Exploring the world as a snowboarder takes some effort. Effort that is well worth it. You need to make a plan, pack up the gear and be ready to travel by car, train, bus and airplane. This is almost as fun as snowboarding itself. The journey between the locations can bring just as much excitement and wonder. This is why people do these kinds of trips even if they don’t understand it. It’s the calling of the unknown which is the real spice of life.
There are famous routes that snowboarders have been wandering for years. Canada has its famous Powder Highway and in Europe you can lose yourself in a maze of trains, cheese, wine, and the autobahn. One of the most overlooked and wilder of the worlds amazing road trips though is in Argentina and it’s called Route 40. Using this piece of pavement and winding dirt roads you can link yourself up with five ski resorts and everything in between. These places are adventure in its rawest form. It’s the remoteness of this part of the world that makes snowboarding Patagonia alluring. From lush forests surrounded by huge peaks and volcanos to the waters edge of Tierra del Fuego island at the bottom of the world: this is the kind of snowboard road trip where anything can happen.
Snowboarding in Patagonia starts here. San Martin de los Andes, Chapelco resort
Patagonia snowboarding all starts here… San Martín de los Andes is situated in the Neuquen province of Argentina. Chapelco, the local resort, is a quick 20 kilometres from town. Sitting at 1,980 metres, Chapelco offers 140 hectares of terrain with 11 lifts and a gondola. This place will not disappoint any rider who is looking to have a good time on the snow. Modern high-speed quad chairs and great lower mountain grooming will make any doubter think twice about South American being a second class place to snowboard. The huge upper mountain has steep fall lines, amazing tree runs and even a terrain park that will make riders jaws drop. For those looking to get into the backcountry, Chapelco has access to the backside terrain from the top of the upper chairlift. Patagonia splitboarding heaven.
The town of San Martin has a very European feel with all of the amenities you could find anywhere else in the world but with an Argentine feel: a style somewhere between rugged Patagonia and cuisine you might find in France or Italy. Lovely cafes, pubs,restaurants, and shops with artesian goods line the streets of this quiet town. A great side activity in San Martin is a boat cruise or walk around the Lago (lake) Lacar. Make sure to also taste some of the many microbrews from this region as well.
Snowboarding San Martin Highlights:
- Backcountry (backside)
- Town is fun but more mellow with nice shops and food
- Great local snowboard scene
On the Road: Siete Lagos (7 Lakes highway)
Traveling anywhere in South America’s Patagonia can mean that the journey is the best part, and anyone who has driven the Ruta de Siete Lagos will agree. Leaving San Martin de los Andes and heading south on the first leg of the trip will take you into the wild old growth forests and lake zones of beautiful Patagonia. You could use Route 40 to get to the next destination, but this is the one time you should take a detour. The Ruta de Siete Lagos (Road of the Seven Lakes) is a 110 kilometer stretch of road that will take much longer than you think. It is also arguably one of the most beautiful drives on the planet. The impenetrable green forests and stunning blue lakes along the road will have you stopping for tons of photos and there are many amazing places to stop for picnics. It’s even easy to forget you’re there to snowboard because the journey is so captivating. The road can be a touch bumpy, but that’s what makes it more like a snowboard safari then just a drive.
Villa Angostura, Cerro Bayo resort
This quaint Patagonian resort is one of those places you hear about and wonder if it really exists. There are no liftlines, the snow is awesome, and the backcountry is empty, yet all-time. Yes, this is all true here. It is possibly the most underestimated Patagonia snowboarding location. A lot of funding and changes have been put into this resort over the recent years only making it that much better. The terrain in the resort is a snowboarder’s paradise: it’s steep, and there are features upon features to ride for days. The groomed runs are fast and wide open. The backcountry surrounding the resort gives you splitboard access to all directions, and the snow lasts for weeks after a storm. It has an awesome mid- mountain cafe and an almost fairytale-like village to welcome you home at the end of the day. It’s not over developed, yet has everything you need.
