In the Mendoza region of Argentina, in an area known for some of the best wines in South America, is the resort of Las Leñas. Since 1983 this resort has hosted some of the world’s best skiers and snowboarders. Though not as difficult to reach as Chillan, it is still quite isolated, the nearest city, Malargüe, being an hour away when the roads are open.
The mountain here has 29 runs, with 13 lifts and a “magic carpet” for beginners.
The base is at 7,350 feet, and the summit reaches a height of 11,253 ft., for a vertical drop of 3740 feet. The runs are heavy on blues and reds (45% and 35%) with 15% for beginners and 5% for Experts, although there are heli-ski and out of bounds runs available. There are 6560 feet of illuminated runs, which can stretch the ski day until 7pm. And during daylight hours, on clear day, it is said that you can ski ‘forever’, as Las Leñas has more terrain accessible from its lifts than any other resort in the Americas. On the flip side, much of the mountain can be shut down during inclement weather.
There is also a snow park, where skiers and snowboarders can practice and perfect rail slides and jumps in a controlled, safe environment before hitting the mountain. A helmet is recommended, but may or may not be obligatory for entrance to the snow park. It is advised to bring your own as they may be unavailable for rental, or in poor shape.
As the resort is quite isolated, there are several restaurants and a night club, although “night” is a bit misleading as things don’t get started until 2am and go until 6:30. Thankfully, the mountain opens late, and has those night runs. If you do plan to hit UFO after hours, consider the Argentine custom of taking a mid-afternoon siesta to recharge.
There are five ski in/ski out hotels, the five star Virgo, and the four star Aries, Acuario, Escorpio, and Piscis. All hotel rooms must be booked for seven days. There are also options further away in Malargüe about 50 minutes away, and Los Molles 14 km (about 8 miles) from the mountain. There are also apartments and private homes for rent.
Getting to Buenos Aires is relatively easy, with single stop flights available from SFO through Dallas, but one must transfer to the national airport, Jorge Newberry (AEP) from the International terminal at Ezeiza (EZE). The flight to San Rafael is about two hours, with another two hour drive from there to the resort. Charter flights are availablr to Malargüe (LGS). The drive from Buenos Aires, weather permitting, takes about sixteen hours! Flying to the Chilean capital , Santiago, can actually save three hours of road time, and nearly three hours of flying, if one opts for the LAN flight through Peru (I reviewed LAN’s service between São Paulo and San Francisco via Lima. The flight to Lima is the same, LA2609).
The season is set to open on June 16th. More information in English as well as travel packages are available on this site.