Las Lenas is a remote ski destination in Argentina with a resort operation that usually extends from June to October. It has the reputation as the best resort in South America for steeps and challenging skiing.
The main reason to go Las Lenas is the truly world-class terrain, and maybe the pumping nightlife. However it has major problems with snowfall and lift reliability, plus it's a colossal pain to access from most places.
It is one of the best resorts in the world when the Marte Chairlift is open; when that lift is closed it’s just a very good resort that's difficult to get to.
- 1 Location
- 2 Pros
- 3 Cons
- 4 Contacts
- 5 Planning
- 6 Getting There
- 7 Accommodation
- 8 Lift Tickets
- 9 Ski School
- 10 Equipment Hire
- 11 Resort Facilities
- 12 Ride Guide
- 13 Other
- 14 Resources
Las Leñas is in the south-west of Argentina, on the Eastern side of the Andes. It is situated at the southern end of the province of Mendoza, 1200 km from Buenos Aires, 200 km from San Rafael, 70 km from Malargue.
The border with Chile is only 30km away. It's 400km from Santiago, Chile, but crossing over the Andes is required.
World class advanced and expert terrain
Off-piste areas are massive and accessible
Galactic amount of backcountry
Snow is dry and usually plentiful
Lack of crowds means fresh powder, days after a storm
Sunny climate in between the storms
Friendly fun-loving people
Cheap once you are there
Difficult to get to.
Not snow-sure, big variation in seasonal snowfall.
Older, unreliable lifts, Marte often closed.
High avalanche risk.
Best suited for advanced and expert skiers.
Not much else to do if the weather isn't co-operating.
Phone: Las Lenas office in Buenos Aires - (5411) 4819 6000
GSM phones work in Las Lenas. There is internet access via a couple of internet cafes, plus free wifi at the Piscis Hotel. There are a couple of ATM's in Las Lenas. You can also change money at the casino.
The most important advice for planning is to wait as long as possible before paying. Las Lenas conditions are variable (see Weather, below) and it's a long way to go for crap conditions. Also, book for at least one week or more, to maximise the chances of Marte lift being open (see Chairlifts, below).
The big storms tend to come in July and August, and the local school holidays are usually in July. This means the best time to go is late August – early September, assuming it’s an ok snow year. This is classed as low season and is less crowded and cheaper as well.
Not easy. Las Leñas is in The Andes, southwest Argentina, near Chile. Get to Buenos Airies. Charter flights run every Saturday to Malargue (2 hours) then bus for 1 hour to Las Lenas. About $200 all up. Mid-week you can fly to San Rafael and get a 4hr bus or taxi to Las Lenas.
You can drive to Las Lenas from Santiago, Chile, but you need to cross the Andes. Spectacular but not recommended as in Winter the roads can be closed for days after a storm.
Qantas now flies direct to Buenos Aires. The overnight bus ride between BA and Las Lenas, first class, is a great experience. It will save you a night's accommodation and will probably be the best night's sleep you have in Argentina (the rest of the nights will be spent on the dancefloor!).
Bonus happy fact! The 1972 movie ‘Alive’ recreated a real plane crash in the remote Andes. The starving survivors munched on the dead bodies to keep alive. Apparently in Summer you can see the plane wreckage from top of Las Lenas, about 10k away. Enjoy.
Pretty much everything is Las Lenas can be considered to be on-mountain. The whole Las Lenas place has a weird astrological theme. Someone decided to name the accommodation and lifts after gods and constellations. So you can stay at Pisces, Escopio, Aries, Gemini, etc. close to the slopes. Nearly all places here only do Sat-Sat bookings.
Escorpio: 4-star, ski in/out, room, breakfast, dinner, for 7-days is about A$1200. Not bad.
Just down the road there are a few cheap apartment and hotel type places that have a good vibe and skiers doing the season. It's not sophisticated, but if cost is your concern, this is your best bet.
For photos, descriptions and phone numbers, look at www.laslenas.com  under 'accommodation'. They call them Dormy Houses and Apartment Hotels and some are in the village, some a short bus ride away.
All charged in Argentinian pesos, so the exchange rate is key. But at 2006 exchange rates, lift tickets are very reasonable. A seasons pass is A$950, a 7-day pass is $A200. There is a 20% discount for Argentinian residents.
