When you think of the world’s top ski destinations, your mind jumps to the European Alps and the American Rockies. But over the past decade, Andean resorts like Cerro Castor in southern Argentina and Chile’s Valle Nevado have begun attracting world-class skiers to train and compete.
The Fédération Internationale de Ski (FIS)—skiing and snowboarding’s global organizing body—is largely responsible for South America’s growing reputation in winter sports. Since 1989, FIS has organized the South American Alpine Skiing Cup, the largest ski competition in the region. The Cup runs from August to September and consists of downhill races (slalom, giant slalom, downhill, Super G, and super-combined) in Argentina and Chile.
The rest of the skiing world is taking notice. “Top European ski teams are traveling to South America to compete in the Cup and maintain their fitness for other international competitions, such as the FIS World Cup,” says FIS Coordinator Markus Waldner. Predictable snowfall, excellent ski conditions and affordable accommodations compared to Europe and North America help account for the area’s growing popularity.
Though the competition is open to individuals, regardless of nationality, the Cup is dominated not only by local talent but by the same gene pool. The Simari Birkner siblings from San Carlos de Bariloche have claimed the majority of South American Cup titles over the past half-decade. Cristian Javier Simari Birkner, 31, has won the men’s division for the past six years running. On the women’s side, his sisters Maria Belén, 39, and Macarena, 27, have both finished in the top four over the past 11 years.
The Cup is also opening doors for South American skiers to participate in international competitions. Cristian represented Argentina in the 2002 and 2006 Winter Olympic Games, and was the country’s flag bearer in 2010.
Alpine skiing is still a fringe sport in South America, but the arrival of top European talent to the South American Cup could spark more interest among local fans—and give home-grown teams like the Simari Birkners the experience and commercial attention they need to compete with the best in South America and abroad.