Swirls of steam are dancing on the surface of an outdoor pool surrounded by snow. The hot springs at the Gran Hotel provide a mandatory apres-ski activity at the Termas de Chillan resort, 500 kilometres south of Chile’s capital Santiago.
Another unusual apres-ski attraction at Chillan is fangotherapy. This involves having your entire torso smothered in thick, oozing, warm volcanic mud and then jumping into a tub to be ever so lightly broiled.
Termas de Chillan squats on the slopes of an active volcano. At the risk of further spraining an already exhausted cliché, it’s a true hot spot for winter sports, known not only for its skiable acreage and, given the right conditions, an abundance of pristine powder snow, but also for the hot mud stuff that’s available at any time.
From my room in the Gran Hotel, a ski-in, ski-out family resort, I can see early morning powder hounds making their way to the chairlifts. A few of them will be plucky enough to ride the El Fresco lift up into the wild, white yonder and then face testing options for a return to base.
The winter action is spread across 7,600 hectares of widely-varied mountainside terrain, with a vertical drop of 2,300 metres. Don Otto is the name of the longest double chair lift in South America, a 2.5km ride ascending 700m from base. Chillan’s longest run is 8km.
Being a totally duff skier I limit my time spent falling about like a clown in the snow. Instead I indulge in some serious personal panel-beating at Chillan’s volcanic bodyshop undergoing a couple of hours of fangotherapy. I reason that if hippo, buffalo and pigs enjoy wallowing in mud then why shouldn’t I?
Rather recklessly I also sign up for a full facial following my mud bath. This lengthy procedure is performed by a woman in white surgical attire who peers intensely at my face through a massive magnifying glass.
Decades of accumulated grime is painstakingly excised to the extent that when I finally exit the clinic to meet with friends at the hotel bar my new face is so buffed and radiant they instantly clap on their ski googles.