There is a ski school, staffed with mainly local instructors. A guide service is also available.
There are a couple of hire shops which are reasonably well organized. But the stock is older gear, usually at least three seasons old. Preferable to bring your own snow gear and avalanche equipment.
You can walk all of Las Lenas in 15 minutes. There is a shuttle bus system for those carrying gear or staying down the road. No car required, but the major hotels have a bunch of Porsche Cayennes if you are unable or unwilling to walk.
Minimal and not required.
There isn't much to do outside of snowsports. This is a place dedicated to on-snow actvities. There is a casino and nightclubs, but during the day having a relaxing meal and drink is about it.
Food is great and wine is a specialty as Mendoza is a good wine-growing district. If you can organize transport, there are some wineries within a 2 hr drive.
Quilmes is the local beer and goes down well. But this is a remote village and if the conditions are crap or there is no snow, there isn’t much to do but ingest vast quantities of Quilmes and Mendoza’s finest.
There are 11 restaurants in town, 3 on-mountain eating places, a bunch of bars, 2 nightclubs and 1 casino.
Catering mainly to Argentinian clientele means that Las Lenas restaurants charge Argentinian prices. The current exchange rate makes Las Lenas restaurant prices a bargain compared to European, North American or Australian resort restaurants. More importantly, the quality is excellent, with local fish and meat specialties, matched with local wines, producing terrific cuisine.
Bars & Entertainment
Spectacular. Argies love to party, every night. Unlike most resorts, there are more women than men in Las Lenas. If you didn’t get the memo, Argentinian women are hot. There are a few restaurants and two great nightclubs, UFO and Corona. Argies eat late and nothing gets going until 1am. If you want to keep up with the locals the schedule is:
10am – 3 pm ski, including long lunch 4 pm – 5pm apre ski 6 pm – 9pm sleep 10pm – 12 dinner 1am – 5am nightclub Repeat.
A vast array of t-shirts.
Base 2200m (7300ft), top 3400m (11,300ft). Sensational advanced terrain. It’s the reason to go to Las Lenas. Better than Grand Montet, Jackson Hole or Whistler. Really. But…only when Marte lift is open…. (see below). Otherwise it’s just very good.
Las Lenas' size is like a Euro resort, way bigger than USA resorts. The terrain is rugged and steep, treeless, with lots of huge rocky outcrops. The website has the terrain breakdown as 10% beginner, 18% intermediate, 37% advanced, 35% expert. Given the size of Las Lenas this still means there are plenty of beginner/intermediate areas, but unless you are advanced or expert, there are more appropriate resort choices in Sth America.
The 12 lifts are also named in the same space-cadet, Greek god, astro theme - Venus, Eros, Vulcano, Jupiter, Apollo, Neptuno, Mercurio, etc. These access 4000 ft vertical, huge variety of terrain and powder runs for days after a storm.
Huge terrain plus few skiers means lots of empty runs and powder - for days after a storm. Las Lenas generally attracts a high standard of gringo skier (Gordy Gaper isn’t going to make the trip all the way to LL) but most skiers are Argies, and they don’t ski off-piste.
But the real reason for advanced+ skiers to go to go to Las Lenas is the Marte (Mars) lift. This lift gets you to runs like Cenidor, El Collar, Marte, Sin Nombre, Paraiso, Mercurio and Eduardos, among many. These runs are world-class expert terrain, but sparsely populated with skiers and boarders.
Las Lenas has reasonable beginner areas, which the resort puts at 10% of the area. It's a big place so 10% is more than adequate for those learning to ski.
There is plenty of intermediate terrain, usually of the very wide, boulevard type. This is where most Argentinians ski.
Out of Bounds
First, a warning. It's avalanche territory. Leaving the marked runs at Las Lenas is dangerous. In the USA most of these runs would be closed, but this aint the USA. The layout of consistent steeps, chutes and bowls, combined with abundant snowfall that comes in big dumps, delivers regular and large slides. These can be predicted and managed if you take care and have some knowledge.
It's not enforced, but out-of-bounds skiing here needs proper safety equipment and a guide. You and your group should have an avalanche transceiver, shovel, and probe poles, and should know how to use them.
