Winter in Bariloche: A Guide to Skiing in Argentina
San Carlos de Bariloche is one of Patagonia’s most visited cities. When you see the views and try the chocolate, it’s easy to see why. Until recently, I’d only visited in the warmer months, enjoying hikes and lounging by the lakes. This time, I wanted to see winter in Bariloche.
Personally, as a Texan, I’m naturally adverse to extremely cold weather and snow. However, my husband loves to snowboard. And since we all make sacrifices for love, I went against all of my instincts and boarded a flight south to the snow covered mountains of Patagonia in July.
Turns out, snow is beautiful. We enjoyed the views, consumed our weight in chocolate, and one of us snowboarded.
This post is a guide to help you plan your own ski holidays in Argentina: when to go, where to stay, and everything you need to know.
Argentina Ski Season: When to Go
If you’re coming from the northern hemisphere, don’t forget that the seasons are flipped around down here. The Argentina ski season starts in July and winds down in September.
Busy Season: When to aVoid
While July, the heart of winter, may be tempting, I recommend going in mid-late August or September. The two weeks at the end of July and beginning of August are Argentina’s school winter holidays, i.e. BUSY season.
The dates for La Fiesta de la Nieve (The Snow Festival), usually at the end of the school holidays, will also be very busy.
Take my word for it: you do not want to be in Bariloche during the winter holidays. The city will be at full capacity and it gets hectic, not to mention the lines and waits for the ski lifts.
High & Low Season Dates for Skiing in Argentina
The ski season is broken down into low, medium, and high seasons for the Cerro Catedral ski resort in Bariloche. You can see the official dates for 2019 here. For 2020 it will be similar but will likely shuffle by a few days depending on the school holidays (which should be announced by the end of the year).
It’s basically a high season sandwich. The very busy, please avoid it, high season dates in 2019 are July 13th to August 2nd. The week (give or take a few days) before and after make up “middle season” with middle prices.
We visited this year during this August middle season and had a great time. There weren’t too many people or crowds and prices were reasonable.
Bariloche Winter Low Season
Low season is the end of June and September and obviously, prices for everything (transport, hotels and even lift passes) are at their lowest.
While June is risky as there may not be any snow yet, the first weeks of September are excellent for skiing in Argentina on a budget.
Cerro Catedral Ski Resort
The ski resort in Bariloche is Cerro Catedral. It’s THE spot for skiing in South America because it’s the largest ski resort in the entire southern hemisphere.
There are more than 120 kilometers (that’s 75 miles for my fellow Americans) of ski runs. The 34 ski lifts have the capacity to move 36,000 people per hour. (Remember that number when you consider going in high season.)
Cerro Catedral Facilities: Restaurants & More
Cerro Catedral’s base has everything you could ever need. There are a number of restaurants to choose from. All offer more or less the same menu ranging from Argentine classics (steak or milanesa) to Patagonian specialties (trout, lamb and even hearty goulash).
There is a small shopping center that houses winter outdoor gear shops and only winter outdoor gear shops (what else do you need here?) and a food court.
There are bars for that perfect apres-ski beer. Best of all, there are Rapa Nui and Mamushka chocolate shops. Thaw out with their decadently thick hot chocolates.
Cerro catedral Lift Passes
The prices for lift passes vary depending on what pack you get and what dates you go (high, middle or low season). Here are some quick tips:
Check the table of prices on the official Cerro Catedral site here. Keep in mind, these are the prices for 2019. In Argentina, nothing costs the same from one year to the next. Use it as a guideline, while prices will definitely increase in pesos, they may cost the same (or less?) in dollars in 2020.
You can wait and get your pass the day of, but if you already know exactly how many days you want to hit the slopes, getting your lift passes online ahead of time is cheaper. Buy them here.
You’ll get a discount if you buy a promotional pack of multiple days. The “Packs” are for consecutive days.
Flexipass packs are for non-consecutive days. Weather is unreliable in Bariloche so if you have the time to spend there, this is the safest bet. If you plan on returning the following year, you can use your leftover Flexipass days the following season.
Exclusive passes give you access to the preferential line, basically you pay the cut the line. In busy season this can save you a lot of waiting and give you a lot more time on the mountain.
Equipment & clothing Rental
There are a number of rental outfits to choose from in the Cerro Catedral village. You can rent your board or skis and even clothing. You won’t have to worry about finding a rental store, they will find you.
We were constantly approached by their representatives trying to lure us into their store. It was with one of these guys that my husband rented his snowboard and everything worked out great.
If you’re more professional or want to be sure of the absolute best quality, it may pay to do a little more comparing. But from what we were told, the rental companies furthest from the base (towards the bus stop) are cheapest and likewise offer the cheapest gear. They’re more for the students or novices. The closer you get to the mountain, supposedly you’ll find better quality.
Where to Stay in Bariloche in Winter
If you’re planning a winter Bariloche trip to ski or snowboard, staying at Cerro Catedral or on that side of Bariloche city is the most convenient.
We spent four nights total in Bariloche this winter, splitting our stay between two hotels. We spent two nights by the mountain and two nights by the lake. Both were amazing experiences, you really can’t go wrong!
Charming Luxury Lodge & Private Spa
We were graciously hosted for two nights at the Charming Luxury Lodge (as always, all opinions are my own), and it was the definition of pampering. If you have the budget for it, you won’t regret a stay at Charming, one of the best hotels in all of Bariloche.
