The runs above Ski Arpa's base lodge (a couple of bunker-like structures built into the hillside) may have names, but the terrain is hardly domesticated. Far from the commercialized, well-manicured extravagance of many U.S ski resorts, and nestled in the shadows of Aconcagua, Ski Arpa is all about back-to-the-roots skiing – and that skiing is simply phenomenal.
The only all-backcountry ski operation in Chile, Ski Arpa is easily accessible even for a day trip, located just 70 miles from Santiago and its international airport and 20 miles from the town of Los Andes. With over 4,000 acres of rideable slopes, and a total capacity of just 22 riders, it's never crowded. Even if both PistenBully snowcats (the only form of transportation used at Ski Arpa other than your legs) are full, you'll only be skiing with 21 other people all day long. Considering the average vertical of Ski Arpa's two-dozen named runs is just shy of 3,000 feet, that translates to a whole lot of untracked turns on the steep, wide open faces and bowls that the Andean Mountains are famous for.
After a safety talk, beacon check, and brief discussion about current snow conditions, the snow-cat ride from the base of Ski Arpa to the top takes just over 20 minutes and leaves you at an altitude of 12,500 feet, with incredible views of Aconcagua (the highest peak in the Americas). It took us another 10 minutes to catch our breath while transfixed by the hulking pyramid of rock and ice towering above, followed by a glorious 15 minutes of untracked turns in knee-deep powder. We skied right back to the waiting snowcat, loaded up our skis, jumped on and did it all over again, and again, and again.
After six runs, our legs were burning and our lungs were screaming, and so we proceeded with the next logical progression, sipping excellent Chilean wine while chatting with Ski Arpa's founder Toni Sponar. The 78-year-old Austrian badass lives in an endless winter since the 1970s (after first helping found Thredbo ski resort in Australia in 1955) – nowadays he splits his time between Aspen during the Northern Hemisphere's winter and then heads south to Chile for the other half of the year to keep ski season going.
In Chile, the ski season runs from mid-June through October with an average snowfall of 12–15 feet, so if you're jonesing for powder in July, make sure to catch the red-eye flight to Santiago and you could be knee deep in the stuff within 24 hours.
More information: From $15 for backcountry access to $3600 for private Cat with guide and 6 runs, high season; skiarpa.com.