Powderhounds Review


Powderhounds Review

Arpa Cat Skiing ReviewSki Arpa in Chile is very different to many of the glamorous cat skiing operations that can be found in North America. Ski Arpa cat skiing is definitely a no-frills set-up for adventure seekers where it's all about the great ski and snowboard terrain, and the ratings reflect this. The ratings provided are relative to other international cat skiing and heli skiing operations, so don’t interpret that Arpa is a poor operation. Arpa Cat Skiing is a fabulously fun day out and it's just that it’s low key and very different to the luxury cat ski operations in Canada that have all the bells and whistles. As a guide to the ratings, a 5/5 equates to absolutely phenomenal, 4/5 is excellent, whilst 3/5 is still a very good score.

Pros

  • This is a delightfully unique experience. The cat skiing is an adventure in itself and the views are amazing, but there’s also something very special about hanging out at the refugio for an après drink. And if you stay at the Casa San Regis hacienda, this will just top off a truly distinctive Chilean experience.
  • Ski Arpa has some fabulously challenging alpine terrain for cat skiing, although they can provide easier lines if you don't want to ride narrow chutes. The amazing terrain has vertical runs of up to about 900 metres of fall line skiing. There are minimal traverses and no run outs, just pure steep pitched riding.
  • The steep pitches can often be negotiated because the snow-pack is reasonably stable.
  • Ski Arpa is inexpensive especially when you compare it to the cost of Chile heli skiing or cat skiing Canada. Accommodation in nearby Los Andes and San Estaban is also really economical when compared to the lodging at the ski resorts. The whole vacation package is inexpensive, particularly if you can organise your own transport.
  • The guides are multi-lingual and English is the first language of many of the guides. There's no fear that you'll mistake “watch out for the roca” (rock) with “watch out for the roca” (cliff).
Cons
  • El Arpa only receives 5 metres of annual snowfall. The quality of the powder can be variable with anything from deep light pow to crust, spring corn or heavy cement. The snow is reasonably well retained thanks to high elevation, but without the trees, the powder is not protected from the sun and wind.
  • El Arpa cat ski operation is not always open, either because of the weather (and the treeless terrain which affords no protection from the elements), avalanche risk or because the road is not open after a storm. As you would with heli skiing outfits in alpine terrain, a flexible itinerary is required.
  • Access to Arpa has various complexities associated with it. Either enjoy the adventure of driving yourself up the rugged bumpy track or pay for someone else to get you there.
  • One of the Ski Arpa snowcats does not have a cabin on the back; just a platform.
  • Hiking is likely to be required to access La Cornisia which can be somewhat taxing, especially if you haven't acclimatised to the altitude. This isn’t really a con as the benefit of hiking is that you can get to much better lines.

Powder Snow
Like the rest of skiing in Chile, the quality and quantity of snow isn’t Arpa’s forte. Sometimes snow cover can be as issue considering the very rocky terrain, and sometimes a few of the chutes are not skiable. Also unlike Canadian cat skiing where there’s almost the expectation of guaranteed freshies (and deep powder), at Arpa the snow can be tracked and the emphasis isn’t always on getting freshies.

On the plus side, with altitudes of up to 3,623 metres and primarily south facing slopes, the snow remains in reasonable shape considering the sometimes warm temps in the valley.
Overall Terrain
At 4,000 acres, the size of the terrain is small in comparison to typical Canada cat skiing tenures and heli ski terrain. It is however comparable to many US cat skiing operations. The size of the terrain means that if it hasn't snowed recently, fresh tracks may not be on offer.

On the plus side (depending on your leg fitness!!) the runs are long, especially if there’s snow cover down to the refugio. Another pro is that they can split each snowcat into two groups if there are riders of different ability levels.
Alpine Terrain
The alpine terrain is varied and has lots of features in the form of rocks, cornices, and rollers to launch off. There are also various long open bowls that funnel into wide gullies where speedsters can let the boards fly. The Arpa alpine terrain only loses half a mark because the tenure size is not huge.
Tree Skiing
When it comes to tree skiing there’s nada.
Strong Intermediate Terrain

