Every September I guide a trip I call “Classic Chilean Volcanoes.” We put together a small group of people, and spend a week skiing some of the most iconic peaks in the Araucaria region of Chile – Volcanoes Lonquimay, Villarrica, and the twin-headed Mocho-Choshuenco. One of the reasons I consider these mountains to be so iconic because they are the types of peaks that kids would draw if you asked them to draw a mountain. They are spaced out so that from the top of one, you can typically see a handful more dotting the landscape to the north and south. There are large, green valleys in between, and since we stay in these valleys, and travel through them between peaks, people get a sense of how big this terrain really is.
Volcán Lonquimay is known for a snow quality that is unique in Chile. Most people say it has the best powder in Chile, and I have to admit, I have skied more dry snow here than on any other volcano. It is a big mountain, but not so huge as to be daunting. We use this peak to warm up because it has some great ski terrain on its lower slopes as well – especially through the ancient Araucaria forests. To ski through the Araucaria trees feels like skiing through magical palm trees or something. After a day of warming up and practicing some ski mountaineering skills, we aim for the summit. It’s a little over 4000-feet to the summit, but patience gets us there pretty easily. At the top we soak in the views and marvel at the snow-filled crater. This descent is great because it actually feels long! Every year my guests start freaking out because they feel like they’ve been skiing forever, and yet there’s still a lot more to go. Anytime you can ski 4000-feet of good snow at a good pitch, it’s a special day.
Volcán Villarrica is likely the most climbed peak in all of South America. On any nice day there are dozens of tourists being escorted to the top in herds by any of the scores of local guide services. But this doesn’t make it any less special. To climb over 5000-vertical feet to the summit of an extremely active volcano is an awe-inspiring experience. While I still am blown away by this summit experience, it’s the skiing potential of Villarrica that really captivates me. It has some of the best terrain I know in all of Chile. There are 4000-foot descents on all aspects of this mountain – 360º of good skiing, with some really fun, steep walls to play with. Every year I go a little farther on this mountain, and this year I saw things I couldn’t believe. There’s a lot to be done here.
The Mocho-Choshuenco is located within the privately owned wilderness preserve called Huilo Huilo. Huilo Huilo is a special place on its own. The volcano is fascinating because it has two, very distinct heads. The Mocho is a perfect cone, with its top chopped off, and it’s set on top of a large plateau. The Choshuenco is jagged and angular. The Mocho is peaceful, while the Choshuenco is mean. We aim to ski this mountain as our last objective for two reasons. One is actually the accommodations in the valley are the perfect place to end a week of skiing. The hotels are something from out of this world. It feels like living in a tree house, but at the same time, quite luxurious. More importantly, there is a lot of skiing on these mountains, and each pitch can be taken in smaller bits. When the weather is good it’s easy to go until every bit of energy is used up, which is a great way to end a trip of skiing classic peaks in Chile.
This is my favorite trip of the year for many reasons. The biggest reason is that it’s a lot of skiing, but it’s not impossible for most people to grasp. It challenges; and rewards those whom work for it. Then there’s the variety of landscape – we see so much of Chile. And finally, because the evenings are spent in the valleys, people get to see and feel a more genuine Chilean experience. If I had to summarize what I love about Chile, I could do it by sharing this trip. It’s a quintessential experience.