Nevado de Chillan
When the snow is on, this is the place to freeride!
Set in a series of active volcanoes, the peaks of Chillan have a unique typography with rolling gullies, sharp pinnacles, and exposed, jagged ridgelines. The rideable terrain here changes swiftly, from steeps to flats, and resembles other volcanic ski resorts around the World, like Bachelor in the States, Asahidake in Japan, or Mt Ruapehu in NZ.
The resort maintains a relaxed approach to both sidecountry and backcountry, but there are also good inbound freeriding options from top to bottom (when the snow is low enough) and far left to far right. The trail map shows a freeride-specific zone, accessible right off the long (and painfully slow) two-man chair named “Otto”. The terrain here is fun and rolling, with minimal avalanche danger and lots of natural hits that are easy to spot from the chairlift. If you score a powder day at Chillan, head here first – not that there’s much of a race needed; the Chileans take there time with everything, even on a pow day!
From the same chairlift it is a short 5-10min hike to access the sidecountry terrain, which is all on the looker’s right side of the resort. Long couloirs and natural windlips are in abundance out there, and they all drain back into the resort just above the Plaza Otto (watch out for the river running in the drainage on the way out however).
Backcountry enthusiasts will no doubt be scoping the longer missions to the volcanic peaks above. The options for adventure here are expansive but you definitely need to know where you’re going. Local guides are available from the ski school or “Freeride Programme” in the Plaza Tio Willy area, where you can also sign up for cat skiing. And if that isn’t enough, seek out the local heli operation and go further afield with renowned Chilean guide Sebastian Goni at the helm.
To sum it up, the freeriding options here are second-to-none in South America. But where ever you head, watch out for cornices both in-bounds and out! The relaxed Chilean approach is just as evident when it comes to avalanche bombing as it is with first tracks.
There is a park in Chillan, but it is fairly limited. In 2015 it was restricted to a few small hand-shaped jumps and a series of easy ride-on rails and boxes.
The park is found below the Plaza Otto, next to one of the beginner areas. It usually gets shaped once a day, late morning, but the low altitude means it can get slushy quickly, particularly in spring.
The better option in Chillan is to go looking for natural hits. The looker’s left side of the resort has a super-long green trail that winds its way from the top of the resort all the way to below the base. While this terrain is rather flat, it does present a large number of natural features including small cornice drops, windlips and mini transfers. If you’re riding in a crew, it’s easy enough to test the speed and use each other to leapfrog out of the flatter gullies.
Riders who enjoy sticking to groomed runs won’t be disappointed in Chillan. The upper-half of the resort has a number of wide-open green and blue trails, with two or three shorter lifts available for quicker laps.
There is one super-long trail, as mentioned above, which is actually quite achievable for novice snowboarders, when the snow is running fast enough. Keep in mind however that this long run takes about double the time to get back up again as it does to ride down (the fixed grip chairlifts in Chillan aren’t known for their speed).
Beginner snowboarders are well catered for at Chillan, with good learning terrain and a well-supplied ski school. Most of the instructors here work internationally and have excellent English, so if you’re in Chile and are looking for somewhere to learn to ride, Chillan is a good option.
There is a substantial beginner-specific area marked on the trail map, stretching from Plaza Tata in the very bottom of the resort, up to Plaza Otto. The green terrain below the Plaza Otto is the most suitable for novice snowboarders, with a consistent, gentle pitch - although it is accessed by a poma, which can be tricky for learners. The lengthy green trails that make their way back to Plaza Tata are nice and gentle but may be a little too flat for those still learning to link turns.