One thing you realise the more you go skiing and snowboarding around the world is that resorts are basically islands for rich people. Whilst this is true the world over, nowhere is it more apparent than in poorer countries such as Argentina. Argentina is relatively well developed in terms of infrastructure, but their struggling economy lumps them in with the Third World. Though the definition of the term is hazy, what it means in real terms is a frivolous pursuit such as skiing is an unattainable luxury for the vast majority of the population. The result is that the people who use the resorts are either tourists or extremely wealthy locals, such as famous actors and – symptomatic of the corruption found in the politics of the region – politicians. Particularly in Argentina, the divide is quite pronounced. In terms of how this makes you feel as a visitor, it's very different to France or Canada. The facilities are in line with the more developed ski regions of the world, but they'll cost you a fraction of the price. Whilst this presents a moral dilemma for the thinking traveller, you can't deny that it gives you access to some amazing mountains.

Conditions

The Andes are the world's longest mountain range, spanning over 7000 km from Venezuela right down to the southern tip of the continent. They're also one of the world's highest mountain ranges, with an average height of over 4000 m. The proximity to the Pacific Ocean means that weather conditions can be very unpredictable, so in terms of conditions a trip to a resort like Las Leñas is vastly more hit and miss that a trip to, say, Mammoth. Thanks to the lofty altitude, snowfall tends to be high, with the snow itself often being light and dry – in short, perfect powder conditions. On the flip side, it's all way above the treeline, and since Andean weather patterns indicate that there's a good chance of storms in the southern hemisphere spring, particularly in Las Leñas, this can often shut riding down altogether.

When to go

Opening times are generally from mid-June until October. Generally, the best riding is to be had in high season, July and August. By September it's spring in the southern hemisphere, so you're looking at the rough equivalent of March and April in the Alps.

Off piste policy

South American ski patrol isn't what it is in some of the more developed skiing and snowboarding regions, so don't rely on the pisteurs. In Las Leñas you'll need to sign a disclaimer before going off-piste, and you'll need to have all the relevant safety equipment. After that, you're on your own. It's genuine big mountain terrain in the Andes, so it pays to be well versed in the ways of avalanche rescue.

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