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Summer Skiing: Las Leñas, Argentina

Features
posted: 04/28/2004

The Argentine economy is circling down the drain (clockwise), the Andes are getting a foot of snow an hour, and you can score a weeklong package with all the fixin's to Chile for under a grand. While your friends are golfing, hiking, or-at best-scratching turns on a veneer of snow, it's time to go south, where winter is in full swing.

Beta: At the base, hypermodern, hard-angled buildings of concrete, glass, and steel sit on a treeless bench below 12,000-foot peaks. The four cerros (Spanish for mountains) that make up the ski area offer sheer couloirs, 50-degree faces, and 50-foot cliffs, all accessible from the Marte double chair. On powder days, while the late-night Latin partiers sleep off their hangovers, early-morning risers score run after run of untracked. Of course, if you want to run with the late-night dogs, Las Leñas, frequented by Buenos Aires hipsters, beats Portillo.

Opening Dates: The season runs mid June through mid October; prime conditions are in early September.Snow: By September, most of the resort's annual snowfall-250 inches at the base-has formed a reliable snowpack. You'll likely find powder on south-facing aspects and corn on the north-facing slopes.

Terrain: The downside to Las Leñas' 10,000 treeless acres (not to mention 500,000 off-piste acres) and 4,000-foot, lift-served vertical: The lack of landmarks makes it all but impossible to ski in a big storm, though gales rarely close the mountain for more than a day at a time.

Biggest Storm: Every year, a storm cell known as the Santa Anna levels Las Leñas with as much as 20 feet in a week. At a U.S. Ski Team training camp in 1986, racers built kickers from avy debris and hucked backflips into drifts, waiting out a 10-foot Santa Anna.

Deals: For $1,568 (per person, double occupancy), you can get eight days of skiing, seven nights in Las Leñas, two nights in Buenos Aires, roundtrip airfare from several eastern U.S. cities, and a charter flight from Buenos Aires (skivacationplanners.com, 888-822-6754).

Nightlife: Pound pisco, the brain-rattling South American brandy, at the Bash bar, sweat it out at the Ku disco, then finish off with blackjack in the Piscis Hotel. Last call is around 4 a.m.

Info: laslenas.com, 011-54-2627-471100

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