The Snow Gauge

Running the rule over the ski & snowboard industry since 1995

Top five places to ride RIGHT NOW

Posted by on Sep 7, 2016 in Australia, New Zealand, South America | 2 comments

Portillo Lake Run

Anthony Sharwood doing some spring preparation on the Lake Run, Portillo. Pic: Glenn Cullen

September and October don’t have to be no-man’s (or woman’s) land for skiers and snowboarders looking for somewhere to ride.

These are my top five resorts to ride around the globe that will be rocking for another three to seven weeks so there’s plenty of time to get you fill before the northern hemisphere winter starts.

All resorts listed are based on current conditions and my first hand experience, well except for one place I haven’t got to quite yet …

1. Mt Ruapehu, North Island NZ

Current peak base: 229cm
Projected closing date: October 24

Whakapapa view

View of The Pinnacles from the Knoll Ridge cafe – first week of October 2015. Pic: Glenn Cullen

Continues to be a criminally underrated place to make some turns. Can encounter more reliability issues than a Samsung Galaxy Note 7 and being an active volcano it will also explode from time as well (hmmm, just like the Galaxy as it turns out). But with an almost 2.5 metre base and a couple of more feet in the immediate forecast you’d say there’s at least six more weeks on the North Island’s Central Plateau yet.
The weather actually does tend to stabilise a bit more in September and October and you’ve got a better chance of getting a good day to ride. Big vert (700m+), great touring (check out the Crater Lake hike and short bootpacks around The Pinnacles) and two sides to the hill (Whakapapa and Turoa) ensure plenty to do for the gang.
Like a lot of mountains at this time of year it pays to follow the sun and get local advice as to what softens up first and what will stay more like your local skating rink. Meanwhile the new Rangatira Express chairlift has helped with some of the traffic flow out of the Whaka base (say that 10 times fast).
Finally there’s a stack to do should the mountain be having an off day as can happen from time to time here – it’s a volcano that’s not buffeted by a range and will on occasion be a magnet for all kinds of shite. Sweep about two hours from here and you can go to Rotorua, Taupo, mountain bike, almost get to the coast, fish, raft, see some Maori culture and generally have a spanking good time.

2. Portillo, Chile

Current peak base: 144cm
Projected closing date: October 1


Portillo – the views suck as much as the skiing. Pic: Glenn Cullen

Spring has hit Chile early – I should know I just got back a week ago and it was milder than Mormon comedy hour. Pretty easy for me to say it’s the best place to go as I’ve just been there but hand on heart Portillo appears to have the best of the declining conditions in South American ATM. A quick scan of the resort base depths will tell you that. While in many years you can head further south and enjoy colder smoke, this season it doesn’t seem to be stacking up and the lower elevated resorts actually have little snowpack left at all. To wit: Nevados de Chillan has just closed.
Anyways, Portillo hits up over 3,000 metres and is holding on to the white stuff reasonably well. Start your day pretending you’re water skiing off the slingshot lift Roca Jack then punch out some corn turns anywhere on skiers’ right with a myriad of chutes at your disposal. Throw in a few hikes. Then it’s a long-lunch at Tio Bob’s (if you can’t or don’t make it back to the table service of the hotel) and a couple of Escudo cervezas to ease you into the mid afternoon. Top it off with the languid lake run in the afternoon and a small hike out and ride back to the hotel. Finish with a dip in the southern hemisphere’s best mountain pool. Crikey – why did I leave again?

3. Perisher, NSW AUSTRALIA

Current peak base: 130cm
Projected closing date: October 3

There’s something about top to bottom coverage that I can’t dismiss. In a lot of ways it is non-sensical – ie that a brown bottom third of nearby Thredbo equates to riding on the same vertical drop as Perisher anyway. Under best conditions I always dip my lid to Thredbo as the best place to ride in the country but with the snowmelt well and truly underway it is hard not to cede this title to Perisher.
In September the vastly superior acreage comes into play (about 3.5 times the skiable terrain of Thredbo) and as long as most of the lifts keep spinning, the park facilities are running and Blue Cow is open it is very hard to top down under. I find snow at the base is comforting, like watching the All Blacks play Australia and already knowing the result.
You really appreciate the smaller crowds there at his time of year compared to the August madness too. Creamy turns out wide on Eyre, a leisurely lunch burger at the well-priced (for the snow anyway) Alpine Eyre and some soft turns out at Guthega always do the trick.
The only place on this list where you’ll get some tree skiing too.

