Skiing Valle Nevado - Chile's premier ski resort

The pristine powder and enchanting scenery make Valle Nevado seem heaven-sent.

Like the endless powder runs that begin at 3500 metres, cheap flattery goes a long way in the lofty heights of Valle Nevado. Too old and too ordinary a skier to be charmed so easily, the praise from my fresh-faced instructor Tom soon has my ego rising towards the snow-capped peaks that frame Chile's premier ski resort. 

Tom's instructions in French-accented English are equally enchanting as he leads me along lengthy trails dusted with pristine powder under a cloudless sky.

It's not fresh snow but it looks like sugar.

Ski instructor Tom

Novice skiers are inclined to lean backwards, but Tom says that makes it "much more difficult to ski and make it 'appen on the curve".

"And then the second thing, you need to not press on the 'eel," he says. "It's better to try to feel the finger toes, to be really well forward".

Finger toes engaged, my curves begin to 'appen as we trace parabolas through the Inca Valley, where the mummified remains of a boy were discovered in 1954.

The Boy of El Plomo, who was found surrounded by gold and silver pieces as a sacrifice to the sun god, Sol-Inti, now safely resides in Santiago's National Museum of Natural History. 

An instructor from Valle Nevado's ski and snowboard school, Tom pauses to show me the splendid scenery of jagged peaks reaching more than 5000-metres in height. Exposed rock faces tell the history of the tectonic upheaval that created the Andes, while each mountain nonchalantly throws shade on its neighbour under a surprisingly warm sun.

Opened in 1988, Valle Nevado receives an average of seven metres of snow each year. It is also in a sweet spot to take advantage of the prevailing winds, Tom says.  "It brings all the snow from the other resorts because the wind is going this way towards us. It's not fresh snow but it looks like sugar."

Yet little more than an hour's drive away is Santiago, Chile's capital of 6 million people shrouded in smog while the ski slopes sparkle under a bellbird sky.

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Chile's unusual geography – more than 4300 kilometres long,   but a mere 90 kilometres at its narrowest – means a skilled (or suicidal) driver can ski and surf in the same day.

Our journey out of Santiago is happily more sedate as we follow the   Mapocho River canyon, past the Monte Blanco cosmetic surgery and later the tiny chapel at La Ermita. The road to Valle Nevado, one of five ski resorts near Santiago, is spectacular as it twists and turns along the side of steep gullies treed with cacti, eucalypts, wattle and pines.

Our guide Jorge bemoans the poor season that has left the lower parts of the mountain naked when it would normally be snow-covered in August. Yet for skiers accustomed to the hazards of Australian skiing – icy stretches of snow punctuated by trees and rocks – Valle Nevado is manna from heaven. 

Perhaps it is because we are closer to the gods, thanks to collision of the Nazca and South American tectonic plates pushing Chile's slender geography to the sky.

Condors rule the roost at these lofty heights, but Tom reigns supreme at ground level with his astonishing trickery. 

He removes one ski, tosses it into the air and then clips his boots back in while continuing to ski.

He performs a pirouette on the tips of his skis before displaying eye-watering flexibility by skiing with one ski forward and the other pointing backward.

Tom deserves an audience yet the slopes seem to be open just for me and a few Brazilian tourists armed with selfie sticks or happily falling down the beginners' slopes. 

Lift queues are non-existent, while the threat of marauding snowboarders is minimal. For the adventurous, the Terrain Park has boxes, jumps, rollers, rails and a quarter-pipe to show off or, in my case, fall off.

With more than 890 hectares of terrain to ski across  more than 60 kilometres of groomed slopes (half suitable for beginner and intermediate skiers) served by 15 lifts, we've barely began exploring the mountain before Tom leads us back to Valle Nevado's swanky resort.

With an ever-growing collection of hotels, apartments, restaurants and shops clinging to cliffs, Valle Nevado attracts champion skiers and snowboarders and national teams from the northern hemisphere.

We even stumble across artist Jeff Koons and his Australian snowboard instructor Ashley Muller near the top of the swift Andes Express chairlift. 

Tom says Chileans are relatively new to skiing: "'Ere they don't even know how to close the shoes and 'ow to walk."

But they have mastered the art of apres-ski, which begins before lunch and revolves around pisco sours and barbecue before kicking on to the resort's bustling bars and disco at the Tres Puntas Hotel.

If a country's approach to skiing reflects their national character, then Chile is engagingly laidback.

TRIP NOTES

MORE INFORMATION

chile.travel

upscapetravel.com

GETTING THERE

Qantas flies non-stop from Sydney to Santiago four times a week. See qantas.com

Australian passport holders entering Chile through Santiago International Airport are required to pay an entry fee of $155. 

STAYING THERE

The Novotel Santiago in upmarket Viticura has a range of multi-night packages starting from  $520 for three nights/two days in a single room with breakfast, unlimited internet and late checkout. See novotel.com  

Valle Nevado offers package stays that include hotel lodging, half-board, lift tickets and access to all facilities such as a fitness centre, outdoor pool and kids' activities. See vallenevado.com/en

SKIING THERE

A full-day adult lift pass costs $84 in low season and  $94 in high season.

Andrew Taylor travelled with assistance from Qantas and AccorHotels.

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