Cat Skiing With Ski Arpa and Skiing Portillo
On our 5th day of skiing, we journeyed up the mountains from a small town about an hour north of Santiago called Los Andes. While Allison had been cat skiing before, I had never been and was so excited to get up and go.
It was about an hour and fourty five minute drive from the hotel to the base at Ski Arpa. Drivers from Arpa picked us up at 8:00 in the morning with four wheel drive vehicles because there was some significant dirt road to get to where we were cat skiing that day. Our driver didn’t speak a lick of english but we all did out best to talk and ask questions about Arpa. This drive was an adventure in itself!
One the road to Los Andes the day before, we had watched a ski movie on how Ski Arpa was created and what it has turned into today. This movie was called Valle a la Cumbre and it’s all about how Toni Sponar, the 84 year old owner, had a dream as a young man to run a ski resort. The movie goes over the story of how he bought the land, the rough times he went through trying to get the resort off the ground, and how he was able to make Ski Arpa a sought out destination in Chile. On the flip side, his son, Anton Sponar, talks about how it is hard to live the way the business requires; up in the mountains, with very little to live off of, and little contact with his family back home in Aspen, Colorado. That said, this was his fathers life long dream and he does it because he knows it’s his dad’s first love. It’s a great 22 minute film and is well worth a watch, especially if you are going to be skiing there. Here is the trailer if you are interested:
After watching that on the bus ride to Los Andes, where we stayed the night, I was so keen to see what this place was all about. It’s not a typical ski resort with a lodge that has a restaurant and overly priced food. It’s a ski resort with unexplainable amounts of soul, hard work, and dedication to live a life long dream. It’s small, not luxurious at all, and in the middle of nowhere, but this is Toni’s dream and he is living and loving every minute of it.
Once we got to the lodge, it looked like we had arrived at an abandoned shack up in the mountains. The lodge is this tiny little house that is built into the side of the mountain. It had one hallway in the front and three or four doors that lead to rooms farther back in the house. There was no electricity or heat, they were doing it the old school way.
We got all of our stuff on, and headed out for the day. Because there was very little snow at the time, we had to take our cars just two more minutes up the hill to where the snow line was. When we got there, our cat was waiting for us. Our main guide, Gomez, said he enjoyed the outdoor cat more than the indoor one because we would be able to see the views on the way up. While it was cold, he was not wrong.
This place was incredible. We were able to see the border of Argentina and Chile, all the way to the Pacific Ocean on the other side of the country. In the middle of all that, we were able to see on of the seven summits, Mount Aconcagua. This peak’s summit stands at 22,841 feet and towers over the rest of the already large Andes Mountains.
The terrain here looked incredible but unfortunately, we didn’t have the snow to go full throttle. To be quite honest, this was one of the harder days of skiing just because the snow was so tricky. It was so variable, you really didn’t know what you were going to hit. The result: we were all skiing on edge, prepared to hit that grabby snow.
We did about six runs all day. It was a very nice, relaxing day of skiing because everybody was simply there for the experience since the snow wasn’t anything to die for. All in all, it was a great day on the mountain with great people to hang out with.
The next day was our final day of skiing in Chile. There was a disaster for our group at breakfast though. NO COFFEE! While everybody was bummed, we were going to Portillo so the excitement got people going that morning. Portillo was about a 30 minute drive from our hotel.
When we got there, we were immediately greeted with the classic view of the yellow hotel in the valley surrounded by massive mountains. Stepping out of the van, we felt the cold air. The sun really hadn’t hit the valley yet so the temperature was still very low. So, we all decided to head into the famous hotel and have a cup of coffee.
We took a seat next to the window overlooking Inca Lake. We couldn’t have had a better view. It felt like we were sitting on the water looking up at all of the mountains surrounding us.
We headed out after our leisurely coffee stop and straight for the Roca Jack. If you don’t know what that is, it’s a 5 person poma lift that is commonly called the sling shot for good reason. The speed this thing had was incredible and the way you had to get off was actually difficult! Everybody holds on as you head straight up the 35 degree slope and when you get to the top, there is no flat platform to get off on, it just stops and everybody has to get off and try not to fall. Here’s a great example of what happens if you don’t get off the correct way (the people on the ends get off one at a time).
Allison and I went up the Roca Jack with Brian Sharpes, Keoki Flagg, and one of our Aussi friends, Michael. Everybody knew it was going to be fast but not as fast as it was. It was a bit shocking to be honest!
After experiencing this, we skied with one of our guides who was from and lived in Patagonia. We were talking to him about his life as a guide and how much time he spent at home and he said about 2 weeks out of each year. In the winter he’s guiding ski trips and in the summer, he guides hiking/exploration trips throughout the mountains. He just loves what he does and he said even when he is home, he often leaves for a couple days to go explore.
As the sun made it’s way over to the other side of the valley, we journeyed over there to explore the rest of the resort. We met up with another group from our tour and all went to do the world famous lake run and the traverse along the rock out. The snow was very tricky in here and made it a hard descent but I’m sure glad we did it. Skiing down, it felt like you were just going to continue right into the lake at the bottom! The reflections of the giant peaks surrounding the lake made for a really weird and unique sensation.
Once we made it to the bottom… well to where we had to traverse, we saw the rock face we had to go across. You have probably seen the pictures of what this looks like but basically, the resort had carved out a path across the cliff face that goes directly into the lake. During the winter, snow covers the path and you can ski/side step your way out.
Our guides made this traverse seem like we were just gonna be able to ski right out. There was no talk of side stepping or hiking but in reality, we got there and had to side step for about 25 minutes just to get out. We had scheduled lunch at 1:30 and we were both starving so we were highly motivated to get out of there and get some food and Pisco Sours.
We had a long lunch enjoying the views, watching people ski, and watching the helicopters take people up the mountain. While there was a ton of activity and chaos all around us, it was a very peaceful setting sitting above one of the most beautiful lakes in the world and having gigantic mountains tower over us with endless places to explore.
This was a perfect way to end our summer ski vacation. A relaxing day, skiing the most famous resort in Chile, taking in the views, and enjoying the company of our guides and fellow guests. Thank you to Casa Tours and all of the guides for putting on such an amazing 11 days of adventure, Brian Sharpes for taking us on this trip, and Keoki Flagg for spending his time behind the camera! Truly, we can’t thank all of you enough.
Check out the rest of our Chilean adventure by clicking HERE