Los Penitentes3 out of 5 based on 1 reviews
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Penitentes Centro de Esqui
Penitentes Centro de Esqui
Penitentes sits on a major highway
Penitentes sits on a major highway
Penitentes Centro de Esqui
Penitentes Centro de Esqui
The trail that separates the upper and lower halves
The trail that separates the upper and lower halves
Ski Penitentes Argentina
Ski Penitentes Argentina
Half of the village at Penitentes
Half of the village at Penitentes
Penitentes has lots of apartments
Penitentes has lots of apartments
Penitentes ski area
Penitentes ski area
The base area of the ski resort
The base area of the ski resort
One of the base restaurants
One of the base restaurants
Traverse to skiers' right: lots of lines
Traverse to skiers' right: lots of lines
Penitentes Centro de Esqui
Penitentes Centro de Esqui

Los Penitentes

Los Penitentes Ski Resort Argentina

Los Penitentes is a small to mid-sized ski resort that’s located just inside Argentina, only a snowball’s throw away from Portillo Chile. The Penitentes ski resort is dwarfed by the towering Andean peaks that surround the area, including Aconcagua, the highest mountain in the western hemisphere.

The name Los Penitentes (the Penitents) is potentially derived from “nieves penitentes” which are thin blades of packed snow that can be as tall as a couple of metres. These snow formations are somewhat common to Andean areas above 4,000 metres. They supposedly look like penitent monks going to prayer whilst wearing their pointy hats (I think someone chewed on too many coca leaves or was suffering in the thin air when they came up with that one?!). Others say the name of the ski resort comes from the jagged spires of the rock walls of the imposing and rugged Cerro Penitentes.

Penitentes Centro de Esqui is frequented by skiers and snowboarders from Mendoza and Buenos Aires, but not by international visitors, and it’s probably not ideal as a multi-day destination resort. However it’s got some great challenging terrain that’s good to sample for a day or two if you’re driving between Portillo and Las Lenas or other parts of Argentina. Or Penitentes is good for a day trip from Mendoza if you’re there on a wine fiesta.

Summary of Pros and Cons of Penitentes

Pros
  • You can’t see the massive Aconcagua from the ski resort, but the views of the other big peaks around the ski area are pretty awe inspiring.
  • With the exception of the beginner slopes, there are no crowds at Los Penitentes. Fresh tracks last quite a while.
  • The lift tickets and accommodation are pretty cheap.
Cons
  • A major highway runs through the middle of the village, with big trucks rumbling by. Unless there is fresh snow, the village is ugly with a capital “U” and it sometimes feels like a bit of a ghost town.
  • The slow primitive lifts are in no hurry at Penitentes.
  • The ski resort doesn’t receive an abundance of snowfall.
Pro or Con Depending On Your Perspective 
  • You’ll see Argentinian culture at its finest in action with the laid back attitude of mañana, manana.
  • Penitentes is for adventure travellers. If you like ski holidays that are packaged up in a nice bow, this is not the place for you.

Penitentes Ski and Snowboard Terrain

The ski area sits above the tree line and has lift-accessed terrain between elevations of 8,460 feet (2,579m) and 10,479 feet (3,190 metres). The ski resort offers 300 hectares of terrain and 25 trails, which are mostly serviced by a couple of slow lifts and a T-bar. The base area has three little beginner runs (20% of the piste terrain). Intermediates get 30% of the runs, most of which are more or less groomed, whilst 50% of the trails are red or black for advanced plus riders.

The ski area also has lots of expert lines and little couloirs that can be reached via a traverse from the top ridge chair, and those with an AT set-up can tour to their heart’s content. Much of the terrain is very avalanche prone after storms, particularly from slides that start way above the ski area.

Penitentes Snow

The official statistic for the average snowfall per season is not cited, but it’s thought to be much less than nearby. The Penitentes Ski Resort sits in the shadow of Aconcagua and generally receives the tailings of the snow storms after most of the precipitation has dropped on the bigger mountains. Snow cover is sometimes lacking near the base, but they have a couple of snow cannons to complement Mother Nature’s work.

The snow quality at Penitentes has many similarities to that at Portillo, so it can vary from dry powder to sun burnt snot or ice.

Where is Los Penitentes?

Los Penitentes sits (literally!) on the trans-Andean international highway Ruta 7 between Santiago in Chile and Mendoza in Argentina. Penitentes is 183km west of Mendoza and only 25km from the Chile border. Portillo Chile is only 30km (19 miles) to the west.

Los Penitentes Village

The base village can sleep about 2,000 guests in a range of accommodation including apartments, hotels, hosterias (guest houses) and very inexpensive refugios. Many of the Penitentes accommodations are ski-in ski-out or very close to it, and have their own restaurants and bars.

Whilst the vistas of the towering peaks are rather majestic, the village lacks a little atmosphere, largely because it is situated right on the highway where big trucks rumble past day and night.

Penitentes Accommodations Listings

Or if you’re just visiting for a day, you could stay in a village or town between Mendoza and Penitentes. One example is Potrerillos, which is 113km from Penitentes. The Gran Hotel Potrerillos is a spectacular 4 star renovated Spanish villa that offers a piece of glamour and luxury for a fraction of what you’d expect to pay.

Facilities & Services

The Penitentes Ski Resort and village have various facilities ranging from decent to completely run down. Mid-mountain is a little café with very simple fare such as watery powdered soup (and no heating when we visited), whilst at the bottom there is a basic kiosk. In the “village” there are a few restaurants and bars.

For ski and snowboard rentals, there is a resort-owned shop as well as a few old rental shops where the equipment looks particularly dodgy. Other amenities include a medical centre and ski school for Spanish speaking beginners. Whilst cash is required for payment of many items, don’t expect to find a cash machine.