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Summer 2007 | Ski Way South

Summer 2007 | Ski Way South

Turn your summer upside down by heading south – and we mean deep south – to Chile, Argentina, Australia, or New Zealand, where the luxe "summer" ski season is hot as Hades.

When it's 90 degrees in the Northern Hemisphere, savvy skiers and snowboarders set their internal GPS to the south and speed toward down-under snowy delights, the land of the June-October ski season. Icy thrills abound on the vertiginous Andean slopes of Portillo, Chile. Apr?s-ski barhopping gets a high-altitude boost in the southern alps of Queenstown, New Zealand. A perfect local cabernet awaits you in the refined Argentinean resort of San Carlos de Bariloche. And there's certainly no need to swelter this summer when snow junkies are whooping it up during Mount Buller, Australia's gay ski fest. If you're an avid snow rider, you'll appreciate the easily accessible off-piste backcountry skiing of these locales. If you're more about sipping spirits by the fireplace in luxury accommodations, the southern ski countries are among the most adventurous wine producers in the world.

"It's exciting to be in South America and to change climate zones in the middle of summer," gushes Martin Sinkoff, an out New York City-based wine director. "Skiing down here is about experiencing the mountains in a completely different way. And staying at Portillo is very social, a little like being on a cruise ship."

Beyond the gay ski weeks in Australia and New Zealand, don't expect a huge queer party scene. But who cares? The tans of the beach-worshipping set back home will pale next to your healthy glow from a summer of schussing the slopes.

Portillo, Chile

WHY GO: Chile has more than a dozen ski resorts, but easily accessible Portillo, a scenic two-hour drive from the Chilean capital of Santiago, wins the popularity contest hands down. Condors soar over South America's oldest ski resort, which overlooks the Lake of the Incas and is surrounded by 19,000-foot peaks on the western flank of the Andes chain. The only local accommodation is the American-owned Hotel Portillo. Join the chic international crowd at this hipster haunt and access what is essentially a private ski mountain.

THE SKIING: Entanglements with other skiers are reserved for after-hours, as the hotel guest-only policy keeps the slopes blissfully uncrowded. There are 12 lifts, including two va et vient ("come and go") lifts from the 1960s that shoot you standing up the mountain as if you're waterskiing uphill. Steep open slopes and even steeper chutes abound. About 80% of the terrain is groomed daily, made up of a stunning, primeval treeless landscape. If the weather cooperates, you can glimpse mighty Aconcagua, the highest peak in the Western Hemisphere at 22,840 feet. Daily lift tickets are included in the hotel package price.

WHERE TO STAY: The Crayola-yellow Hotel Portillo (doubles from US$2,600 for seven nights, including all meals and lift tickets; 800-829-5325) is a self-contained village of 450 guests (maximum) and 450 staff members. Most people come for a seven-night ski week to leave the outside world behind. It's like floating in an ark set high up on a lake's edge in the Andes. Along with supermodels, ambassadors, and tanned Brazilians, there's a constant parade of Lycra-clad athletes from the Austrian, Italian, and U.S. national ski teams, all of whom train here. An all-male army of red-coated wait staff presides over the formal dining room.

APR?S SKI: Socialize in the heated outdoor pool and hot tub or in the vast hotel living room with a huge fireplace overlooking the lake. The Portillo's bar was created in 1965 by Patricio Guzm?n, a decorator who worked for Desilu Productions. Try your first pisco sour here, Chile's national drink, containing lemon juice, egg white, confectioners' sugar, grated lemon rind, and a shot of local pisco brandy. Afterward, walk across the road to La Posada, a former truckers' brothel that now serves as a staff club where hotel guests are more than welcome.

THE GAY LIFE: Gay identity is burgeoning in Santiago's Merced neighborhood, a two-hour drive from the resort. Queer night owls flock to Santiago's Bellavista neighborhood, home of the huge discos Bunker (011-56-2-737-1716) and Bokhara (011-56-2-732-1050).

