august snowboarding at ski arpa in chile

Ski Arpa Chile: 2020’s Guide to Adventure Catskiing

This guide will help you learn all about the snow cat skiing at Ski Arpa Chile in 2020.

  • Insider tips
  • Terrain details
  • How to get there
  • Recommended guided trips and more

Let’s dive right in, Ski Arpa’s season kicks off as early as June!

Where is Ski Arpa?

Just under a 70 mile drive from Santiago, Ski Arpa (also known as El 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),and tucked away in the high Andes, you will truly feel off the grid. The closest town is San Esteban located in the valley below.

How to Get to Arpa Snow Cats from Santiago, Chile

Depending on traffic getting out of Santiago and road conditions the last 13 kilometers (think dirt, snow, and mud), it generally takes 2 hours to get to the Arpa base area.

Arpa is truly an adventure, including the 4×4 dirt road to access the snowcats.

Private 4×4 vehicle service

When booking a cat ski day directly with Arpa you can select to arrive in your own 4×4 or add on to your package a four wheel drive vehicle with professional drivers from both the airport and your hotel in Santiago. English speaking drivers are available upon request.

This service is automatically included when booking multi-day guided adventures with PowderQuest that visit Arpa in our itinerary.

Rent a 4×4

Renting a  4×4 truck or SUV is an option. However, keep in mind the dirt road, especially the final 13 kilometers is a serious off road adventure, especially when snow and mud is involved. 4×4 is generally needed and you should carry snow chains and a shovel. Should you break down, a large stretch of the road has zero cell or internet coverage.

If you are visiting several areas during your stay your own vehicle can be worthwhile. Just keep in mind gas and tolls are expensive, the roads are not easy, and you should carry snow chains, even during a dry period. An international drivers license is also required.

Driving Directions

Head north from the airport or Santiago about 50 miles (80 km) to the town of Los Andes. From there, follow signs to San Esteban then to Lo Calvo. Before arriving to Lo Calvo, you will take a right turn to El Cobre and then to Campos de Ahumada. From there follow the dirt road until you get to the ski area base which is a small parking lot and avalanche shelter.

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.

Powder Magazine

One of The Most Unique Ski Destinations on Earth

Ski Arpa is hands down one of the most unique out-of-the-way ski areas on the planet and was Chile’s first adventure skiing and snowboarding destination to access such rugged terrain via snowcat tours.

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.

While the past several season’s have been below average, on a good year it gets as much as 16 feet of snow. The ski 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.

Pretty cool? Don’t just take our word for it. Arpa’s cat skiing day trip has been praised as one of the best experiences in skiing on the planet by Powder Magazine.

arpa chile cat skiing

Cat Ski Accessed Terrain


There are two separate valleys to explore; Valle Honda and Valle Arpa. This is a massive amount of ski terrain, yet the Arpa guides continue to open up new zones. In 2018 first descents were enjoyed in a new area called California.

Wide Open Alpine Terrain in Arpa

Not a tree is sight. Arpa Cat skiing offers wide open alpine terrain with a few steep chutes to navigate if you dare. 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 if you want. Many of the runs are black diamond to double black diamond from a ski resort perspective; the steep pitch runs all the way down to the rustic base lodge.

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 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 worries about the potential for long lift lines. It is about as remote as you can get without a helicopter or sled in the Andes.

Current Weather and Snow 

For updated snow conditions and current weather:

What Are Conditions Like?

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 in Arpa 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 temperatures change quickly; ultimately affecting 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 mind blowing vertical, all the way to the end with a cold beer overlooking one of the Andes’ most spectacular sunsets.

In 2017, Sage Cattabriga-Alosa joined PowderQuest for a ski adventure in Arpa and other destinations in central Chile. Check out his video featuring Arpa in the 1st section to get a better idea of what to expect.

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.

So, there you have our run down of El Arpa ski area. Well worth the visit, especially if you are looking for something completely different than any other ski or snowboard experience out there. It is a true adventure.

5/5

Recommended Ski Tour Visiting Arpa

An epic day of cat accessed adventure plus Portillo and the 3 Valley Resorts. Simply fly to Chile. We take care of the rest:

  • 2 certified ski guides
  • 6 guests maximum per trip
  • lodging, lift tickets, private transportation, hosted dinners w/ wine and more
  • Over 2 decades of experience skiing and guiding in Chile
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