When we think of skiing in the southern hemisphere we often think of South America or possibly New Zealand. However, there are actually six countries on three continents south of the equator (assuming the globe makers have the world the right way up) where you can find fresh powder from June to October.
Besides Chile and Argentina in the Andes of South America; you can also ski in Australia (a fact well known to Vail Resorts who just bought two more ski areas there to increase their Aussie resort collection to three) as well as New Zealand; and in the southern side of Africa there are small areas in South Africa and the small but mountainous kingdom of Lesotho. In fact, Africa is the only continent with ski areas in both the northern and southern hemispheres.
So here’s the more detailed low down on what’s where and how the 2019 season is shaping up for 10 of the biggest and best, and when they’re due to open for the winter.
Argentina: There are about 20 ski areas in Argentina, around half of them of moderate to large size with at least five lifts.
Las Leñas (opens mid-June to late September)
Another cult resort for the world’s best skiers thanks to its almost unlimited back country opportunities (officially a little over 18,500 acres) and spectacular scenery, Las Leñas also has one of the biggest in-bounds ski areas in South America with a dozen lifts providing 3,940 feet of vertical. It does tend to have good years and bad years for powder with each season either really good or not good, with change unlikely once the winter begins.
Catedral (opens mid-June to mid October)
South America’s biggest ski centre and Argentina’s first ski centre with lifts, although the first tram lift arrived a decade late after the original order made in 1939 from Italy was lost in the Atlantic during World War II. Catedral is located 12 miles from the city of Bariloche and boasts nearly 40 lifts with a combined uplift of 40,000 people per hour (the second greatest in the southern hemisphere after Australia’s Perisher) serving about 75 miles of ski runs.
Chile: The ski area numbers in Chile are similar to those for its neighbour Argentina, with nearly 20 areas on the Chilean side of the Andes too.
Portillo (open 22nd June – 5th October)
Portillo has the atmosphere of a classic ski lodge with the bonus that there’s incredible powder snow outside, stunning views and you’re likely to be rubbing shoulders on the lift with some of America’s great ski racers, past and present, who come down here to train or just to have fun. Despite that reputation for great powder, this year there’s a big $3.5M investment in snowmaking to ensure the key runs are covered if mother nature fails to play ball.
Valle Nevado (open 22nd June – 28th September)
One of the biggest and most modern resorts in the Southern Hemisphere, Valle Nevado is located close to Chilean capital Santiago, less than 40 miles away. The resort’s slopes are part of as network of three inter-linked ski areas known as the 3 Valleys and lift tickets here can be bought on Liftopia.com. Valle Nevado is also a partner resort for the Mountain Collective pass.
Australia and New Zealand
Australia: There are nearly 20 ski areas in Australia, of which half-a-dozen are larger commercial centres.
Perisher (Open: Saturday June 8th to Monday September 30th).
With 7 mountain peaks and 47 lifts with a combined uplift capacity of more than 50,000 skiers per hour, Perisher is the biggest ski resort in Australia and can claim the most lifts in the southern hemisphere, including the first eight-seater chairlift south of the equator. This winter the resort weill unveil the new Leichhardt quad chair to replace the former T-bar lift there in a $4.2m investment.
Thredbo (Open: Saturday June 8th to Monday, October 7th).
Voted the Best Australian Ski Resort at the 2018 World Ski Awards held in Kitzbühel, Austria, last November; Thredbo boasts some of the country’s longest and steepest trails. The resort also claims to operate the largest snow making system in the southern hemisphere and is located close to Australia’s highest peak, Mt Kosciusko (2228m). Thredbo is a part of the Mountain Collective Pass, available for sale now.
New Zealand: New Zealand has nearly 30 ski areas, including Heliski and snowcat operations, an indoor snow centre and a number of community run ‘club field.’
Mt Ruapehu (Opens 1st June 2019 to late October)
Ruapehu on New Zealand’s North Island claims to be the country’s largest ski centre by combining the stats for its two unlinked ski areas, Turoa and Whakapapa. Usually opening a little later in the season than South Island resorts (and staying open until later in October, sometime ‘Snowvember’ too), an all-weather snowmaking machine means it can open some terrain at the start of June – one of the earliest openings of any southern hemisphere area. This year, they’re unveiling a multi-million dollar new gondola on opening day.
Mt Hutt (open 7th June – 14th October)
Mt Hutt is the only ski area in the southern hemisphere to be able to claim it has already opened for snowsports in 2019. A freak snowstorm in last February (summertime there) dropped 50cm of snow on the slopes and to celebrate they opened for a few hours on Saturday, March 2nd, more than three months before the season is due to begin. One of the resorts nicknamed the snowmaking capital of the southern hemisphere, it offers open treeless skiing with views over Canterbury plains to the nearby city of Christchurch and the Pacific Ocean.
South Africa: There’s just one ski area in South Africa.
Tiffindell (opens early-June to late-August)
Africa’s ski season tends to start and end a little earlier than that of other southern hemisphere skin nations. It’s also rather marginal and Tiffindell ski areas only got started in the 1990s after its founders learned snowmaking skills working at resorts in the US. There’s less than a mile of ski slopes and natural snowfalls are rare, but they do happen, occasionally burying Tiffindell in snow several feet deep.
Lesotho: There’s just one ski area in Lesotho too.
Afriski (opens early-June to late-August)
The tiny African kingdom of Lesotho, entirely surrounded by its larger neighbour, South Africa, opened its first ‘real’ ski resort in July 2002. The resort has about a mile of ski runs and a terrain park, and is nestled in the heart of the Lesotho Highlands and is only four and a half hours’ drive by tar road from South Africa’s Johannesburg.
Are you planning on chasing winter south of the equator? Tell us where in the comments!