Skiing Under A Volcano: Fall Skiing at Nevados De Chillán, Chile
Sep 16, 2020 02:45PM
By Story and photos by Lisa Ballard
The text message caught me by surprise. What volcano? We were scheduled to depart the United States for the ski area Nevados de Chillán, a Chilean ski resort about 300 miles south of Santiago, in two weeks. A quick Internet search revealed that the ski area was located not just on a mountain in the Andes but also on an active volcano, which had indeed erupted.
As I dug deeper, I learned that volcanic eruptions were nothing new at Nevados de Chillán, which was probably why it wasn’t apparent in the ski resort’s marketing materials when I organized the trip. The mountain had spewed smoke, ash, and sometimes lava since 2016, but that was only the latest. The first recorded eruption was in 1650, shortly after Chile became a Spanish colony. I assumed the conquistadors kept their distance.
Periodically, Nevados de Chillán made the international newswires, accompanied by spectacular photos of a volcanic explosion on social media, shared by backcountry skiers and climbers.
However, the stories never got media attention in North America.
Why Nevados de Chillán?
I had skied in Chile once before, ironically, the same year that Nevados de Chillán became active again. However, that trip was to Valle Nevado, 300 miles north of Chillán, close to Santiago. Last fall, when the Chillán trip was scheduled, Valle Nevado, Portillo, and many other ski resorts were closed due to lack of snow, but Nevados de Chillán was white. Whereas Chile’s northern ski areas suffered a snow drought, Chillán was in good shape. The mountain had a reputation for stormier weather and lots of snow, but weather reports didn’t mention an erupting volcano.
I called the ski area. “No problem,” said the voice on the other end of the line in broken English. “The volcano, we watch it. No worry. You learn emergency evacuation when you arrive.”