Mount Buller, Australia

WHY GO: Of the half-dozen ski resorts between Sydney and Melbourne, Mount Buller rises above all and offers the chance to rub bindings with Oz's old-money set. A three-hour drive northeast of Melbourne, it's smack in the heart of Victoria's most spectacular terrain in the southeastern section of Alpine National Park. An added bonus: It's home to July's fun-loving annual gay ski festival WhiteOUT! Frolic in the powder around a bona fide ski village and savor the high-end hotels, spa, and modest nightlife at the base of this 5,921-foot mountain.

THE SKIING: With 650 acres of groomed ski trails, plus many more acres of ungroomed off-piste skiing, chutes, and tree skiing at your feet, the chance of exhausting all the runs is nonexistent. Mount Buller's 25 lifts form the largest system in Australia, and the resort also boasts the country's most sophisticated snowmaking equipment. Tackle what is perhaps Australia's most serious ski mountain and you'll be following in the tracks of local champions: Mount Buller is home to the Olympic Winter Institute of Australia. A daily lift ticket is $72 U.S.

WHERE TO STAY: Ski into the Grand Mecure Mount Buller Chalet (doubles from $249; 011-61-3-5777-6566) and you may be reluctant to ever ski out. Its luxe 65 rooms include four executive suites with stone fireplaces, Persian rugs, master bedrooms with four-poster beds, and spa bathrooms. Pamper those ski-weary limbs at the Chalet Sports Centre, which features an indoor heated swimming pool, a spa, two saunas, two steam rooms, and massage. A full gym and two squash-racquetball courts provide haven for can't-sit-still types.

APR?S SKI: Imbibe in swanky surroundings at Mount Buller Chalet's Apr?s Caf? Bar or the Loft Bar at Breathtaker Hotel (011-61-3-5777-6377). The Black Cockatoo restaurant, also in the Mount Buller Chalet, offers the mountain's best dining and views, with a chocolate p?t? to die for. Indulge further with hot stone massage hydrotherapy and a geisha tub soak at Australia's first alpine spa retreat, the Breathtaker on High (011-61-3-5777-6377).

THE GAY LIFE: July 26-29, Mount Buller hosts Australia's only gay ski event, WhiteOUT! (011-61-3-9827-4999). Now in its eighth year, it draws about 150 snow bunnies, mainly Melbournites. Long revered as Australia's most European city, Melbourne's gay scene is more artsy than Sydney's, and it's just a three-hour drive away. Dive into a cabaret show at CherryBomb (011-61-3-9419-1386), drag and karaoke at Diva bar (011-61-3-9824-2800), or the young crowd at Peel dance bar (011-61-3-9419-4762).

Queenstown, New Zealand

WHY GO: Although New Zealand's North Island boasts ski resorts on the slopes of the volcanic Mount Ruapehu, hard-core adrenaline junkies make a beeline for Queenstown on the South Island, about two hours by air from Auckland. It's located in the heart of the Southern Alps and plays host to the annual Gay Ski Week NZ. True to its name, Queenstown is more than welcoming to gay visitors--though it blithely calls itself "the terror tourism capital of the world," alluding to its year-round menu of jet boating, bungee jumping, white-water rafting, and heli skiing. With a stunning view overlooking Lake Wakatipu, this former 19th-century gold-rush town is now a lively resort with 15,000 permanent residents and over a million visitors a year.

THE SKIING: Within 90 minutes of Queenstown are four major resorts. Cardrona and Coronet Peak are ideal for skiers of all abilities, with the latter hosting snowboarder half-pipes. The Remarkables range appeals to intermediates, while Treble Cone has the area's steepest slopes and greatest challenges, including powder skiing in bowls. Queenstown is the base for heli-skiing trips to Fox Glacier or the Harris Mountains. Daily lift tickets cost around US$62.