Some of the bowls are steep-ish yet featureless in parts, and with consistent powder these could be tackled by strong intermediate riders. However other elements of the Arpa terrain wouldn’t be conducive to intermediates, such as some difficult entries and the many terrain features. Also it’s rare that Ski Arpa has silky ego powder and the inconsistent snow can make it challenging for most intermediates.
Advanced Terrain
Most advanced skiers and boarders will find the Arpa terrain incredibly satisfying considering the long steep alpine slopes.
Expert & Extreme Terrain

There are generally lots of features to launch off, and depending on the amount of snow cover, Arpa has some nice steep chutes of varying widths. They definitely get slides but unlike lots of cat and heli skiing outfits that gets huge dumps of snow, the snowpack is reasonably stable so it’s often possible to ride it.
Guiding
The guides all seemed to be very personable chaps. The guiding was quite relaxed with nothing too fancy and very simple instructions, but we had confidence in the guides’ abilities and that they were looking after our safety. The ski area is not huge so the guides know the Arpa cat skiing terrain really well.
Snowcat
One of the Ski Arpa snowcats does not have a cabin on the back. Guests stand on the back on a platform with railings for support. It can be very squishy if there is a full group, and the noise of the cat is not conducive to the social atmosphere you usually get with cat skiing. Another obvious con is the inability to sit down for a rest, warm up, or have a relaxing drink and snack.

The snowcat with the cabin was so much more comfortable than the open air cat. Whilst there was no fancy storage and the seating was sideways, at least it was nice to sit down and have a drink, take some layers off, and not use up unnecessary energy.
Avalanche Mitigation Strategies
It is likely that Ski Arpa puts considerable effort into minimising avalanche risk, but this wasn’t apparent to guests on the day or via their website. There was no mention of the avalanche risk, no background provided regarding terrain choice, and nothing evident in the field regarding avalanche mitigation except on one slope where we rode one at a time. The internet access up at the refugio is very very slow so the guides can check the weather but they would have difficulty with sophisticated avalanche forecasting, and there are no other operations in the area that they can share avalanche information with.

Ski Arpa provides avalanche beacons but you have to BYO shovel and probe. They have some emergency equipment such as oxygen and spinal boards, and they have their GPS dialled in with Santiago for helicopter evacuation if required.
Safety Briefing
The safety briefing went for about 30 seconds and covered the topic of don’t ski into the snowcat. It didn’t cover the use of beacons or what to do in the event of an avalanche. It appears that Arpa assumes that riders are experienced backcountry riders, so if you don't know how to use a beacon you’ll need to ask one of the guides.
Frills
Arpa has a few more trimmings on offer than they used to, but this is still a relatively low frills operation. It’s probably best if you BYO lunch, snacks and beverages. At the basic refugio they have snacks and soft drinks for sale, and for après ski they sell beers and sausages cooked on the BBQ.

Arpa now has a handful of Liberty demo skis that can be rented, which is a big plus.

You can buy some simple Arpa Cat Skiing logo apparel such as hoodies, T-shirts and ugly trucker hats!

Accommodation
not rated
If you want to do multiple days of cat skiing and avoid the drive up, it is possible to stay at the refugio if you’re hard core and don’t mind foregoing simple luxuries. The refugio is very basic and the generator is only on for a couple of hours each night.

Most people stay down at the lovely Casa San Regis. See the accommodation page for more information.
Value for Money
This cat skiing is inexpensive relative to Canadian cat skiing, especially those that incorporate backcountry lodging. With Arpa you can stay in great value for money lodging in Los Andes, San Estaban, or Santiago.

The Arpa cat skiing price is similar to some of the simple US cat skiing operations, and the vertical on offer is comparable too. The bonus with Arpa is that additional runs are very cheap.

It’s great that any additional trimmings are charged for which means you’re not paying for things you don’t necessarily need. This includes the transport which as to be expected is pricey unless you’re travelling with a group.

Notes Regarding Review The review is largely based on our experience, but also on discussions with staff, former guests, and information available on their website. Our review has some limitations as it’s not possible to ski every run and in all possible snow and weather conditions. Every guide is somewhat different and we acknowledge that everyone’s experience will be slightly different. The ratings are from our perspective only. Check out our cat ski ratings to see how Ski Arpa fares against other backcountry operations.

The photos and video are not filmed using professional riders, but rather aim to show an example of a real experience.