Villa La Angostura is a mirror image of the atmosphere at the resort. It’s just what you need and nothing more. No crazy high-rise hotels or cookie cutter restaurants. Just a simple mountain town. This place is probably what the definition of “boutique” was based upon. If you like things coined “boutique” you’ll love this place.
Snowboarding Villa La Angostura Highlights:
- New Gondola
- Fun trees
- Backcountry splitboarding options accessing untouched peaks
- Nice shops and food in the village
- More relaxed option to Bariloche
Onto the Road: Quick trip across the Lake Nahuel Huapi
While you’ve been snowboarding Cerro Bayo you can’t help to see the massive Nahuel Huapi Lake. It’s water commands the view of the entire area and now it’s time to drive to the other side of it. It’s a quick eighty kilometers but again very winding and takes some time. The road hugs the shore line of the lake and then the geography turns quickly into pampas (dry, brushy zone). As you turn the corner of the lake, the mountains and the city of San Carlos de Bariloche come into view and the next resort Cerro Catedral dominates the skyline.
San Carlos de Bariloche, Cerro Catedral-Alta Patagonia ski resort
This is where the game changes. Bariloche as most people call it is a large city for the south. Big as in, over one hundred thousand people. Don’t worry though since the mountain is just as massive. Rising to 2405 meters and boasting more than 25 lifts to take you up to the top of what some call the real gateway to Patagonia. This place is bustling with action. Terrain parks and enough space to keep you busy for days. The terrain off of the Nubes chair lift is exceptional. Lunchtime on the mountain is its own event with a variety of food styles to taste. Views from the top display the dual nature of Patagonia, rugged peaks in one direction, endless lakes in another, and the dry pampas regions. People looking for more mellow terrain can find it at Cerro Catedral with nice, long top to bottom runs. Those looking for backcountry could try their hand at the Laguna area or take it to the next level and head for the Refugio Frey and Refugio Jacob with your splitboard for an overnight or week-long adventure.
Night time is the right time in Bariloche. If you’re going to cut loose on your snowboard trip than this is the place to do it, and do it right! This city in the south is filled with some of the best steak restaurants in the world. Beef and wine lovers rejoice. Many pubs also serve a variety of great pizza and craft beers as well. Then there’s the discos… You can really lose some sleep here if you want to and dance yourself into the night. Crawl the bar scene and then dive into the discos that will have you watching the sun rise. That’s if you can handle it. Are you willing to miss first chair? It’s all up to you in Bariloche, or as some know it: BARILOCOS (Bari-crazy).
Snowboarding Bariloche Highlights:
- Huge terrain
- Good backcountry options
- Large town with amazing food, nightlife, and culture
- Budget to high end lodging options
- Snowboard terrain parks
- Extensive lift system
On the Route 40 Road: The long stretch to nowhere
Rt. 40, Where the road goes on and on. What your mind’s eye thought Patagonia was going to look like, this is it. This is further south than most ever venture. Leaving the forested area of Bariloche you’ll drive into long dusty stretches with white mountains far into the distance. The brushy vista is wide open and you might see a gaucho (cowboy) riding along the roadside, heading off into the unknown. You might see and hear nothing but the wind that Patagonia is known for. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid were known to haunt these lands and if you were looking to disappear and get of the grid of life then you’re on the right track. It’s roughly five hours to the next stop Esquel so get ready for the “El camino” (the road).
Esquel – La Hoya ski resort
This resort is one of those “diamonds in the rough” kind of places. It’s harder to get to, not as fancy and in general, is a little more rustic. That is not to say it doesn’t have some of the best snow and snowboarding terrain in Argentina, South America–because it quire possibly does. Entirely south-facing, the snow stays the coldest and longest of most ski areas in South America. The off-piste riding at La Hoya (pronounced La Ho-ja) is completely underrated and relatively undiscovered. Snowboarders of all levels will be surprised at this resort’s quality terrain, grooming, and accessible side-country. More modern amenities are being implemented into the resort, but it still has that wild Patagonia feel to it. Check out this video to get a better feel of the snow and terrain.
