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Cerro Chapelco ski resort

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

Ski hill and chairlift at Cerro Chapelco Argentina
Volcano LANIN in San Martin de los Andes

Ski Area Facts and Figures:

1,970m (6,463ft)
1,250m (4,100ft)
Vertical Drop:
720m (2,363ft)
Early July to Late September
1 Gondola, 2 Quad Chairs, 1 Triple Chair, 2 Double Chairs, 1 T-Bar, 3 Surface Lifts
40% Beginner, 30% Intermediate, 15% Advanced, 15% Expert
Tickets, 1995:
Adults: US$33
Children: US$27


Chapelco is a newly refurbished ski area that was widely recognized as the best place to learn how to ski in Argentina. Under Alfred Auer's leadership, the ski school here introduced tens of thousands of Argentines to winter sport in the 1970s and '80s. Traditionally known for its gentle, tree-lined runs, new lifts were added in the late 1980s that opened up the advanced terrain above treeline. Today, Chapelco has become a sort of boutique ski area for those who shun the mob approach of Bariloche.

Perhaps the greatest pleasure of skiing at Chapelco is the friendly, picturesque, and uncrowded town of San Martín de Los Andes. The quiet tranquillity and surprising lack of "touristiness" is in sharp contrast to the intensity of Bariloche and the haughtiness of Las Leñas. The village sits in a flat valley at the eastern foot of Lago Lacar and is oriented not to the lake front, but to the geographic center of the valley. The town, and its prices, has grown rapidly over the past few years, but San Martin maintains its charm with Swiss-style architecture and araucaria-filled public parks and squares.


Chapelco is located 120km (75 miles) north of Bariloche. It sits in the middle of the short Cordón Chapelco, one of the few east-west ranges near the Andes. The ski area is set 13km (8 miles) above San Martín de Los Andes, the small village nestled in a valley at the eastern tip of the finger lake Lacar. About two-thirds of the ski area lies below treeline. The vegetation is of the deciduous rain forest native to the Lakes Regions of Argentina and Chile where lenga trees predominate. In spring, all skiing takes place above the top of the gondola. Though snow is nearly always thin around the base, it improves considerably on the upper slopes where all the advanced runs lie. It is important to ski early in the mornings, as Chapelco has Argentina's only developed north-facing slopes. Temperatures at Chapelco are rarely harsh, and rain is common on the lower slopes in the winter season. Though the weather may be damp in town, the upper slopes often remain clear and sunny. Storms can approach heavily laden from the Pacific, but it is far more common that they swirl up meekly from the drier southeast.

Skiing Tips

The gondola, the only six-passenger ski lift in South America, carries skiers to the 1,500m treeline. Beginners can enjoy the wide variety of lifts and runs below this point. Intermediate skiers descend the Mocho bowl to ski the T-Bar or the short, mogulled chutes of El Tubo. Advanced skiers might try the hidden ridge system called Norte. Though difficult to find, it keeps adventurous skiers occupied for hours with its varied aspects and snow types. Or, try the marked runs to the immediate right of Del Mallin which are long, consistent, and especially exciting when thin or hard snow provides an added challenge. The advanced runs accessed from both summit lifts are nearly always deserted. Fresh powder (or at least slush) tracks can always be made with minimal searching. One note of caution: the summit ridge drops precipitously on the back (south) side of both lifts into rocky cliffs and near-vertical chutes. On days when the fog reaches the top, be sure not to stray over the edge.

Adventure Skiing

The most accessible extreme skiing at Chapelco is at La Pala (The Shovel), the long bowl and chute system on the west side of the ski area. It is considered out-of-bounds because it is quite avalanche prone and the exit route at the bottom is flat and heavily wooded. It has become more popular over the last several years, but permission should still be sought from the patrollers who are likely to send skiers with a guide/instructor for their first descent. There is also a series of extreme chutes and bowls on the south face, some of which seem too vertical to hold snow even though they do. All empty into the basin of the Laguna Verde. This area offers some of South America's best skiing, but it won't be developed until a road is built into the site. A simple chairlift to retrieve skiers could do the trick, but there is already an abundance of under-utilized, advanced terrain.... In the meantime, check at the ski school desk to arrange helicopter pickups in the area, or hike out.

Nordic Skiing

Chapelco has several kilometers of cross-country skiing trails at the 1,500m level of the mountain. Nordic equipment is also available for rent in the shop at the base of Chapelco. Unfortunately, poor snow conditions frequently close the trail, and the northern aspect of the slope means slow, slushy snow.

Information and Reservations:
In Buenos Aires:
Bartolome Mitre 811, P1
Tel/Fax: (01) 328 1051
On Cerro Comandante Diaz (Chapelco Base):
Tel/Fax: (0972) 27 460, 27 944

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