This family owned and run property is ideally located on the shores of Lago Nahuel Huapi. The hotel is built onto a small peninsula that strategically allows it to be the only property on the lake that provides views of Cerro Catedral.
The Charming Luxury Lodge is located in the Playa Bonita neighborhood. It’s on Bustillo on the outskirts of the city of Bariloche, near the turn off to Cerro Catedral, making it short, easy taxi ride to the slopes.
The guestrooms are enormous (as in, larger than my husband and I’s first tiny studio apartment!). The California king bed faced a panoramic view of Lago Nahuel Huapi and Cerro Catedral.
And when they say “Private Spa” in the name, they mean that literally. Each room houses its own private mini spa. Our room had a jacuzzu, Finnish sauna, and Scottish Shower. After a long day on the slopes, my husband was able to indulge in a full spa experience to ease his battered muscles.
We also loved the restaurant, Stag, so much that we ate most of our meals here instead of bothering to go into town. The buffet breakfast was filled with housemade pastries, eggs cooked any way, seasonal fruit, and regional jams. Lunch and dinner featured Patagonian specialties like lamb and trout. Prices were very reasonable and the view was epic. Even if you’re unable to stay at Charming, I recommend making dinner reservations at Stag.
Hosteria Sudbruk (at Cerro Catedral)
We also spent two nights right at the base of Cerro Catedral at The Hosteria Sudruk . If you’re planning on spending all of your time on the mountain, staying here is really a no-brainer.
It was beyond convenient to be able to wake up and walk to the mountain instead of take the crowded bus with the masses or a pricey taxi back and forth every day.
Our room in Sudbruk was comfortable but basic. Not overly luxurious but it was cozy and had everything you could need. There’s even a hot tub that opens after 5 pm to soothe your sore muscles at the end of the day.
For me, the beauty is in the lobby and restaurant. Everything is constructed out of solid wooden beams, some columns were entire tree trunks! It was the definition of cozy, and ideal for a snowy day.
My husband was thrilled to be staying so close to the slopes, and told me so multiple times throughout our stay at Hosteria Sudbruk. You can check availability and rates at booking.com here or with their listing on Airbnb here.
Hostel Inn Bariloche
The best hostel in Bariloche is the Hostel Inn. I stayed here my first time in Bariloche many moons ago, but it remains excellent. The staff is helpful and friendly, the rooms are clean and that deck… You’re going to want to get a beer or Malbec to watch the sunset on the deck. Check here for availability and rates for the private or dormitory rooms.
Public Transportation in Bariloche
The bus system in Bariloche is very easy to manage. If you want to take the bus to Cerro Catedral, check the schedule first. It leaves once an hour so you don’t want to miss it.
The buses (linea 20) to Cerro Campanario, Circuito Chico, Llao Llao etc. run every twenty minutes. You can check the schedule for that as well, but I never had too much trouble just showing up and trying my luck.
Get a SUBE
Like in Buenos Aires, you need a SUBE card to take the bus in Bariloche. You cannot pay the driver in cash. If you’ll be in Buenos Aires before visiting Patagonia, pick up a SUBE in any Kiosko or Subte station and load it full of pesos. Otherwise you can pick on up in any kiosko (small convenience store) in Bariloche, where you can also load money onto it.
Activities for the Non-Skiier
As I mentioned, I’m not into skiing. I’ve tried it twice and I’ve hated it both times. I’d much rather drink hot chocolate next to the fire with a good book.E
However, you don’t need to hide away in your hotel. There are so many things to do in Bariloche in winter that don’t involve skiing or snowboarding.
Explore the Slopes
You don’t need to ski to explore the slopes at Cerro Catedral. Get a pedestrian pass (pase peatonal) to one of the three ski lifts for the day.
I spent one day at Punta Princesa and highly recommend that lift. There are three stops. The first doesn’t offer much, so continue to Punta Princesa 2. The view there is spectacular. The restaurant is on the edge of a cliff with epic views and a lounge area.
Punta Princesa 3 is way up there. We had lunch here, at the very top. To be expected, the views from here are the very best (try to come on a sunny day). The food on the mountain is basic, not good, not bad, and the prices are reasonable. You’re here for the view, not the milanesa.
Cerro Campanario is one of the most beautiful viewpoints in all of Bariloche. It’s a short bus ride from downtown down Bustillo. If you can come at sunset, you’ll be well rewarded.
You can take the lift up for under $10 US or hike up to the top. I highly recommend getting a hot chocolate with pastries at the snack bar at the top!
Similar to Cerro Campanario, you can take a lift to the top of Cerro Otto. The admission fee is twice as much as Campanario, so I chose to skip it. However, there are more activities here. If you’re traveling to Bariloche with kids, Cerro Otto is a good place to entertain them.
Eat All The Chocolate
The chocolate in this region of Patagonia is to die for. Rapa Nui and Mamushka are the two most popular but there are more chocolate shops than you can count. Try everything!
The Rapa Nui store on Mitre Street downtown has a beautiful cafe along with an indoor ice skating rink and restaurant.
Go on a Hike
Even in winter, it is warm enough on sunny days to comfortable hike. For an easy level hike with beautiful views, try the Llao Llao trail. For more information on the many treks in Bariloche, click here.
Drive the 7 Lakes Route
This is Patagonia’s lake district and it’s home to one of Argentina’s most beautiful stretches of highway. If you have a rental car, drive north to the smaller mountain town of San Martin de los Andes. Stop along the way to admire the official 7 lakes and their views. Read my post about the 7 lakes to plan your day.
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