WHERE TO STAY: Unwind in luxury at Azur (doubles from US$684; 011-64-3-409-0588), a lodge with nine stone-and-beechwood villas gazing over drop-dead views of Lake Wakatipu and the Remarkables range. Azur has floor heating, fireplaces, afternoon teas, evening canap?s, and spa-like bathrooms. Another opulent contender is the Matakauri Lodge (doubles from US$1,082; 011-64-3-441-1008), with four luxury villas and three suites perched over dramatic lake views.

APR?S SKI: Gay bars are absent from the scene, but Queenstown does have a bevy of gay-friendly places, including the live music venues Dux de Lux (011-64-3-442-9688) and Bezu (011-64-3-409-2302). For dinner, Wai Waterfront Restaurant (011-64-3-442-5969) offers modern New Zealand cuisine, including oysters wrapped with pancetta and local lamb braised in champagne.

THE GAY LIFE: The Queenstown slopes take on a rainbow sheen during Gay Ski Week NZ, September 1-8, the fifth go-round for the Southern Hemisphere's largest gathering of LGBT snow bunnies. Last year more than 500 participants watched drag queen Candy Box make a royal entrance by parachute. Contests and activities include snowboarding, bowling, the WhiteOUT! circuit party, and the talent show Polly's Idols.

San Carlos de Bariloche, Argentina

WHY GO: Wealthy advanced skiers and snowboarders who like to live on the edge by day and bask in creature comforts by night find sanctuary at Argentina's main resorts, San Carlos de Bariloche and Las Le?as, on the eastern side of the Andes. Surrounded by lakes and mountains, this Patagonian playground for nature-loving Porte?os (residents of nearby Buenos Aires) sits in the center of Nahuel Huapi National Park. You'll find Swiss- and Bavarian-inspired alpine architecture in Bariloche, now a city of about 100,000 residents and the most visited destination in the country after Buenos Aires. Lodging is either in the bustling faux-Swiss town or, better yet, alongside one of the pristine lakes just outside city limits.

THE SKIING: You can hum all the songs from Evita as you ski Cerro Catedral and enjoy awe-inspiring views of countless lakes and mountains. It's Switzerland on steroids, with 62 miles of runs, great bowl skiing at Robles, and acres of groomers at Catedral. Or hire a guide to go off slope. A daily lift ticket is US$37.

WHERE TO STAY: The five star Llao Llao Hotel and Resort (doubles from US$375; 011-54-2944-448530), a member of the Leading Hotels of the World luxury resort organization, is perched dramatically on a peninsula surrounded by rugged peaks on the outskirts of town. Like a sumptuous lodge in the Canadian Rockies, it's stuffed with rustic-luxe log walls, stone fireplaces, antler chandeliers, Oriental carpets, and a glass-enclosed spa. Afternoon tea service? But of course, dahling. For a gay stay, try the spiffy gay-owned bed-and-breakfast Hoster?a del Prado (rooms from $52; 011-54-2944-442754), a Norman-style country house with a large fireplace living room.

APR?S SKI: Feast on red meat and merlot at El Boliche de Alberto (011-54-2944-431433) or fish, game, and organic produce at Kandahar (011-54-2944-424702), the latter of which is jammed with vintage ski kitsch and has a great wine cellar. Nightlife in Bariloche converges at the Irish pub Wilkenny (011-54-2944-42-4444), which lures just about anyone passing through town. The two main nightclubs, Pacha (011-54-2944-524020) and Cerebro (011-54-2944-424948), are fun but squarely hetero.

THE GAY LIFE: Supplement Bariloche skiing with a gay nightlife fix in Buenos Aires--a two-hour flight away--and the only major city in South America with a same-sex civil unions law. The mainstay club Titanic (011-54- 11-4816-1333) stages elaborate stage shows, and shows no signs of sinking. And Sitges (011-54-11-4861-3763) bills itself as the largest gay and lesbian bar in the city.

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