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Cerro Chapelco, Argentina


11 lifts (7 chairlifts, 4 surface lifts) 2642 acres, 2378 vertical feet, 1 terrain park

Lying in the mountains of northern Patagonia, the spectacular Cerro Chapelco resort hovers above the striking Lake Lacar and the picturesque town of San Martin de los Andes. With vistas extending into Chile and the nearby national parks, Cerro Chapelco is perhaps, one of the most beautiful ski resorts in South America and undoubtedly one of the gems of Argentina.  With mostly modern lifts and the ideal ski town of San Martin less then 15 miles away, it is easy to see why hordes of Argentines choose to come to this resort all season long.

The top of the resort peaks out at the 6,500 feet, Cerro (mountain) Teta. From here the views are jaw dropping and the runs drop down some of the best lines of the mountain. Going left off of the Teta quad wraps around to the steepest terrain Chapelco has to offer. The expert rated Norte and Del Patrulla drop down a huge bowl and lead to a giant steep gully or a wind lipped cornice where 2 to 40 foot drops can be had. The Filo pulma lifts climbs up on the far rider’s left of the resort. Traversing even more left from here, La Pala is a back country area with long gullies and rock outcroppings. It is advised to go with somebody that knows the line back to the resort, since the traverse back is a little tricky.

Below the Filo pulma, the runs are mainly intermediate groomers that lead all the way to the bottom of the resort.  From the bottom there are three lifts that run in succession up the mountain. If the snow pack or quality is variable in some areas, just choose the lift with the best conditions and lap it. However, if the long lift lines don’t seem to be going anywhere, ride to the very bottom and cruise up the Telecabina (gondola).  The Telecabina unloads at the mid mountain nucleus of the resort. A few restaurants, bars, and one of the ski schools are all based here. The 5.3 km Camino trail commences as it switch backs down the mountain through the very unusual Lenga forest. The forest is perfectly spread out for glad skiing, but the landscape is completely different from anything in the northern hemisphere. The hardwood Lenga trees seem to glow with this neon green, hair-like moss that covers the trunks from top to bottom.

Riding through this mystical area is quite surreal and an experience in its own.

Terrain Park: The small park is rider’s right from the mid mountain plaza and only has 2 small kickers and 4 rails/boxes. Unfortunately not much time or thought is invested here.

Lessons: 1 hour privates are (low/high season) $28/30, group lessons are sold as multi-day packages: 3 day 2 hour lessons are (low/high season) $51/63 and 3 day 4 hour lessons are (low/high) $144/184.  Kids (6-15) 3 day 4 hour lessons are (low/high) $75/107, 3 day 6 hour lessons are (low/high) $106/139.

Child care for over 3 months old is available 9:30-5:30. Half/full day is $12/20.

Lift tickets: adult high/mid/low season $38/31/22, kids 5-11 high/mid/low $31/28/17, kids 4 and under are free, seniors over 60-69 high/mid/low $31/28/17, seniors over 70 are free.

Dining: At the bottom of the mountain, Le Base ($) offers a wide variety of options from soups and steaks to sandwiches and crepes. The midmountain Antulauquen ($) restaurant lies in the center of all the action at the top of the gondola. The bustling eatery has 3 options: crepes from the Crepperre, a cafeteria style buffet, and pizzas.

Pradera del Puma ($) lies at the bottom of Cerro Mocho and the “T” bar lift. This bar/restaurant has one of the best views overlooking the lake and valley below.  The outdoor seating and deck make it a great choice for an afternoon beverage or meal. On sunny days a parrilla (barbeque) is set up serving Argentine steaks.

In the town of San Martin los Andes there are scores of restaurants and parrillas (barbeques). It is best to make reservations especially during the high season. El Regional ($$), 425-326, prepares exquisite gourmet meals and brews its own beer. The house specialty is the wild boar and venison.

When extremely hungry check out the “all you can eat” buffet at El Tenedor ($) 427-597.  Pisicis ($-$$) 423-247 specializes in authentic Argentine food. Top quality meats and pastas are available with a world class wine list.

If you are too tired to go out after a good day on the slopes, utilize the delivery services of La Nonna Pizzeria ($) 422-223 for incredible, home made pizzas, or La Casa de las Empanadas ($) 421-811 for hand made empanadas.

Lodging: With no accommodations at the resort, the delightful town of San Martin de los Andes is the hotel mecca of the area. During the busy season, July/August, reservations are needed. Numerous hostels, hotels, and cabanas (little houses) are scattered all over town, and the tourist office ((02972)425-500 or 427-347) at Avenida San Martin and J.M. de Rosas can check availability and arrange reservations.

When traveling with 3 or more people, cabanas are comfortable options that usually come with a fireplace and cozy living room, such as Cabanas Las Rosas ($,, (02972) 422-002). Set a half a block from the lake, the beautiful Las Rosas has great views looking out at the lake and spacious 2 floor houses that can sleep up to 6 people.  The friendly owner speaks English and is very helpful.

A few blocks from the center of town, Las Marias Cabanas ($, , (02972) 428-288) is another great option.

In the center of town, the 3-star Hostal del Esquiador ($$,, (02972) 427-674) presents top rate quality and service at an extremely reasonable rate.

Other Activities: Chapelco offers snowmobile, dog sledding, and snow shoeing tours all conducted from the mid mountain area above the gondola. In San Martin de los Andes, Naviera Lacar & Nonthue ($10-25, [email protected], 428-427) runs a few different ferry tours on the stunning Lake Lacar. The ride starts at the boat dock in town and cruises through the Lanin National Park. Three blocks from the center of town, Spa Sonne (423-602, can ease the pain with one of their many massages, saunas, and Jacuzzis.

Getting There: From the bus terminal next to the lake, Bus Ko-Ko goes to Chapelco at 9:30, 12:30, & 4:00, and returns from the mountain at 10:15, 1:15. 5:45 ($3 round trip). Taxis also do a one way trip for $14, and are often an easier option. Many buses travel between Bariloche and Chile daily. Tickets and information can be found at the bus terminal next to the lake.

Photos courtesy of Cerro Chapelo, Argentina