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Corralco Ski Resort: An Origin Story

By Megan Harrod
October, 3 2017

Imagine a land that stretches 2,670 miles north to south, but only 217 miles at its widest point from west to east—a magical land where you can reach both the vast mountains and epic surf within just a few hours. That’s Chile, where the Andes offer the goods for top-condition preseason training camps for U.S. Ski Team alpine athletes.

Views from Corralco Ski Resort. (U.S. Ski Team)

Located nearly eight hours south of the Chilean capital of Santiago is a sparkling country, a place where you ski on a volcano, encounter breath-stealing views and feel the energy of the earth. And standing in a sea of sacred, pre-historic Araucaria araucana trees (aka “Monkey Puzzle Trees”) with the Lonquimay Volcano staring at you, you’ve found yourself at the heavenly Corralco Ski Resort in Southern Chile’s untamed wilderness located in the Malalcahuello National Reserve. It was this special land that Head Coach Sasha Rearick visited on one of his storied ski resort scouting missions in 2014 when he met a man named Jimmy Ackerson.

Breezy Johnson trains speed at Corralco. (U.S. Ski Team)

Ackerson hails from “a soon-to-be emerging alpine nation known as Connecticut” where he grew up skiing at Sugarbush Resort. Conveniently, the ski school director at Sugarbush was also the ski school director at famed Portillo, Chile. That meant that Ackerson had the chance to spend his summer vacations during university working in Portillo, noting that he “decided it was much more interesting to work in skiing than in criminal justice administration.” So he started his career in Portillo, then moved to Valle Nevado as their Marketing and Sales Manager before being promoted General Manager, and eventually landed in Corralco as their General Manager in 2014.

Alice Merryweather stands in the start gate above the Andes. (U.S. Ski Team)

Corralco fascinated Ackerson because the sheer amount of snow that the Lonquimay volcano holds. “The mountain is 100 percent volcanic sand, so you don’t need huge snow depth to have great skiing,” noted Ackerson. “But we do get a lot of snow.”

An average winter is around 230 inches of snowfall, but this season they’ll be getting around 280 inches. With southern exposition on all of the slopes and a variety of pitches, when the weather is good it means the training is pretty remarkable.

The sun reflects off Corralco's solid surface. (Neil Lande)

So when the winter in the central region of Chile was bad in 2014, Rearick rocked up to Corralco along with a host of other nations including Germany, France, Switzerland and Italy for some pretty spectacular speed training.

Course setting at sunrise. (Neil Lande)

The moment the coaches saw Corralco and were able to analyze the terrain, Ackerson recalls a consistent reaction between them all. “It was really pretty funny because all five of them used the same adjectives to describe what they encountered,” he said. “Basically, in their own languages, they said, ‘This is f*cking unbelievable!’”

The men's team surveys the terrain. (Neil Lande)

When this summer came around, the alpine team was heading to Portillo for pre-Olympic season speed training, but low snowfall meant Portillo’s base was not sufficient. The U.S. Ski Team coaches worked to find a solution that would make sense for everyone, relocating teams to four different venues, including Corralco for the men’s and women’s speed team.

U.S. Ski Team B-Team athlete Kipling Weisel trains GS at Corralco. (Neil Lande)

“It makes me happy that we could accommodate the U.S. Ski Team,” said Ackerson. “I have tremendous, tremendous respect for the relationship that the U.S. Ski Team and Portillo have. But I think there’s more than one way to skin a cat, and when it comes to getting in the best training and if we can support the U.S. Ski Team, we’re going to do that.”

Bryce Bennett trains speed. (Neil Lande)

Two successful prep period training camps with 90-second, real-deal downhill training on a buff, steep surface, the U.S. Ski Team athletes left Corralco with smiles on their faces, lots of super-G, downhill and giant slalom laps under their belts and ready to take on the Audi FIS Ski World Cup with confidence. Along with that, athletes left inspired by yet another insanely beautiful and unique destination.

Tommy Biesemeyer trains GS. (Neil Lande)

Goodbye, Southern Hemisphere. Hello, Northern Hemisphere. What’s next?! The U.S. Ski Team is ready to kick off the big Olympic year with training camps in Austria before the World Cup kickoff in Soelden, Austria and onward to the U.S. Ski Team Speed Center at Copper Mountain, Colorado in November. 

TRAINING TIP FOR CLUBS: Corralco has played host to Burke Mountain Academy, the Winter Sports School in Park City and with a deep base and six feet of snow falling this week alone (no joke), will offer world-class training opportunities to clubs through October. The central region of Chile is all high-altitude skiing, while in Corralco, they get great snow from 1,500 meters up to 2,500 meters. For anyone who wants to pair excellent training with diverse geographical experiences, Chile – and Corralco – is a great place to start.