Esquiando en Bolivia
Chacaltaya ski lodge, 17,785 feet. Photo by Harvey W. Reed
Chacaltaya ranks number one in several ways. It is the world's highest lift-served ski area, and the only ski area in Bolivia. The rope tow there was the first constructed in South America. The tow was built using an old car engine, and many who have been there say it is the world's fastest and most difficult to ride drag lift.
The base is reached by a remarkable road, heroically built in the 1930s by the Bolivians up to the closest snow field to La Paz, their capital. The guy in charge died in an avalanche in 1945 which the locals believe was an act of vengence by the snow gods and is given as the reason why there have been no new ski areas developed in Bolivia since.
Chacaltaya is famous for being the closest ski area to the equator and for having the oldest and fastest lift in South America. Other record claims include being the oldest and most northerly South American ski lift and the only one outside Argentina and Chile. It operates only on weekends during the South American summer (November to March). At an elevation of over 17,000 feet, it is too cold to operate during the South American winter.
The members of the Club Andino Boliviano developed the area, and the club is still going strong today. Bring your own oxygen tank.
Chacaltaya vital stats
- Vertical drop: 200m/655 ft.
- Top elevation: 5,422m/17,785 ft.
- Lifts: 1 rope tow