Chapelco, or Cerro Chapelco, is a mountain and massif in Neuquén Province, south-western Argentina. The ski station of the same name is located 19 kilometres (12 mi) from the resort town of San Martín de los Andes.
Cerro Chapelco is a striking destination for a ski vacation. The dramatic views of Volcan Lanin and the turquoise Lake Lácar make a spectacular backdrop.
Chapelco is a modern ski resort with great facilities, including lots of amenities that make it an attractive spot for families.
Located at 1,980 meters of height, Chapelco has been considered a synonym for Argentinian and international ski, as its worldwide fame has reached the most remote sites, with visitors from all over the world coming along to its trails.
Designed by Federico Graeff and established in 1946, Chapelco became an increasingly popular tourist destination after 1970. The station maintains a ski and snowboard school with 200 instructors for all ages as well as numerous lodges, the most important of which is the Graeff Lodge; eight restaurants; a ski and snowboard rental and repair center; boutiques and cybercafés; and emergency and other basic services. The station is accessible via National Route 234 from San Martín de los Andes, and via a two-hour flight from Jorge Newbery Airportin Buenos Aires to the Aviador Carlos Campos Airport.
With 22 trails of various difficulties and excellent snow quality, Chapelco combines extreme adrenaline and landscape. The impressive view of Lake Lácar, the silence of the lenga forests and the striking presence of the Lanín Volcano breaking the mountain range horizon make this place a unique option to practice winter sports.
In addition to the modern infrastructure and the beauty of the surroundings, Chapelco is one of the safest and most reliable ski resorts in Patagonia. Its 140 “skiable” hectares, with slopes ranging from 20Cº to 45Cº and a 730-meter vertical drop, are patrolled by highly qualified teams that watch the trails and have fix posts at several spots in the mountain.
Chapelco offers the possibility of practicing various ski modalities: alpine, Nordic and randonee. Likewise, its trails are chosen by lovers of snowboarding, who display their skills in the four categories of this sport: half pipe, parallel slalom, big air and fun park, at the Snowboard park located at the end of the Graeff lift station, on the 1,700 platform.
San Martín de Los Andes
Most visitors to Chapelco stay in San Martín de los Andes where accommodation includes luxury hotels, more basic hotels and inns, houses to rent, cabins and hostels.
San Martin is embedded as part “of the Andes” and sits on the coast of Lake Lácar between high peaks. With a population of about 25,000 the town is large enough to offer plenty for tourists, yet small enough to retain its alpine charm which is enhanced by the low rise Swiss-style timber architecture. The town has an abundance of arts and craft shops, ski shops, restaurants, and chocolate shops.
Chapelco Ski Resort Facilities and Activities
Chapelco is a well established ski resort with lots of facilities and services. In addition to a ski and snowboard school, the resort offers equipment rentals, lots of restaurants, and child care. Other activities include snowshoeing, snowmobiling and dog sledding.
Chapelco Snow Conditions
As is typical of South America, the Chapelco snow conditions are highly variable, and to further reduce the likelihood of great snow conditions, the slopes are north to northwest facing. One day we visited, the snow cover was marginal at the base, it was mushy in the middle, and the alpine section was icy and wind scoured.
Like other Lakes District ski resorts, the powder tends to be wet. We visited on a big powder day, and the pow was really really heavy. The tree skiing was impossible even with big fat planks on, whilst the alpine areas had just enough pitch to get a little momentum happening. Powderhounds should definitely pack the fat skis or powder board.
Whilst snow quality may not be Chapelco’s forte, the ski resort does well in the quantity stakes with an average of 8.9 metres (350 inches) of snow per season. If Mother Nature is not doing her thing adequately, Chapelco can cheat a little by using their snow-making cannons
Transportation - Get In
The fabulous ski resort at Cerro Chapelco sits within the southwest corner of the lovely Neuquén Province. Of course, this puts it squarely within the beautiful Lakes District of Patagonia, Argentina.
The closest town to the resort is San Martín de los Andes, which is located 20 km to the southeast. Additionally, the resort is approximately 1,500 km southwest of Buenos Aires, Argentina’s bustling capital city. There are several cities within 200 km of Chapelco, including Bariloche.
How to Get to San Martin de los Andes
From Buenos Aires, it is best to travel to San Martin de los Andes by plane. Several flights operate daily between the capital and Chapelco Airport, and none of them take more than a few hours.
