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Cerro Las Leñas - Mendoza

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

Top Mendoza Ski Resort at the valley
Forever skiing at fabulous slopes of Las Leñas

Ski Area Facts and Figures:

3,340m (11,253ft)
2,240m (7,349ft)
Vertical Drop:
1,100m (3,904ft)
Early June to mid-October
1 Quad Chair, 6 Double Chairs, 5 Surface Lifts
5% Beginner, 35% Intermediate, 25% Advanced, 35% Expert
Tickets, 1997:
Adults: US$27-42
Teens: US$22-35


The gigantic ski area at Valle de Las Leñas is aptly described in one simple statement - on a clear day, you can ski forever. What this means is that Las Leñas has more lift-serviced ski terrain than any other ski area in the Western Hemisphere. More than Jackson Hole, more than Whistler/Blackcomb. Combine Vail and Snowbird, remove all the lifts that parallel each other, and you have a fair representation of Las Leñas. The mountain's only flaw is that inclement weather and extreme avalanche danger often keep the majority of the mountain closed. In addition, only strong, experienced skiers are qualified to ski most of the upper slopes. But, this should not deter skiers of more modest abilities. Las Leñas also has plenty of groomed runs for intermediate and advanced skiers. And, the base facilities are of an international level. Some 13 separate hotel structures and over 10 diverse restaurants and bars cater to guests after skiing hours. The resort also offers a casino, a shopping center, and a complete infrastructure to serve its multi-national clientele.

New in '97

Well, that was what I wrote in 1991. Las Leñas has changed much. Most importantly to skiers, the old Juno chairlift was moved down to the lower mountain (Minerva). This has removed an entire sector of skiing from the mountain and concentrated more people on the huge face. Juno rarely operated, so the move was probably best for business, but about 30% of the skiable terrain was lost. A quad chairlift (Caris) has also been installed on the face. This lift starts at Minerva and follows the ridge on the south side of the main face. Additionally, no World Cup races have been held in the 1990s, and Las Leñas has lost its status as an important training center. On the other hand, it has hosted extreme skiing and professional competitions in recent years.

The other big change at Las Leñas is the diversification of the base facilities. New owners of the resort now lease each facility to different concessionaires. The idea is to have open competition among the various hotels, restaurants, and shops. This program has improved services but the resort remains pricey. In addition, it is extremely difficult to find out information about Las Leñas. Not only could I not learn lift ticket prices during my travels in Mendoza and Buenos Aires, but I couldn't even find their offices. Packages are sold by tour operators in various countries, but independent travelers will have difficulties. The new website (see below) should help.


The Valle de Las Leñas is located at the southern end of the Alto Cordillera opposite the city of Curicó in Chile. The valley runs north-south before it turns west to the Valle Hermoso about 25km (16 miles) from the international border. Las Leñas is just south of the site of the plane crash of Uruguayan rugby players, described in the book Alive. Las Leñas means "the firewood," and is so named because of the profusion of a particularly woody bush in the treeless valley.

The high peak on the opposite side of the valley, often seen in ski area promotions, is called Cerro Las Leñas. Other landmarks include Torrecillas, the highest mountain in the ski area (3,771m, 12,372ft), El Collar, the skiable mountain just east of old Juno, and Entre Ríos which is adjacent to Torrecillas and has a huge bowl that is popular with off-piste skiers. The mountain is known for the extreme winds and fierce blizzards that arrive most frequently in late July and August. The spring months are best for good snow and permissive weather. The early 1980s saw 65% sunny days in the ski season, with annual snowfall at the base averaging 3500mm (138in) but varying between extremes from 720mm (28in) in 1985 to 8450mm (333in) in 1982.

Skiing Tips

Las Lenas can be divided into two sectors. The first encompasses all the face runs and includes the short Eros access poma which has night skiing until 8.00pm, the Minerva lifts, and Urano, the northernmost lift in the ski area. The Vesta chair provides access to Vulcano which reaches farthest up the face and is a popular intermediate area. Finally, the new Caris chair accesses a snow-covered ridge above the ski area's central canyon.

The second sector includes the beginner Venus chairlift and the more advanced Neptuno which ascend a deep and broad avalanche canyon with steep walls and chutes on both sides. Marte carries skiers out of this canyon from the top of Neptuno and accesses the short but strategic Iris poma lift. It is from here that expert skiers access the top of the face. Trail ratings should not be construed as signifying that there is little beginner terrain, as 5% of a huge ski resort represents more area than 50% at most smaller ski hills. Beginners should start with Venus 2, an easier and prettier run than the more popular Eros. Intermediate skiers should begin on Apolo and progress to Jupiter as confidence is gained. Advanced skiers flock to Jupiter 1, a run that dips and rolls over the moraine deposits in the glacial valley below Torrecillas.

Expert skiers are often frustrated in accessing some of the areas visible from below. For example, at the top of the main face is a large, featureless, wind-swept plateau that makes it very difficult to find previously scouted bowls and chutes. The Catex cable system provides good reference points. Begin a traverse from the half-way point of the Iris poma and proceed carefully. El Collar could still be reached with a long, high traversing hike to the top of old Juno. There is a remarkable variety of terrain here, and the snow is usually corned and unstable in the spring. Or, explore the terrain north of the top of Vulcano. Stay high for a long traverse to south-facing chutes and return via Urano, or hike behind the tiny patrol shack and discover the steep and untracked chutes which drop into a river gulch. Traverse left to avoid an unmarked and frozen 15m-high waterfall in the lower end of this gulch. Rules need to be restated for Las Leñas. Never ski alone, beware of unmarked hazards off-piste, and know some avalanche basics before venturing too far. Bring and wear avalanche transceivers if you own them, even inside ski area boundaries. Be extra careful on cloudy or snowy days, as avalanche warnings and closures are minimal by US standards.

Adventure Skiing

There's so much great lift-accessed skiing at Las Leñas that there is no need to venture outside of the ski area. But, some skiers still insist on exploring. A popular route with the ski instructors is the broad east face on south side of the Neptuno canyon. This is reached from Juno with a long traverse along the El Collar ridge. The return to the ski area is then completed with a pickup on the Las Leñas road a few kilometers south of the ski area. An excellent booklet was published in 1994, in Spanish and poor English, that describes and maps the expert terrain in and around Las Lenas. It is a highly recommended guide to all who visit and is available in the better bookshops of Buenos Aires and Mendoza.

Marte. The chairlift of every skier's dreams. It's a silly place for a chairlift, really. Ascending over the throat of a 1,500m-long (5,000ft) double chute, it was destroyed by a midnight avalanche in 1987. New control and defense systems should prevent a similar occurrence in the future, but they won't. Who cares anyway, as long as they keep rebuilding it? - Forget the rest of Las Leñas. No skier could ever find - let alone ski - all the possibilities presented by this chairlift. Marte. World Cup racers can't complete a non-stop from the top. Marte. With a compassfull of exposures, all conditions are always available somewhere. Marte. Marte defines extreme. Thanks, Tito.

Nordic Skiing

New trail maps have eliminated the cross-country track at the base of Las Leñas. This simply means that skiers should not expect to find groomed tracks at the resort. Good touring remains up the valley (north, then west) to the Laguna del Valle. Nordic skiers will find plenty of terrain here and also in the valley which continues west from the sharp right turn to Las Leñas about 4km before the ski area. Avalanche danger can be extreme, so keep an eye on the higher slopes above the valleys

Information and Reservations:
In Mendoza, BA, San Rafael:
sorry I can't help - if anyone can provide
some current info, I'd be happy to list it.

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