Argentina’s Cerro Catedral Offers a Truly Unique Ski Resort Experience
Think Swiss chalet vibes in South America
Most lists of the world’s top ski locales would include a lot of familiar names, like British Columbia’s Whistler, France’s Courchevel and Aspen in Colorado. But cognoscenti might argue that missing from such lists is an entire continent: South America; and one gem in particular—Argentina’s Cerro Catedral.
Cerro Catedral, the largest ski resort in the entire Southern Hemisphere, is considered a singular experience, enhanced by the unparalleled beauty of Patagonia, a vibrant apres-ski scene, and the country’s dual gastronomic specialties—fine wine and legendary steaks.
“It’s a great place,” said Nate Abbott of Joshua Tree, California, a professional photographer and a contributor to Freeskier magazine. He spent 10 days on a photo assignment in and around Cerro Catedral (technically Catedral Alta Patagonia), and describes skiing the Andes, the tallest mountain range in the Western Hemisphere, as almost otherworldly.
“It’s one of those things I’ve tried to describe to a lot of people, and I don’t know if I’ve ever sufficiently done it. You could drop me in different places, and I’d say this is probably Europe or this is probably America,” he said. “But this is totally different. The mountains are bigger. The mountains are spaced differently. And Cerro Catedral is one of those places that definitely feels different—the views, the rocks. It’s really fun skiing and exploring.”
Cerro Catedral (Cathedral Hill in Spanish) is located in the Argentine Lake District, about 1,370 kilometers (850 miles) southwest of Buenos Aires. The center of activity in the region is the small, scenic city of San Carlos de Bariloche, known commonly as Bariloche, set on the southern shore of Lake Nahuel Huapi, visible from the slopes of Cerro Catedral 21 kilometers (14 miles) away.
The region, which lies within the Nahuel Huapi National Park, is one of South America’s prime vacation destinations, and not only during the June-to-October ski season. Bariloche's charms along with the area's array of outdoor sports and activities, luxury chalets and spas, and breathtaking scenery draw international visitors year-round.
Such is the district’s reputed natural splendor that Barack and Michelle Obama extended their 2016 trip to Argentina by a day just to stay at the legendary Llao Llao Hotel & Resort, situated on a peninsula overlooking Lake Nahuel Huapi, about 30 minutes from downtown Bariloche.
The visit was scarcely the first by a commander in chief, as noted at the time by Politico in a slide show headlined “Bariloche, the Spring Break Spot of American Presidents.” President Dwight D. Eisenhower stayed at Llao Llao in 1960, as did Bill and Hillary Clinton in 1997.
And long before them, President Teddy Roosevelt passed through, recalling in his 1916 memoir “A Book Lover’s Holidays in the Open”: “We had been through a stretch of scenery as lovely as can be found anywhere in the world—a stretch that in parts suggested the Swiss lakes and mountains, and in other parts Yellowstone Park or the Yosemite or the mountains near Puget Sound.”
Given the landscape, European immigrants to South America felt right at home in the foothills of the Andes. Founded by German-speaking newcomers in the late 1800s and, bolstered by a second wave of German and Swiss immigrants after World War II, Bariloche still reflects those roots.
“They brought their cultural customs and architectural style to this region,” said Viviana Reissis Etchegoin of Ginevra Sotheby’s International Realty in Buenos Aires. “Bariloche is called the St. Moritz of South America, because, if you look at the construction, it resembles Switzerland.” (Another similarity is Bariloche’s preponderance of chocolatiers, earning it the title of Argentina’s chocolate capital.)
Chalets throughout the region echo the architectural tone set early in Bariloche. Primarily made of local hardwood or stone, or both, many homes are classically Bavarian, with gabled roofs, wide eaves and overhanging balconies, as rendered by the area’s pre-eminent architect Alejandro Bustillo, who designed the Llao Llao hotel and several large private homes nearby in the 1940s.
What You’ll Find
A Bustillo home, built in 1941 on 5 hectares (11 acres) is currently listed for US$6.5 million. “That property is irreplaceable, it’s waterfront, it’s an older construction, built by the original Bustillo, who was a pioneer,” said Paul Reynolds, managing director of Reynolds Propiedades in Buenos Aires. Smaller homes without pedigree or lakefront around the exclusive Llao Llao Peninsula neighborhood start at about US$1.5 million.
A more contemporary take on the Swiss chalet is seen in the homes at the Arelauquen Golf & Country Club, a relatively new gated community located 14 kilometers (9 miles) from Cerro Catedral on Lake Gutierrez. In addition to golf, the resort has polo facilities and a private nature preserve for hiking and biking.
“Here you can buy a nice, nice chalet style house—three bedrooms, four bathrooms—for a million,” Ms. Reissis Etchegoin said. “You are about 20 minutes from Cerro Catedral and about 20 minutes from downtown Bariloche.”
Prices are off a bit, but they are not in freefall, despite the peso’s drastic devaluation in 2018, Mr. Reynolds said. “Today you have good negotiation value, or potential,” Mr. Reynolds said. “The guy who has money in his hand can go in and negotiate a price.”
Come spring, some sellers try to catch a buyer before the skiers leave again, “If the question is whether it’s a good moment to invest in Patagonia, I would say yes,” Ms. Reissis Etchegoin said. “These properties still have the potential to rise in price. There are many, many things to improve, to do, in that region that will impart value on property. For instance, three or four years ago, we had four or six direct flights a day to Bariloche (from Buenos Aires), now we have nearly 10. So more connections, more infrastructure will see the prices go up.”
Sales have dried up in the current economic climate, but interest has not waned, she said. “Patagonia is a brand in itself.”