El Arpa founder Toni Sponar has set up the area with two Pisten Bully Snowcats that each carry twelve riders and gear to the top of the valley. And that’s it. No lifts, no pistes, no accommodation. Just a rustic day lodge built into the side of a rocky hill, two snowcats, a handful of riders and skiers, and four thousand acres of freeriding bliss.
Under a 70 mile drive from Santiago, Arpa sits in the shadow of Aconcagua Mountain – the highest in both North and South America. At 9,000 to 12,500 feet above sea level (2,700-3,740 meters), it gets as much as 16 feet of snow each season. The season here usually begins just a little later than other ski areas in this region running from late-June to late-September, depending on demand.
Don’t just take our word for it. Arpa Cat Skiing has been praised as one of the best experiences in skiing on the planet by Powder Magazine.
Imagine 5,000 acres of mostly expert terrain, two cats that can hold a maximum of 24, but average 4 people per day at the entire ski area. We´re talking about 2,300 vertical feet per run with views of Aconcagua and the green valley floor filled with vineyards, cactus and goats.
Here are some insider tips and ideas from our ski guides and locals that know the terrain and resorts like no other.
Important: Many of the areas described involve riding in non controlled avalanche terrain. Know your stuff, carry the right equipment and be smart. If you have any doubts, or even if you don’t, come join us on a PowderQuest guided tour. We will take you to the best skiing available with nothing for you to do but to enjoy what we have spent the last 2 decades figuring out!
Mike Gajda: If you have the time, be sure to stick around for the $2 beers and epic sunsets seen from the Arpa refugio. Spending time with the Arpa guides and owner, legendary Toni Sponar, is a great way to end the day in the Andes.
Cat Ski Accessed Terrain
There are two separate valleys to explore; Valle la Honda and Valle el Arpa. Before making your descent, you can take in breathtaking views of Cerro Aconcagua to the east, and to the west the distant Pacific Ocean, then ride 3000 feet of vertical, and then do it all again.
Advanced to Expert
Most of the terrain is good and steep, with some tight chutes to choose from. Many of the runs are double black diamond; the steep pitch runs all the way down to the rustic base lodge. There are few easy options here! Although there are no trees, there are huge open bowls.
Suggested trip for advanced to experts Frontier-Las Lenas Off Piste
Intermediate to Advanced Intermediate
While the area has earned a reputation for steep and leg burning descents, it actually has some very good terrain for intermediate to advanced intermediates. Fun mellow bowls such as “Tony’s Bowl” holds some of the best snow in the area and the terrain following the cat track back down to the base is a fun gradient offering several miles of good riding.
Backcountry skiing at El Arpa, is even more amazing than you might imagine. No trekking long distances carrying heavy gear, and no worries about the potential for long lift lines. It is about as remote as you can get without a helicopter.
Snow and Weather
Most people envision waist deep, perfect powder conditions when they think of snowcat skiing, especially if they have visited British Columbia, Canada. While we have had some epic days here and we will have many more in the future, it is important to know that this part of the Andes sees quite a bit of wind and the sun and temperature changes quickly change the snow quality.
So what can you expect? Come with an open mind and come for the adventure. Expect a wide range of snow quality from boot to knee deep powder to firmer, wind blown chalk. The Arpa ski guides are there to find you the best snow on the mountain that day.
Even if you don’t score epic powder conditions, if you embrace the scenic drive up, enjoy the sunset with a cold Escudo beer, get entertained by Toni’s stories, you will realize how much better it is to be here instead of standing in lift lines and scratching around on-piste at a resort with similar conditions.
Skiing and snowboarding Arpa is truly an unforgettable adventure; from the cactus and goat filled snowy-dirt road 4×4 journey, to the mindblowing vertical, all the way to the end with a cold beer overlooking one of the Andes’ most spectacular sunsets.
We offer a number of special cat snowboarding and skiing adventures including full and multi day packages, or, for even more adventure, private cat trips for just you and your friends.