Catedral Alta Patagonia in the vast winter playland of Argentina’s Lakes District is the country’s largest ski destination.
Cerro Catedral, as it’s more commonly known, is popular both for its extensive terrain spread across three mountains and its 19 kilometer (12 mi.) proximity to Bariloche, Patagonia’s second largest city.
The 1030 meter (3379 ft.) high resort boasts 120 kilometers (75 mi.) of terrain on 50 different slopes served by 38 lifts, one tram and four-person gondolas.
South America’s oldest ski resort debuted in 1938 and today features a full-service village at its base, making Bariloche the only bona fide ‘ski town’ in Argentina.
New and Improved Slopes
In 2009 the aging resort underwent a multi-million dollar renovation. The revamp doubled the lift capacity to 22,000 and added four kilometers of cross-country skiing trails, a new terrain park, a tubing trail and a toboggan run.
Catedral’s modernization also included the purchase of snowmobiles and quadbikes for back-country tours and to reach the exclusive mountain restaurant, La Cueva.
The upgrades brought Cerro Catedral newfound international attention. In the same year Ski Rebel magazine dubbed Bariloche a ‘winter sports giant.’
The Toronto Star went so far as to call Cerro Catedral the world’s number two ski destination after Aspen, Colorado. Due to the wet conditions and proximity to Lake Nahuel Huapí, Cathedral is actually best compared, not to Aspen, but to Lake Tahoe.
The snow at the lakeside ski mecca is usually more like ‘California cement’ than light ‘champagne powder,’ this and some older lifts are the resort’s biggest drawback for spoiled snow hounds accustomed to skiing in the Rockies or the high Alps.
Still, Cerro Catedral is a favored destination for pro skiers and snowboarders from the Northern hemisphere for its deep powder and extensive off-piste terrain. Only 17% of Cerro Catedral are novice runs, 35% are intermediate and the remaining 48% is advanced and expert terrain.
Spectacular Views and Rave Reviews
As happens often in Argentina, the rave reviews compelled Catedral to jack up their prices, making the lift tickets out of reach for many Argentines. Day passes at Catedral now cost more than half the price of more professionally run resorts in the western U.S., Europe and Canada. For international travelers Catedral isn’t the bargain it once was but the increased tickets prices are still offset by Argentina’s succulent steaks and fine Malbec.
Bariloche qualifies as an excellent candidate for ski junkies from the northern climes looking to ski during their summer but the resort’s most expensive day pass during the high season isn’t a bargain.
If you were going to move to South American to be a ski bum Bariloche would probably be your best bet, but unless you hold local residency papers the season’s pass costs a a couple of thousand dollars. A monthly pass costs nearly a thousand dollars in the high season.
This region of the Andes is one of the world’s most breathtaking landscapes but if good skiing conditions are your main pursuit you may be more satisfied with Portillo resort in Chile or Las Leñas in the Mendoza province. It is a trade-off though — the views, dining and services at isolated Las Leñas can’t compare to what is offered at Cerro Catedral and Bariloche though.
When to Go
Bariloche’s snowfall has been disappointing early in the season the last couple of years and the resort doesn’t make as much snow as it could at the base of the mountain.
The best time to go to Bariloche to ski is later in the season, even August. Travelers should keep in mind that the school holidays during the August high season mean that Bariloche and the slopes of Catedral are crowded with relatively inexperienced skiers at that time. There also seems to be a laissez-faire attitude toward slope grooming and a dearth of ski patrol to keep macho skiers in check.
Intermediate and advanced skiers and boarders will have the most fun if they head to the top of the mountain early and stay up there all day. The backside’s La Laguna area is not to be missed.
Beginner skiers will be happy to find that lower cost tickets are available for just the bunny slopes. Skiers 75 and up get the rock star treatment all year — tickets for them are free.
If you are serious about skiing bring your own equipment to save time and money, otherwise basic equipment rental is available at a reasonable price.
San Carlos de Bariloche
Río Negro Province
Tel: (02944) 420268
Summit: 7,152 ft. (2180m)
Base: 3,379 ft. (1130m)
Open: Average of three months per year
Season: Late June/Early July –Late September/Early October (depending on snow conditions)
• Childcare services offered
• Those 70+ ski free
• Equipment rental available
• Heliski available
Getting there from Bariloche:
• by car: Take Bustillo Avenue to kilometer 8, turn left to reach the parking area.
• by bus: a free shuttle leaves for Cerro Cathedral every 30 minutes from the bus station and stops all along the main strip in downtown Bariloche and along Bustillo Avenue