1,330 vertical meters (4,365ft) lie between the base and the summit. That would make Caviahue South America's biggest ski area.



The other attraction of this new ski area is the pristine beauty of one of the most remote areas in Argentina. The volcano's crater is filled with the same hot sulfur water that surfaces at the nearby hot springs resort of Copahue. Above treeline, an Antarctic landscape of snow-covered ridges and hills beckons skiers. Between the base of the mountain and the lake, araucaria groves fill the small valleys and cover the round hills. Hexagonal columns of basaltic rock form the surrounding cliffs, and the wide Río Agrio plunges over several edges. The protected paradise of Caviahue is being cautiously developed in cooperation with the watchful park management.



New in '98

What I wrote about as a project in my 1992 book has actually come to be. The infrastructure of this sparsely inhabited area is now complete. The access highways are among the best in Argentina, and daily bus service runs from Zapala. In 1991, the 60-room all-suites hotel, the Nirantal double chairlift, and the upper T-Bar were completed. 1995 saw abundant snow that buried the T-Bar and steady crowds that booked the hotel nearly all season long. That's when I was there as the guest of my generous colleague, Jorge Torres.

The great West African novelist Chinua Achebe explained how easily good fortunes can turn sour in his wonderful story Things Fall Apart. In Argentina, there is a popular song with the chorus cambia, toda cambia. Both apply to Caviahue. In 1996, the developer quit the venture and sold the hotel and lifts back to the Neuquen Province. Ente Provincial de Termas, a state entity, was then formed to operate the resort. Caviahue has a very uncertain future. Unable to attract a new private concessionaire, it is doubtful that Caviahue will see much growth in the years ahead. But, huge potential and excellent off-piste ski adventures will continue to attract skiers in the years ahead.

I'd like to add a note here about the Apart Hotel Farellon. Though the ski slopes are a bit limited at this stage, the hotel gives guests a special experience. It resembles, and is probably modeled after, the Gran Hotel Portillo with an arcing shape and several levels of shops and services. All the rooms are set up as suites to accommodate the local families that form the bulk of the clientele. I happened to arrive on the first night of the season's final ski week. That evening, with the complementary welcome cocktail, and giant snowflakes drifting down outside, I witnessed the fireside orientation in which each department head introduced himself and presented an outlook for the week. I learned about the morning stretching classes, the thermal baths for after skiing, and the gourmet dining the guests would be enjoying throughout the week. After some early snowcat skiing in the fresh snow under crystaline blue skies the next morning, I was ready to cancel the remainder of my trip and stay the week.



Geography

Caviahue is located in Neuquen Province at the base of the Copahue volcano. Just to the north of the resort, and accessed in winter by snowcat, is the Termas de Copahue, a modest hot springs resort famous for its thermal baths. These and other nearby springs drain into Lake Caviahue which is a lovely but somewhat toxic lake due to the volcanic minerals that pour into it. Though there are no fish, local bird and animal life is abundant.

Caviahue is accessed from the provincial capital of Neuquen or from Bariloche via Zapala, a small but comfortable mining town 380kms south of Caviahue. The boring drive becomes spectacular as the lake is neared - a lunar landscape of sandy, pitted cliffs and giant, misplaced boulders gives way to a grassy, pastoral canyon until the top of the pass reveals the green lake below. Araucaria trees then appear lakeside. The hotel is found in the heart of this volcanic araucaria forest. Caviahue is located in a very delicate and unique ecosystem. Any development and all activitiy that occurs here respects every araucaria tree as well as the other native flora and fauna.



Skiing Tips

While the hotel resembles the lodge at Portillo, the slope layout is very similar to Valle Nevado: one long chairlift services flat terrain but accesses an upper T-Bar to the right that offers good advanced skiing. All the groomeded runs of the Nirantal chairlift, which runs 1,400m from the base to the top of a small ridge above, are rated beginner. There is some advanced skiing in the spectacular araucaria groves to the north of the chairlift, but these are best skied on the return from the upper T-Bar.

The T-Bar offers several steeper though short options between local ridges and rises. traverses and hikes can be made from the top of the T-Bar to add diversity. Until the scheduled lift network to the summit is completed, snowcats will carry skiers to the top for full-length descents. Five runs have been identified, and the long run ends back at the hotel.



Nordic Skiing

Caviahue is the best place for nordic skiing on the continent (outside of Ushuaia). With consistent snow and spectacular scenery, cross country skiers are already coming from Bariloche and San Martín. Two nordic circuits have been laid out - one of 7.5km and the other, near the Copahue hot springs, is 30km long. Nordic equipment is available to rent. Great backcountry skiing is also abundant in the region, and an epic trip through the Copahue Pass to the Biobío River and Lonquimay in Chile could begin here.




Information and Reservations:
In Buenos Aires:

At Caviahue:
Tel: (0948) 95 117
Fax: 95 119

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