Catedral ski resort
Catedral is not only the largest ski area in South America but also one of the three largest resorts in the entire Southern Hemisphere in terms of its large terrain area and its uplift – it can move an incredible 35,000 winter sportsmen and women up the mountain every hour.
The ski area is long established, having become Argentina’s first when it opened in 1938 – in part thanks to the large number of European settlers inhabiting the nearby city of San Carlos de Bariloche. The settlement was established in 1902 by German traders and is now a cosmopolitan city and ski town with a population of just over 100,000.
The views from Catedral – or Gran Catedral (Grand Cathedral) and Cerro Catedral (Cathedral Hill) as it is often dubbed – are regarded as among the best in the skiing world, with wonderful vistas across to the mountains above Lake Nahuel Huapi.
Catedral’s history is a colourful one. One notable moment was when the boat transporting the resort’s first cable car – which was ordered from Italy just before WWII – was sunk as it crossed the Atlantic and it never made it. A replacement was finally delivered five years after the war ended.
Since then, the ski area has gone from strength to strength and now offers a ski domain of world-class dimensions. As with other Southern Hemisphere resorts, it also capitalises on being operational at a time of year when the vast majority of the world’s other big name ski areas are closed for snow sports.
Catedral is located close to the Chilean border (which can be reached via the Puyehue Pass) in the province of Rio Negro, in Patagonia. The resort is 15km (9 miles) from the city of San Carlos de Bariloche and is set within the Nahuel Huapi National Park in the foothills of the Andes.
On the slopes
Catedral has a mixed reputation for its snow cover, as its location, amongst several lakes, and its modest base elevation can mean rain on lower slopes when it’s snowing at the summit. As a consequence, average snowfall figures for the base of the mountain are around a quarter of those 1,000m (3,230ft) above.
Catedral is popular with beginners, who make up the majority of its clientele; many of whom arrive from the mostly snowless nation of Brazil. Nursery areas can be found at the top of the slopes in case snow cover is an issue lower down. And, once able to move around the slopes, novices have more than half of the runs on the mountain to themselves; including the longest, a 9km (6-mile) descent.
Intermediate skiers are able to zip around the mountain and make best use of the wide, open bowls and plateaus that boast more than a dozen runs.
Expert skiers will also not be disappointed, as there are slopes pitching at up to 60 degrees and 10 groomed black runs. There are also several hike-to areas for free-riding and some good tree skiing on the lower half of the ski area.
The ski area also features a 3,000sq m (32,300sq ft) terrain park with a range of jumps, an air bag and rail park suitable for all ability levels.
But it’s not all rosy. A current criticism is the lack of signage on the slopes (compared to big resorts of Europe and North American), so the advice is to familiarise yourself with the resort map before pulling on the skis.