SANTIAGO – Its July, mid-winter in Chile, but winter hasn´t arrived the way winter sport fans hoped for. See it for yourself: the cordillera shows more mountain than snow. And that while Chile has a long history with skiing and snowboarding on the slopes of the Andes.
It’s getting cold out there, and with that come Chile’s most popular winter activities: skiing and snowboarding. It’s a very exciting time of the year for a vast number of Chileans and foreigners who love the snow, and the Andes mountains are building up their white veils, getting ready for the season. All along the mountain range, between Valparaíso, Magallanes and the Chilean Antarctic, Chile is home to 18 ski resorts of international quality, and from June until September it is possible to practice winter sports. Close to the capital, el Colorado, Farellones, La Parva, Lagunillas, Portillo and Valle Nevado open their doors to winter sports every year.
It all started with three Norwegians who were the first to slide down the slopes on skis over the snowed Andes, and with them came Norwegian engineers brought by the Chilean government. Einar Rosenqvist, Miguel Hermundsen and Knud Berg started the studies for constructions of the Transandine Railroad back in 1887.
In 1917, the Chilean Alberto Fabres Pinto was the first to bring his friends to what we now call Lagunillas. The first resort opened in the area named “El Paraguas.” Here, the Department of Tourism hired a German professor Günter Oeltze von Lobenthal to organize the teaching of the sport in Chile. Thanks to him, on July 11, 1931, the Ski Club Chile was formed with 87 founding associates.
By the end of 1931, some of the more adventurous associates of the Ski Club started dedicating their time to exploring the mountain range in search of more snowy slopes that would let them practice their sport closer to the Metropolitan area. Every week, they would embark on a journey to “Corral Quemado,” there they would sleep and start early the next morning ascending by mule or by foot. Three hours later, they would arrive at a place now called Gran Bajada de Farellones (Great Farellones Trail), where only at 50 km from the capital, they would admire a majestic view.
From 1934, with the help of Agustín Edwards Budge, author of the book “Ski” about his experiences Skiing in Europe at the time, it took them two years to start building the road up the mountain until “curva 40” which they would finish by 1939. In 1935 Ski Club Chile built “Refugio Chico”, followed by the “Gran Refugio” which opened its doors allowing for a place to eat and sleep. In 1965 the road from Farellones to Colorado was built, and in 1966 electricity finally reached the mountains.
The ski resorts have not stopped growing, becoming what they are now thanks to many years of hard work and passion for winter sports. These centers offer cabins, restaurants and even hotels for those who want to spend a weekend. Rentals are available as well as teachers who are eager to teach anyone, from toddlers to adults. Lastly, plenty of companies offer round trips for a decent price. Of course, taking a personal car and parking is always a choice, although chains for the wheels are mandatory by law.
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Chile has been part of almost every Winter Olympics since then, and out of the seven sports represented they have competed in two: Alpine Skiing and Biathlon, adding up to 14 different competitions. Portillo itself was home to the World Championship of Alpine Skiing, while Valle Nevado has one of the biggest skiable areas in South America.
With all this in mind, 2018 brings a new season filled with innovations. Although it depends on the climate conditions and how much snow the mountains accumulate, all of the centers have announced the beginning of the season during late June. This year, a new sport has come to life on the slopes, Snow Kite. It’s not uncommon to see, on El Cono slope in El Colorado, the bottom of the snow boards of the people suspended by snow-gliders by the strong wind currents.
Unfortunately, unlike the 30s and 40s, many of the officially opened slopes don’t count with enough snow for an easy descent. High risk of coming across big rocks that could spoil one’s skis are keeping tourists and citizens waiting anxiously for the next snowfall. Last year, by this time, the slopes counted with 1,5 meters of snow…this year they barely hold 40 centimeters. Fingers are crossed for a good snowfall coming soon, or else the sun will transform the snow in to “helado de piña”.
Editor-In-Chief Boris van der Spek is the founder of Chile Today. He worked in Colombia, Surinam and the Netherlands as reporter and works with international media during major events, like the social crisis, the elections and the Pope’s visit.