Getting to Chapelco
The ski resort and the town of San Martin de los Andes are just 15 km apart. The two are connected by well-maintained roads, nearly all of which are paved. However, due to the mellow gradient of both the paved and unpaved road, snow chains generally aren’t required, even for 2WD vehicles wishing to make the journey, but be sure to check before leaving town, especially after a fresh snowfall.
To reach Chapelco from San Martin de los Andes, simply drive along Ruta 234 towards Villa la Angostura, and then take a left hand turn onto RN19. The entire trip typically takes no more than 20 minutes.
By Rental Car: As mentioned, even 2WD vehicles without snow chains can typically reach Chapelco safely, so travelers should feel confident about renting their own car. Car rentals are available both at the airport and in town. The parking lot is quite large and does not charge any fees.
By Shuttle and Bus: In addition to the many inexpensive van shuttles that provide quick and easy transportation between Chapelco and San Martin de los Andes, there is also a cheap bus that departs from the San Martin bus terminal on the weekends.
By Taxi: Of course, it is possible to make the trip to and from Chapelco and town in a taxi. When choosing this option, be prepared to stash your skis or snowboard in the open trunk of the car, and hang on for a wild ride.
Transportation - Get Around
The official statistic of 140 hectares of skiable terrain at Chapelco seems to underestimate the size of the resort. In reality it is a medium sized resort (relative to other South America ski resorts) and one can only assume that Chapelco has just counted the piste runs in the stat.
The ski terrain can loosely be categorised into three vertical parts. The lower part of the resort is serviced by a triple chair and the telecabina (gondola). The terrain is pretty flat and consists of a few groomed intermediate runs and the snaking Camino beginner trail. The base area elevation is 1,250 metres, and even though this is higher than that of Cerro Bayo or Cerro Catedral, the snow conditions in this area can be pretty sketchy.
The gondola unloads at a mid-mountain hub where there are a few restaurants and other facilities such as ski school. The magic carpet serviced novice ski area is located here. This middle section also consists of groomed intermediate trails, as well as very mellow tree skiing that can be rather fun when the snow conditions are prime.
The upper part of the ski resort is above the tree-line and consists of a few groomed runs for intermediates as well as off-piste slopes. The terrain here is a little steeper than the lower parts of the mountain, but there’s nothing that will make experts quiver in their boots. Rock features and little gullies make things a little more interesting, and in low visibility the huge cornices can make things REALLY interesting – keep your eyes peeled! This alpine area has three peaks. Cerro Teta is in the middle and has the steepest in-bounds terrain. Cerro Escalonado is to lookers’ right and has the Filo area (red runs) and the sidecountry La Pala area. Cerro Mocho is to the looker’s left and has some short black runs.
For the Beginner
All the beginners’ terrain is below the tree line so it is protected from any inclement weather. The magic carpet serviced novice area is at the mid-mountain hub, so the littlies and first-timers have to upload and download the gondola. The next progression is to hit Camino, a gentle trail that weaves down the mountain through the lenga forest. At 5.3km in length, it is guaranteed to tire the hell out of snow ploughers!
Intermediate Ski and Snowboard TerrainWith 25% blue runs and 30% red runs, intermediates are likely to be adequately entertained for a week long ski vacation at Chapelco. Some of the intermediate runs are serviced by the super fast quad chair, so you’ll get lots of vertical in each day.
Chapelco Terrain Park
Chapelco has a small terrain park within a dedicated area just below the tree line. The terrain park has a few jumps, rails, and boxes, and sometimes a quarter pipe is set up.
Advanced Skiing Chapelco
Confident intermediates and advanced riders can hit the low angle trees in the mid section of the ski resort. The hairy trees are very widely spaced and they have no low branches so they’re really easy to get around, although the bamboo can be a bit of a bitch!
Balcones in the lower part of the resort is generally a bumps run, otherwise the rest of the advanced terrain is up in the alpine. Small areas off Cerro Teta have some steeps, but largely it’s pretty tame (unless crap snow conditions make it really gnarly!). The other limitation is that the alpine lifts are commonly closed in inclement weather or after a snowfall.
Expert Ski and Snowboard Terrain
The in-bounds area has a few cheeky expert-only terrain features such as little chutes, gullies, rocks, and pesky cornices that sneak up on you in low vis. However the terrain is limited and Chapelco may only entertain experts for a couple of days, and only when the alpine areas are open and snow conditions are good. Experts will want to head into the side-country when conditions permit.
Chapelco has future plans to expand the resort over into the back bowls, which will create more lift accessed terrain for experts. Currently Chapelco runs a Mickey Mouse over-priced cat skiing operation out here, or touring is also possible.