4. Treble Cone, NZ

Current peak base: 143cm
Projected closing date: October 2

Treble Cone

Late August in Treble Cone? I’ll take it. Skier Fraser McDougall. Pic: Mark Clinton Photo/Treble Cone Facebook

Metservice and NIWA in NZ indicated it would be a tricky season across the ditch and that Treble Cone would perhaps stack up best. And so it has come to pass.
My favourite resort across the Tasman when it is on, TC is holding up quite well with a tidy spring base. As I pen these words 10cm of fresh has been delivered and with a little more and some low temperatures on the way there should be some pretty sweet riding around the Saddle Basin in the days to come.
Serviced by the always-wonderful town of Wanaka, TC fights the good fight with some serious big mountain and hiking terrain but is let down a little by its lift-serviced and intermediate terrain. With a Wanaka base you can also head to Cardrona with its great park facilities and of course pop in to the legendary Cardrona Hotel for an ale. Worse places to be for a ride at this time of year.

5. Las Lenas, Argentina

Current peak base: 144cm
Projected closing date: October 15

The only place on this list I haven’t been able to ride at yet but all reports suggest the biggest thing in Argentina (Juan Martin del Potro aside) is holding up pretty well thanks very much. Much like Portillo, elevation seems more a key than latitude this season and Las Lenas’ top height of 3430m ensures the white stuff is hanging in there.
If you weren’t aware that goes all the way down to 2230m, offering a stunning 1200m vertical drop to ride down.
From what people tell me there are pros and cons if you were debating between Las Lenas and Portillo. The former wins on nightlife, choice of accommodation and price but the latter gets it on convenience and facilities. (You’ll be looking a second flight from Buenos Aires or Santiago to Mendoza and then need a five hour transfer whereas Portillo is a straight 2-2.5 hour drive from the Chilean capital). There’s ample terrain at both, though Las Lenas has a little more of the marked variety.
You can get some great tips on skiing and snowboarding Las Lenas here.




  1. I have become very disillusioned with your reporting & opinions on ski & snow conditions on various fields around the world.
    I have just returned from Chile & Argentina & used your blog as a guide to where I should go.
    First of all your latest report stating Las Lenas in Argentina would be good for late season skiing is absolute rubbish. It got heavily rained on in mid August & has not had any substantial snow since. In fact what was left when I came past in early September was very icy & hard. Actuallt there was an international event scheduled for Las Lenas & there was talk of it being cancelled. I never heard the final result. I admire your stance on honesty of snow reports from resorts to keep the punters informed. So if you are going to pillory the resorts then don’t make up stuff yourself.
    A quick note regarding skiing close to Santiago is that info should always include the hassles of getting up & down the mountain due to the traffic congestion. If you can afford to stay on the mountain at the exorbitant costs that incurs, & are prepared to risk being isolated on the mountain if the weather goes bad or the snow isn’t great that is a personal decision but I feel your blog should point out all those issues as it purports to give ski & snow info. I really feel you need to lift your game.

    • Sorry you feel that way Peter. I really hope you get some good turns before the season is out!

      As you can appreciate conditions can change quickly in ski areas – even more so at this time of year.

      I included the base depth and the resorts’ projected closing dates – which can be reasonably instructive but far from bomb proof.

      I pointed out I hadn’t been to Las Lenas (the only of the five I haven’t spent at least a week at) but compared to other resorts in South America at time of writing it was holding up well. 12 of 14 lifts and a 1.5m base. And as it turns out they are having some snow today so the experience would be completely different!

      A place like Ruapehu in spring can be brilliant – I know it can be a real nightmare as well. But there’s a good base and I’ve experienced it in spring conditions and felt qualified to comment.

      In Australia there have been some great conditions this year – followed quickly by heavy rain. It’s just so changeable and frustrating as both a skier and writer! I have on multiple occasions written stories on getting to places quickly when conditions are good (including things like how to save money, where to stay etc etc) as often in the southern hemisphere this is the way to go,

      From memory Whistler had some epic conditions in December and had a tidy base. – then there was multiple days of rain in January. Anyone who copped that would have been disappointed and wondering what the hell the December visitors were on about!

      Finally it wasn’t a comprehensive resort review in terms of pricing, accommodation, resort access etc etc – just a blog as to the best places to ski around the globe in the southern hemisphere spring of 2016. Some people I know find the Australian resorts expensive too – I wasn’t avoiding the issue and have certainly written about pricing issues before.

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