News from the snow
Las Leñas Argentina
Nestling at 7,500 feet above sea level in the Andes lies the Argentinian resort of Las Leñas, one of the newest and now the largest ski station in South America. With towering peaks which dwarf the Alps and a lengthy winter season, the Andes have acquired a worldwide reputation for the excellence of their skiing and Las Lenas is probably the creme de la creme of all the Andean resorts. Skiing took off in South America in the first half of the twentieth century as wealthy European immigrants took to the snow for transport and pleasure. In the post-WWll period as ski stations were founded throughout the Andes, a succession of experts asserted the viability of the Las Lenas site as a top ski area. However, thanks to an almost unbelievable story of plots and machinations which culminated, South American style, in a kidnapping, the developers' dream languished as an architect's blue print until the early 1980s when Las Lenas was finally built. Since opening in 1983, the resort has lived up to its promise by adding to its natural attributes of snow and terrain world-class accommodation, facilities and events until, today, Las Lenas is a ski area of truly international standing. However, there are two things which prevent Las Lenas from being the ultimate ski destination - frequent avalanches and the often violent weather. The steepness and aspect of the slopes combined with the very heavy snow falls make Las Lenas and the roads leading to it particularly avalanche-prone and, significantly, avalanche prevention is less assiduously pursued here than in other parts of the world. Indeed, it is generally felt in South American that safety is the responsibility of the individual skier. As for the weather - up in these high mountains it can be quite simply awful, with July and August especially seeing a succession of high winds and blizzards. At its best, though, skiing in Las Lenas can compare with the best in the world; add to that the journey to the resort through some of the most spectacular and unspoiled landscapes on earth plus the warmth of the local people and you might feel that a visit here would be very well worth while.
One of the newest and now the biggest of the Argentinian resorts, Las Leñas has had a rapid expansion since opening. Named after the 'Yellow Wood' shrubs that were discovered by a botanist visiting the area in the 1860's the resort is known for its big lift-served vertical, excellent snow quality, opening the FIS World Cup season in August (the first South American area ever to do so back in 1985) , and its high quality facilities, particularly child-care. Highlights for expert skiers include a 24km (15 mile) off piste descent via Cenidor, Marte and Mercurio, possibly the world's longest run.
Off piste skiing is plentiful and although the resort's boundaries are marked, the decision to head off into the wide blue yonder is entirely yours - the powder skiing here is awesome, And although lion's share of the skiing is for the expert, there is plenty of good, easy terrain for intermediates and beginners alike. Heli-skiing is also available from the resort but, as it is rarely, if ever, busy, why bother? The Austrian-run ski school employs instructors from all parts of the globe so adults and children can opt to be taught in their own language.