A local guide is almost a requirement for the first few days, especially if Marte is operating. Las Lenas trail maps are basic and talking to the person next to you on the lift will only get you so far. You can poke around and explore the mountain yourself, but a guide dramatically increases the speed of the learning process. Guides everywhere provide local knowledge on terrain, weather, routes and avalanche dangers, but this information is critical in Las Lenas. There are Argentinian guides available as part of the ski school and many US/European travel companies provide a gringo guide as part of their service.
As far as out-of-bounds territory goes, you will not run out of new areas in one (or two) weeks. Amazing backcountry terrain is accessible from lifts (especially Marte) and if you want to hike, there is a galactic area to choose from.
Parks & Pipes
A series of small to medium funboxes and rails. All hits are snow covered dirt mounds. Built on a particularly flat section of the hill. Not recommended.
If you want moguls then Las Lenas isn’t your resort. Most skiers and boarders are either on the wide, groomed boulevards, or off-piste.
If it snows you will ski lots of fresh powder. It's a simple equation:
huge dumps + large area + Argentinian reluctance to leave groomed pistes = plenty of new snow for all.
Given the high altitude and climate, the snow often falls as light fluffy stuff. Not Utah-fluffy, but nice and light all the same. The winds often leave big stashes in the many bowls and couloirs. Search and ye shall find. Or make friends with someone who knows.
On day 1 you can farm the powder nicely, laying your tracks next those you did on the previous run. If it is very sunny, you have a couple of days until it gets baked. You will still be able to find fresh powder runs in that time.
Las Lenas is very open to the elements. All skiing is above the tree-line and there is limited opportunity to hide from the snow, wind or sun.
Marte - Chairway to Heaven
Superlatives don’t do this lift justice. It’s just one of the best lifts in the world. It goes up 3000 feet, 1500 in the first six towers. There are a vast number of descents, from intermediate runs, scary chutes, to ski-movie cliff jump. But it’s the continuous steep fall line that is the attraction. 3000 feet of straight down. The area it accesses is massive.
The problem is that Marte (Mars) is often not operating. In August 2005 it was open for only 3 days because of storms, high winds and huge snow. In 2006 it was open for only a few days after an avalanche hit, and finally opened on August 9. Apparently it’s down 30% of the time. Without Marte, LL is a good-sized resort with great skiing, but not legendary. If you happen to strike bad weather you just won’t get the Las Lenas experience. At least in Chamonix, Whistler or Jackson the higher lifts are running after a storm.
Las Lenas has a big problem with erratic snowfall. And I don’t mean some years are better than others, like all resorts.
Las Lenas has huge variations in snowfall.
2001, 2002, 2005 +10m (+400") season snowfall. 4 to 5 metre base.
1997, 1998, 2003, 2004 pathetic, barely enough to ski. In 1997 LL never opened.
More bad news. In great years the lifts get snowed in and are closed for days at a time. Snow tends to come in big dumps as storms cross the Andes and leave 1 metre of fresh snow, and more. The big snow years come with avalanches, which close runs and knock down lifts. This isn’t Colorado so they don’t have a battalion of Kassbohrers, and clearing and grooming isn’t rapid. Lift equipment is old. Add all this up and the mountain opens slowly after a big storm, sometimes days. But it’s stunning when it when it does open up.
When it’s not snowing it’s sunny. Very, very sunny. Ozone-hole sunny. After lathering on Factor 500, people still get sunburnt up their noses (reflected sun) which looks kinda funny, but painful. But the high altitude and 6.5m annual snowfall preserve the snow well until late Sept.
Main geographic features are huge rocky outcrops, no trees, steep chutes, large bowls, gorgeous women.
The resort was built in 1983 in the middle of nowhere and is named for a small bush you can sometimes see poking through the snow.
Valle de Las Leñas means "the firewood valley".
Costs listed here are $A for 2005, but that may not mean much. Argentina was the richest country in the world 100 years ago. But they can’t run an economy so it’s been all downhill since then, and the Argie peso fluctuates wildly. In 2002 it fell by half. It still hasn’t recovered so Argentina is currently cheap. However the exchange rate could do anything.
Las Lenas trail map: http://www.laslenas.com/invierno06/popups/valle/mapa2.htm