Many people think about South America first as a place that has a wealth of wonderful beach destinations and historic sites to explore. However, the continent is a great destination for great winter activities too.
You can find great winter activities in South America like skiing and snowboarding. There are fantastic resorts that range from family friendly to thrill seeking expert runs.
There are also other activities to enjoy as well, so here are a few of the best snow activities that you can enjoy in South America, and where to try them.
Where in South America Will You Find Snow?
Look for mountains! For most parts of South America this will mean the Andes mountains. Countries with Andes have snow for much of the winter with some peaks having snow throughout the year.
Even as far north as Colombia and Ecuador you will find some snow in the highlands, and countries such as Bolivia, Peru, Argentina and Chile are well known for the snowfall in winter.
In general the further south that you travel in South America, the greater the snowfall you will generally encounter. This is particularly true in the southern regions of Patagonia in Chile and Argentina, snow is common in lower lying areas too.
In terms of active skiing resorts, South America has resorts in Chile and Argentina, While Bolivia did have one resort, sadly the progress of the rise in global temperatures means that it is very rarely possible to ski there anymore.
In Argentina, the skiing season runs from mid-June to October. As in other areas of the world, the closer you are to the center of the season, the better you will generally find the conditions. The most popular resorts are in the Mendoza region, with Las Lenas being well known for having some very challenging expert runs with plenty of elevation drop. Los Penitentes is another nearby resort in the far west of the country, near the border with Chile that is very popular for skiing.
In the Patagonia region of Argentina, Caviahue is a resort with a great selection of routes for novices and intermediate skiers. As well Cerro Catedral is the closest resort to the city of Bariloche, and is very popular, with a good range of intermediate and expert runs to choose from.
Chile is home to some of the most famous ski resorts in the region. If convenience is important to you or you're short on travel time, there is also a good selection of resorts with an hour's drive of the capital and main airport in Santiago.
There is no doubt that with its distinctive yellow hotel at the bottom of the valley, and some of the fastest slopes in the world, the resort at Portillo is the premier skiing destination in Chile for the expert skier, while the chance to warm up in the rooftop hot-tub after a day on the slopes.
The three valleys area has the closest resorts to Santiago, with good skiing for beginners and intermediate skiers at Valle Nevado, El Colorado and La Parva. If you fancy heading further south in Chile, Ski Pucon is a resort on a volcano which has some spectacular views over the surrounding area, and good intermediate runs to enjoy too.
Ice climbing is another activity that can get you very close to the exciting mountains in South America. While it can be a challenging activity you don't have to be an expert to have great experiences here.
There is a great selection of ice climbing schools and courses where you can learn more about the activity. The Cordillera Real range in Bolivia a good learning ground that has some nice summits and interesting climbs where you can learn your skills. Cotopaxi in Ecuador is another good place to learn and build your ice climbing skills with local guides. It's only a short distance from Quito, the capital of Ecuador, and is one of the more economical countries to visit in South America.
However, if you are a little more seasoned and have experience of ice climbing, the Andes also has some of the most spectacular climbs that you will find anywhere in the world. The route up the steep ice walls of Alpamayo in Peru providing challenging and exhilarating climbs in stunning surroundings. If you are looking for an area with a good variety of different ice climbs, the series of mountains around the Cajon del Maipo canyon in Chile is a great option, with some great Alpine climbing to enjoy.
While many people enjoy skiing, there is also a strong community who are just as passionate about zipping over the snow on one blade rather than two. The ski and snowboarding resorts in South America are just as happy to cater to boarders too. There are some great places to visit, and the major ski resorts are usually just as popular among those on the snowboards as they are with skiers.
Those that draw the most snowboarders have good freestyle parks and natural terrain, which will often mean natural pipes that allow boarders to show off their skills. Las Lenas is one of the best examples of this, with some good free-riding areas and a terrain park. Nevado de Chillan is another resort that prepares a decent terrain park, and some good rolling terrain and off-piste routes.
However, it is the resort of Arpa in Chile that tends to get the best press in terms of its snowboarding, with an extensive freestyle terrain park, a great range of terrain and some wonderful features such as cliff drops and natural pipes that makes for a wonderful experience.
If you enjoy the wonderful scenery of snow-capped peaks but don't fancy the ice axes and crampons of ice climbing, there are also plenty of hikes among the mountains of South America that allow you to get an up close view of these wonderful snowy mountain vistas. Not all snowy paths need special boots either, and many of these routes will allow you to walk on the snow without needing much more than a stick and a reasonable balance.
The El Altar Trek in Ecuador can be completed in as little as three days, with longer routes available, taking you up into an imposing valley with snow capped peaks and cliffs all around. Peru is another country with some great routes. While the Inca Trail closes in the winter, the Huayhuash Trek is one which takes you over seven passes above 4,500 meters in altitude, and right among the high Andes, past some amazing viewpoints. Another short but exhilarating hike is the Cerro Castillo Circuit, taking you around the mountain and climbing over some impressive mountain passes, while also taking you through a great variety of terrain along the way.
While skiing and snowboarding offer a great way to enjoy the snow covered slopes of the Andes, snowmobiling is great for those who don't want to have to learn a new sport.
Most skiing resorts will have companies offering this service, and locations such as Las Lenas are popular places to take a snowmobile zipping over the fresh powder. This is a great family activity too, and for younger children there are often larger snowmobiles with several seats available, or some guides will allow children to ride with them, allowing youngsters to also enjoy the thrill of the journey.