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TRAVEL Q&A

Schussing in South America

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By Scott Vogel
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, February 17, 2008

Q. Our family would like to go skiing in South America during their winter (our summer). Any suggestions on the best places to do this?

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Melinda Purnhagen, Reston

A. Yes, folks, believe it or not, there are people who -- despite record snowfalls and bone-chilling cold throughout much of the country this season -- are actually craving more winter. But whether current temperatures inspire thoughts of off-piste or leave you merely piste off, South American skiing offers several noteworthy advantages over those on your home continent. That's according to Richard Dass, who runs the U.K.-based Snoventures, a tour company serving skiers and snowboarders -- most of them American -- bound for the Chilean and Argentine Andes ( http://www.snoventures.com, 801-938-4806).

"Firstly, you've obviously got the fact that you can ski in the summer," he said.

Uh-huh.

"Also, in the States it's not uncommon for people to queue up for 30 minutes for one lift. Down there, you don't have as many people using the lifts, and you don't even queue."

Okay, now we're getting somewhere.

"Another big plus: The locals down there don't think to go off-piste," that is, off trail. "If you live for the powder and you're somewhere in Colorado, where you're amongst people who also live for skiing the powder, it's all gone within a few hours. [In South America] fresh tracks last a week or more."

Furthermore, ski areas cater to all tastes and proficiency levels. There's Portillo, a Chilean resort 100 miles north of Santiago that Dass identified as the area's first true resort and "still the most well-known" ( http://www.skiportillo.com, 800-829-5325). A bit closer to Chile's capital is Valle

Nevado, which boasts what he called the fastest lift in South America, the aptly named Andes Express ( http://www.vallenevado.com, 800-669-0554). Across the border in Argentina, Las Le¿as ( http://www.laslenas.com) is a mecca for extreme skiers the world over ("People who love flying off cliffs -- they absolutely love it there," Dass said), while the Patagonian resort town of Bariloche is "a big holiday spot for Argentinians and famous for its chocolate" as well as its slopes ( http://www.bariloche.com).

We want to plan a trip for eight couples to the Florida Keys. All of us enjoy bars and restaurants, but otherwise our interests vary. What key should we stay on, and when's the best time to go with regard to crowds and cost?

Terri Webber, Hagerstown, Md.

Caveat No. 1: The chances of 16 vacationers agreeing on one key is about as likely as all 1,700 keys appealing to a single vacationer, which is to say not very. But, hey, we'll give it a whirl. Caveat No. 2: Q&A Guy just got back from Key West last week toting fond memories of the margaritas at Sloppy Joe's (201 Duval St., 305-296-2388, http://www.sloppyjoes.com), so we're cheerfully biased. Still, when it comes to the greatest happiness of the greatest number, you can't go wrong with that last stop on Highway 1. Key West offers great variety in accommodations (from campsites to four-star resorts; see the "Where to Stay" page at http://www.fla-keys.com), lots of outdoor activities (snorkeling, diving and sportfishing sites are all convenient) and a relaxed atmosphere (at least on days when the cruise ships aren't in port). Consider visiting between mid-May and September (except holiday times) when Key West is "definitely very, very quiet and not very expensive," according to Josie Gulliksen, a representative for the Florida Keys Tourism Council.

Send queries by e-mail (travelqa@washpost.com) or U.S. mail (Travel Q&A, Washington Post Travel Section, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071). Please include your name and town.


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