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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.

Mountain

Known for its often excellent powder more than half of the skiing in the Valle de las Leñas is the preserve of very good skiers. The principal area for experts is Marte, with long steep couloirs. which are frequently feet deep in breath-taking powder. However, the Marte lifts are often out of action because of the high winds and bad weather; this can leave adventurous skiers with few interesting options. 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.

Families

Families will find themselves very welcome in Las Lenas with excellent free care for the babies and children of parents taking ski tuition. The resort has new premises, the Little House of the Baby Lenas, where children can be looked after. Children who want to can enjoy the experience of skiing very early - there is a ski nursery for toddlers, where, using soft boots, they can play in the snow on or off their skis. For older children the ski school runs the Snow Garden (for 3 - 6 year olds) and the Junior Ski Academy.

Eating Out

There are several excellent restaurants in Las Lenas, some of them attached to hotels, and even the most expensive is very reasonably priced. Great value Argentinian steaks are probably the best value around (and delicious) but there is a good choice of eateries with Italian, Spanish, French and Austrian cuisine served in addition to the local, Argentinian-style food.

Apres

The apres-ski takes place largely in and around the bars and restaurants of Las Lenas and is quite low key. However, the casino at the luxury Piscis hotel would make an interesting change for those who fancy dressing up and living it large for a while. For those who have the energy the local night club is open into the small hours.

Boarding

Snowboarders are very welcome in Las Lenas, and free riding doesn't get much better than this with many gnarly chutes in the Marte area plus excellent powder skiing all over the mountain. What is more, boarders are free to go where they like both within and beyond the area's boundaries - your safety is your own concern, so take care. There is a fun park with half pipe and instruction is available for snowboarders of all standards.

// HIGHLIGHTS //
Vertical drop
1174m
Resort height
2256m
Airport
San Rafael
Train station
Malargüe

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