The top of the Filo poma lift provides access to La Pala. This area is marked on the trail map but it’s not patrolled or actively controlled for avalanches, so it should definitely be treated as the backcountry. La Pala can be accessed via a traverse or a 5 minute hike up to get more vertical. This sidecountry zone has some chutes and bowls, and it feeds down into trees before a traverse back into the resort. The return traverse can be a little tricky to find, so head out with a guide from ski school or wait until the track is clearly set by other riders.
The Silla Cuadruple Rancho Grande is a super fast detachable chair that flies up the hill. You need to have your neck gaitor on because even when there’s not a breath of wind, the speed of the chair makes it feels like it’s really windy! The up-hill capacity of this lift is very grande, but the resulting problem is the traffic on the associated runs. You’ll need to keep your wits about you (as you do at most Argentina ski resorts!).
Other than the gondola, the rest of the lift infrastructure consists of slow chairs or surface lifts. Lift queues commonly develop, although at the gondola and detachable quad chair, sometimes it’s not a queue for the lift that’s the problem, but rather a bottleneck to get through the ticket gate because the electronic tickets don’t work very well in pockets. It’s quite a sight to watch piles of skiers and snowboarders making love to the gates just to get through! As is typical in Argentina, the queuing can get rather disorderly and the staff don’t facilitate lift loading. There are no singles lines and often there are only two people sitting on a quad chair or in the gondola.
|Double Surface Lifts||1|
|Simple Surface Lifts||3|
Lift tickets are up there as some of the most expensive in Argentina, but thankfully the currency exchange works favourably for most international visitors. Children are considered to be 6 to 11 years of age, whilst kiddies 0 to 5 years are free. The electronic pass attracts a small refundable fee.
Chapelco accepts credit card payments for lift tickets and like some other Argentina ski resorts, you may need a PIN (ie you can’t just sign), and they may require ID such as a photocopy of your passport.
|Low Season||Mid Season||High Season|
|Cable-car||$ 370||$ 300||$ 430||$ 340||$ 530||$ 430|
|Later pass||$ 750||$ 600||$ 850||$ 680||$ 1070||$ 850|
|Day pass||$ 930||$ 750||$ 1070||$ 850||$ 1330||$ 1070|
|Weekend pass||$ 1490||$ 1190||$ 1700||$ 1360||$ 2130||$ 1700|
|3 Days||$ 2520||$ 2010||$ 2880||$ 2300||$ 3590||$ 2880|
|4 Days||$ 3240||$ 2590||$ 3710||$ 2960||$ 4630||$ 3710|
|5 Days||$ 3910||$ 3130||$ 4470||$ 3580||$ 5590||$ 4470|
|6 Days||$ 4470||$ 3580||$ 5110||$ 4090||$ 6390||$ 5110|
|Weekly pass||$ 4890||$ 3910||$ 5590||$ 4470||$ 6990||$ 5590|
|Young Student||$ 3800||-||$ 4350||-||$ 5750||-|
|Two weeks pass||$ 9780||$ 7830||$ 11180||$ 8950||$ 13980||$ 11180|
|Season||$ 35940||$ 28760||$ 35940||$ 28760||$ 35940||$ 28760|
Restaurants & Nightlife
The gastronomic options provided by the resort range from a hearty breakfast, passing by an energetic lunch, to a comforting hot chocolate after a hard day of extreme exercise.
The La Base restaurant, with a capacity for 240 people and modern facilities, offers self-service fast food. Two fireplaces restore the necessary temperature to the body after exposure to the inclemency of the weather.
At the base of Mount Chapelco in the facilities of Club Lácar, the legendary Refugio Villa Mahuida offers a large room, the possibility of being delighted by varied mountain gastronomy, ranging from typical stews to snacks, coffee, cades and delicious hot chocolate. La Casita del Bosque is the typical mountain shelter surrounded by the snow-covered forest, where visitors can taste the most exquisite delicacies.
The Antulauquen Restaurant (located 1,600 meters high, right outside the gondola platform), summons skiers to give them the widest variety of gastronomic choices. From its terrace, they can appreciate the runs and the surrounding landscape. At Rancho de Manolo (height 1,420) La Brava and Run 3 converge. It is the best option for a good barbecue at midday or cakes and pastry specialties in the afternoon. The Refugio Graeff (height 1,720), very close to the shelter built by the first pioneers in the area, offers very good pizzas, fast food, cakes and pastries and the possibility of enjoying comfortable deck-chairs when permitted by the weather.
In the Pradera del Puma, skiers may indulge themselves with a good pizza with champagne or the typical hot chocolate cup with a piece of cake.