The town of Esquel will have you mingling with locals while eating classic Argentine fare. When we say classic, we mean classic. Not quite, your average tourist-town, this place will definitely have you feeling like you are on a snowboard adventure, not vacation. Take in the real atmosphere of Patagonia here while sipping on regional Malbec wine paired with one of the most delicious steaks of your life. And don’t be worried about nightlife in a “rustic” town: It’s Argentina and you’ll always be able to find some music, dancing, and fun at one of the local bars.
Snowboarding Esquel Highlights:
- Really low key
- Amazing slackcountry for splitboarding
- Good snowboard park
- No lift lines
- Cheaper than most places
- Real Patagonia feel
On the Road Route 40 South: All the way to the end of Patagonia
This is where some important life choices come into play. How much farther do you want to drive? It’s roughly 1,500 kilometres to the next resort of Cerro Castor in the port city of Ushuaia on Tierra del Fuego island. We’re talking south. Deep. South. The roads are long, open and lonely. Everything that this part of the world is known for, everything that makes it unique, you will experience by simply holding down the gas pedal. You’ll follow Route 40, enter into Chile at a one-of-a-kind border crossing and you’ll be heading via ocean ferry into the Strait de Magellan. An amazing part of the drive that will be worth all the time spent getting there. Arriving back into Argentina on the other side you’ll wind your way into the mountains and then descend into Ushuaia. Welcome to the bottom of the world, the beginning of everything.
note: Other options are to drive back to Bariloche airport from Esquel and fly to Buenos Aires and then down to Ushuaia via one of the airlines.
Ushuaia, Tierra del Fuego, Cerro Castor ski resort
Cerro Castor, Argentina (or as it’s known in English “Beaver Peak”) is one of the most exotic places to snowboard Patagonia, if not on the planet. It is the southern most ski resort on earth and it’s on an island. Cerro Castor rises 1,057 metres straight out of the ocean and has ten lifts. This mountain resort is like a fantasy land. The resort has been operating since 1999 so everything is very modern. The terrain starts at the peak with huge wide open bowls that lead into perfectly groomed runs that have been gladed through the tight trees on the island. Many international ski teams train here so the mountain is maintained very well. You can expect all kinds of weather at this resort. Sun, snow, high winds and blizzard conditions all within hours in a day. You’ll find yourself asking yourself again and again: “Where am I?” You are at the end of the world of course, and might as well be snowboarding Patagonia’s Cape Horn.
Staying in Ushuaia and eating out is as unique as the resort. Seafood is the staple here, and of course it’s abundant. King crab (Centolla) is what the island is famous for so take advantage. There are also more sheep on the island than people, so you can guess that finding a “Parrilla” (BBQ) to eat at is an easy and delicious feat. Ushuaia also has many parks to visit and interesting history museums. It’s easy to spend several days there exploring the cultural sites and forgetting that you are there to ride. Another day activity is taking a boat cruise on the Beagle Channel to one of the the surrounding islands to get a glimpse of seals and native sea birds. Serious backcountry riders can splitboard on the Glacier Martial, a taxi-ride from town, where you can see the snow stretch all the way to the ocean below you as you drop in. No matter what you do there, how much you ride, or if you like seafood, Ushuaia might be one of the most unique places to call a snowboard destination on planet earth.
Snowboarding Cerro Castor Highlights:
- Bottom of the world
- Mystic, food, sea life, an experience of a life time. The perfect place to end the snowboard trip (or start?)
- Fun mountain
- Easy backcountry access
- Modern resort
- Nightlife is really fun
Like all snowboard trips it’s how you plan it. It’s how you get there and where you start it all. The bottom? The top? In any case be ready for anything and expect to be amazed. You will be drawn into what snowboarding Patagonia Argentina is…..Nothing and everything.
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