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Los Penitentes - Mendoza

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

Terrific snow and slopes at Los Penitentes, Mendoza
A few simple lifts in some magnificent mountains

Ski Area Facts and Figures:

3,194m (10,479ft)
2,580m (8,465ft)
Vertical Drop:
614m (2,014t)
November through March
2 Double Chairs, 1 T-Bar, 4 Surface Lifts
20% Beginner, 30% Intermediate, 30% Advanced, 20% Expert
Tickets, 1995:
Adults: US$30
Children: $23


Los Penitentes is a mid-sized ski resort on the international highway between Santiago and Mendoza. Penitentes began operations in 1979 and fills the huge gap between Mendoza's local resort, Vallecitos, and the international-level development of Portillo, 30km (19 miles) west. It serves a national market of weekenders from Mendoza, Argentina and ski weekers from the cities of Santa Fe, Córdoba, Tucumán, and Buenos Aires. Penitentes is characterized by a few simple lifts which ascend the base of some magnificent mountains. With the summit of Aconcagua, the highest peak in the Western Hemisphere, about 25km (15 miles) distant, it is easy to imagine the ruggedness of the terrain. Unlike Portillo which has a higher elevation, the snow at Los Penitentes is often thin even when Las Leñas and Portillo have good coverage. When it does snow, the avalanche problems at Penitentes are more severe than at any other ski resort in South America, and many local Mendocinos refuse to risk skiing these slopes.

New in '97

There's nothing new to report from Penitentes. As usual, the resort was plagued by poor snow conditions last season. With minimal days of operation, economic factors limit the future of this precarious resort.


Los Penitentes is located in the Valley of the Cruz de Caña which branches north from the Uspallata Valley. The ski area is surrounded by the high peaks of Santa María to the west, Cerro Leñas to the north, and Cerro Cruz de Caña to the east. On the south side are the Río de las Cuevas and the opposing slopes of Cerro Penitentes, so named because of the multitude of rocky spires which cover its north face.

Skiing Tips

More than one day will not be required for most skiers to fully explore Penitentes' slopes, and the ski area is best visited as a brief stop between Portillo and Las Leñas. The first chairlift, called Las Pircas, reaches the top of the Lomo, a flat bench which splits the ski area into two vertical parts.

All the beginner terrain is spread out east from the base complex on four popular rope tows with a run on either side of each. Intermediate skiers will find a challenge from the top of the San Antonio run. Advanced and expert skiers should traverse left from the top of the Guanaco chairlift to ski the Morro Godoy and Tobogan runs. On the right side, try the Valle Azúl bowl which drops into the Cruz de Caña Valley. Or, try traversing high across this canyon to ski the west and south-facing slopes of the Cruz de Caña Mountain.

Adventure Skiing

There are many off-piste skiing possibilities in the Penitentes area. The most obvious areas are on the slopes of Cruz de Caña and Cerro Leñas, but more serious overnight tours can originate from the ski area as well. The main chute at the ski area is reached with a high traverse, past Tobogan, to the wide and looming east-facing chute on Cerro Santa María. Skiing the main bowl itself is not an extremely technical challenge, but some of the entrances are demanding. Another popular excursion is to ski to Punta de Vacas from the top of Cruz de Caña.

Extreme avalanche danger exists at the ski area. The bottom of the Guanacos chair has been wiped out several times by avalanches. Most avalanches are directed away from the base area by the ridge at the top of Las Pircas. Slides from the Valle Azúl and other starting zones often run down the Cruz de Caña canyon to the beginner areas. Skiers should exercise utmost caution when skiing at Los Penitentes and should probably avoid the area after storms.

Nordic Skiing

Good ski tours could also be based at the ski area but the extreme avalanche danger again demands serious attention. If the snow coverage is sufficient, the Uspallata Valley is wide and flat enough for great touring alongside the highway between the small villages.

Information and Reservations:
In Mendoza:
Rufino Ortega 453
Tel/Fax: (61) 294868

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