Above: Valle Nevado
Valle Nevado is the largest ski resort in the Southern Hemisphere with over 34 square-miles of terrain. It is part of Chile’s Tres Valles ski area, meaning that the same lift ticket is good at both La Parva and El Colorado as well. Overall, the terrain is largely intermediate, with most of the groomers designed for what the resort describes as "laid-back cruising." Adventure-seekers will still flock to Valle Nevado as it gains popularity for its excellent heli-skiing.
Portillo is smaller in size, but more extreme in terms of its terrain. It was the host of the 1966 World Championships for alpine racing, and has since served as a training ground for many Olympic teams and celebrity skiers during the North Hemisphere summer. There are only a handful of groomed trails, and much of the appeal of Portillo lies in its hike-to terrain and its high speed, multi-person poma lifts that pull skiers up the sides of the bowl.
Above: View of the Laguna del Inca from the deck of Ski Portillo
The Lodging and Amenities:
Valle Nevado is home to three hotels and a few condo buildings, each offering its own individual amenities, including restaurants, pools, hot tubs, and vibe. The lodgings are modern at Valle Nevado, with much of it being built in the past few decades. The Hotel Puerta del Sol is the most famous silhouette at the top of the mountain, commanding some of the best views, with moderate pricing. The eponymous Hotel Valle Nevado is the luxurious offering, with designer furniture and the chic crowd to sit in it. For budget travelers, Hotel Tres Puntas is where you'll want to be. They're all on the same mountaintop; the prices only mean a different standard of amenities.
There is only one hotel at Portillo: Ski Portillo. When at capacity, it accommodates about 500 guests, and has a pool, large hot tubs, fitness center, restaurant, bar, and disco on site. The hotel was built in the 1940s and has changed very little since those first years, making it a very historical place. That said, while the dining room walls could talk, the food and service are up to date with the times. Modern amenities, such as wireless Internet, are also now offered. And don't forget about Tio Bob's, one of South America's best apres ski spots.
Because of its infrastructure, Valle Nevado plays more like a traditional North American ski resort, attracting a wide variety of overnight guests and day trippers with different priorities and interests. Instruction for beginners of all ages is available, but you'll be buzzed along the slopes by the best skiiers in the world; Valle Nevado is the training ground for many winter Olympic ski teams, plus host to events like the Copa Atilio (Chile's oldest slopestyle competition).
The experience at Portillo is a lot different due to its intimate size and limited lodging. It is often compared to that of a cruise ship in that 1) Most people come and ski at the resort for a week, usually Saturday to Saturday 2) Dining is included in your stay and, like a cruise ship, there are seating times for breakfast, lunch, and dinner 3) Everyone stays at the same hotel and there is only one restaurant, one bar, one pool area, and one nightclub, allowing guests to get to know each other very quickly and making socializing easy and unavoidable.
Above: Valle Nevado's concentration of hotels and condos
Cynthia D. also contributed to this story
[Photos: Facebook, Cynthia Drescher]