Bariloche is a picturesque town in Patagonia close to South America's largest ski area - Cerro Catedral or Mount Catedral. Advanced high-speed chairs, apres ski bars, ski shops and Swiss-style chalet buildings give the resort a European flavour.
Bariloche, or San Carlos de Bariloche to give it it’s full name, is a large town and an all year round holiday resort in a classically beautiful ‘lakes and mountains’ setting, that is sometimes referred to as Argentina’s Little Switzerland.
Cerro Catedral (“Mount Catedral” in English) is the name of the main ski area. It is less than 20km from Bariloche so it’s often referred to as Bariloche Ski Resort. It has a good range of runs for all ability levels and stretches across 1200 hectares (2964 acres), the largest lift served terrain in all of South America. Half of the area is ungroomed ‘off-piste’ skiing for advanced skiers and freeriders, with steep chutes and backcountry open bowls. As well as staying in Bariloche, there is also accommodation at a small village near the lifts.
The ski area has a vertical of over 1000m (3300 feet), which is more than many famous American ski resorts, and it has nearly 40 ski lifts. There are some old slow ones, but there are modern high-speed, hifg-capacity chairlifts comparable to what you would find in the Alps or the Rockies, and overall you’re unlikely to find a better lift system in any ski resort in South America.
The top of the Cerro Catedral ski area gets a decent amount of snow – about 6 metres. Lower down snow quality can be patchy.
Although Cerro Catedral is the main ski area, skiers and boarders staying in Bariloche can also reach Cerro Bayo, Perito Moreno and Cerro Chapelco. There is also cat-skiing and heliskiing nearby.
Cerro Catedral is definitely the main attraction for skiers and boarders to come to Bariloche because it is the largest lift-served skiing area in the Southern Hemispere, but it's not the only ski area they can experience. Cerro Bayo, Perito Moreno and Cerro Chapelco are also within reach. There is also cat-skiing and heliskiing nearby.
Bariloche's Cerro Catedral has a base altitude of about 1000m above sea level, and its highest lifts reach approximately 2000m. giving it a lift served vertical of about 1000m (3300feet). The resort uses the Ski Data handsfree system for all of its lifts; this reduces the queuing time and allows hassle free access to the slopes. It is the most advanced and agile system in the whole of South America and works extremely efficiently.
The 34 lifts can carry up to 36,000 riders per hour. The lifts open promptly at 9am and close at 5pm, with the new Sextuple Express lift carrying 1800 riders per hour over 2,500 metres. The Telecabina Amancay is the biggest lift and carries 2,000 people per hour 2,000 metres in 125 cabins.
The Nubes Quadruple chairlift is susceptible to closure in harsher weather, but is able to carry 1,200 riders per hour at a speed of five metres per second, and gives access to its own ski area and a restaurant - Las Nubes - in the south section of the resort. The chair lift system has been updated over the past three years to include a number of new high speed 6-person chairlifts in place of the older double and triple chairlifts.
Argentina is beginning to expand its market for skiing giving people who have never skied before the chance to give it a go.
Beginners are found in abundance at the bottom of Bariloche's main ski slopes and particularly on the aptly named "Punta Princesa" run. The "Punta Princesa" maintains its snow cover because of its south facing location (remember in the Southern Hemisphere the sun is on the North facing slopes)
The beginner runs at the bottom of the mountain (approximately the bottom third) are prone to less snow cover than the higher slopes because of their elevation, however in the high season this is only a problem after many days without snow.
The runs on both sides of the mountain from the top feature both red and blue difficulties, with the option lower down to join the green trail runs - useful at the end of the day when the steeper red and blue runs have turned to ice.
The Punta Nevada lift takes the intermediate skier to the top of the mountain and gives the options of blue runs with beside-piste skiing down to the base or red runs with the opportunity for some real off-piste skiing on the left of the mountain.
Cerro Catedral is an obvious choice for the intermediate skier because of its similarity to European resorts; it is possible to enjoy this resort for either a short stay or for an entire season.
There are two main off piste areas, of which one is the Laguna area at the very edge of the resort at the top of the Del Bosque lift where there is a beside-the-piste run or, with a short hike, there is the option of a longer run with open bowl skiing and the feeling of isolation. A guide for the first couple of times down this run is strongly recommended because it is sometimes difficult to find your way out through the trees and easy to overshoot.
The second off piste area is at the top of the Condor 3 lift (named because it is the third chairlift in a row to the top of the peak). As you exit the chair lift, bear right and head along the ridge. There is a nice cornice drop to start and then you have the choice of a short traverse out to the trees or to follow the wide spine to join a green trail run further down. These runs are 'out of bounds' runs and you do require off-piste gear and a guide.
The backside of the mountain, which requires touring gear, gives you access to some of the most beautiful runs in the Andes.
For more information about skiing off-piste and to hire a guide contact Huere Daquier at Southamericaski.com
Bariloche's terrain park is extremely safe with helmet rules enforced and competitions run by the local instructors all season. Since 2008 the park has benefited from further improvements including a "black line" featuring more difficult jumps and rails and a number of other advanced features.
The lack of flat sections and the easy access to tree runs in Cerro Catedral means that snowboarders like the resort. There are few runs that require a walkout and most off piste in the Cerro Catedral area is accessible to skiers and boarders alike.
The astonishing wine selection and the delicious slabs of steak of the internationally known Bariloche restaurants transfer onto the mountain and the views in the higher mountain restaurants are second to none.
Baroiloche's Cerro Catedral ski resort includes a modern shopping mall at the bottom of the lifts and the resort village has been extended to include a hotels and restaurants making it possible to stay here rather than commuting from Bariloche each morning and back in the evenings.
The resort village is quaint with Alpine style buildings, entirely concentrated on skiing and the slopes are just a five minute walk from the village. There are two large free car parks and a shuttle service leaves for Bariloche every 30 minutes.
The Amancay complex at the base of the mountain is the newest complex with all the administration for the resort now based here. It is possible to complete everything from ski rental to booking guides and lift passes in this complex.
Bariloche Tourist Office
Cerro Catedral Mountain Base
8400 ,P.O. Box:1630
Tel: + 54 2944 409000 Ext. 118
For evening drinks in the town there is a vast array of bars, which are cheap and friendly and are perfect for an après ski drink.
With unrivalled steak and meat barbeques in the town it is worth spending as many nights as possible sampling the food. The town boasts hundreds of restaurants but two worth mentioning are Tarquino and La Familia which both offer friendly service and, compared to English prices, excellent value for money.
Students from Buenos Aires come to Bariloche after their exams have finished which in July. This turns Bariloche into a party town at night with 7 or 8 of the clubs frequently finishing well after 7am!! It is difficult to combine the Argentinean party lifestyle with the skiing lifestyle; but if you're there for a while it is well worth experiencing the crazy bars and clubs and taking a day off to recover!
An idiosyncrasy of Bariloche is its chocolate shops. There are 10-12 specialists on the high street in Bariloche and smaller shops on the mountainside. Many have a café and eat in options with the opportunity to also see how chocolate is made. Bariloche is highly recommended for all you chocoholics.
There are a number of on the mountain activities for the non-skier including hang-gliding, mountain biking, trekking, sled rides, snow motor biking and snowmobile riding. Off the mountain there is horse riding, cycling, sailing (although the winds on the lake are often extremely changeable) and tours around the local area, which is stunning from every angle and well worth it.
These can all be arranged at the tourist office at the bottom of the slope next to the lift pass booths. Alternatively, there is an all mountain excursions shop in the town of Bariloche which organises activities on and off the mountain.