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The History Of Chacaltaya, Bolivia | The World’s Highest Ski Resort That Disappeared Because of Climate Change

Chacaltaya Ski Resort stands at an altitude of 5,375m (17634 ft) above sea level. It’s the world’s highest ski resort, or rather it was… Only memories of the good old days remain at this place. Snow is gone, and so has the skiing. The worst part of all this? It is not coming back.

Ski slope has no snow.

History

During the last century, Bolivian citizens enjoyed this resort in the heart of the Andes, and only half-an-hour away from the city of La Paz, one of Bolivia’s capital cities. It was a ski area, with only one mechanical lift, placed over a glaciar, also called Chacaltaya. Furthermore, there was a restaurant and a chalet for tourists. Lots of visitors went to the mountain all-year-round. It was a common entertainment for mid and upper-classes, which spent their days there, until coldness or pain in their ears (due to the altitude) made them return home.

Ski instructors while skiing in Chacaltaya was still a reality.

Nowadays, however, nothing can be found at Chacaltaya, but blurred memories and an abandoned building. Back in the 1990’s, scientists started studying the glacier. In 2005, they predicted that it would be gone by 2015. But they were wrong: in 2009, the last piece of ice disappeared, making the glacier melt forever.

Place is ruined, abandoned and there is no snow.

Scientists assure that the speed of its melting is a clear indicator of the Climate Change that our planet is suffering. Last week, the president of the United States announced the decision of pulling his country away form the Paris Accord.

This graph shows how the glaciar melted over the years.
This photos show how the glaciar melted over the years.

Present

Even thought the ski station has no snow, it is still possible to find its two guardians: Adolfo and Samuel Mendoza. They have been living in Chacaltaya for more that 35 years. Back on time, they were ski addicts and mountaineers; today, they are responsible for taking care of a ski resort with no snow, where tourists are so scarce as oxygen. The only thing they keep is the Club Andino Boliviano chalet, founded in 1939 by Raul Posnanski.

Adolfo and Samuel, guardians of the mountain. // photo: BBC

Consequences

La Paz, home of Bolivia’s power, depends on surrounding mountains glaciers in order to have enough water. That is the reason why Chalcataya’s -and many other glaciers around it- melting, is more than just one less ski resort. It’s affecting many people that relied on it.

Chacaltaya seen from the city of La Paz.

Testimonies

“I used to come here when I was a kid. I played with the snow for hours, until my eyes and ears hurt because of cold and highness” told 63-year-old Felipe Kittelson during an interview for the BBC back in 2016.

Good old days in Chacaltaya, Bolivia.
“People went skiing and sliding during seven or eights months a year” remembers Kittelson. “This hotel was always surrounded by tons of snow, but now there is nothing but rock around it.”

The Movie: “Samuel in the Clouds”

As we told you before, Samuel Mendoza is one of Chacaltaya’s guardians. Pieter Van Eecke, a film director from Belgium, lived and worked in South America for years, obtaining several awards for his “Goudougoudou” documentary. There, he showed Haiti’s devastating earthquake. In this new opportunity, he takes us to Bolivia, to show us first-person Samuel’ life, and how the Chacaltaya glaciar melted. This is the trailer of “Samuel in the Clouds”.

More Photos of Chacaltaya

Chacaltaya on Snow-Forecast.com

Snow-forecast.com is the world’s largest, most accurate and complete website for skiing and snowboarding forecasts. One of the facts that make Snow-Forecast.com better that any other site is the fact that you can find forecasts not only for European or American resorts, but also for the most exotic, remote and incredible ski areas around the globe. Even for those places where back in time, skiing was possible. And ono of those places is Chacaltaya, in Bolivia. Click here for Chacaltaya snow forecasts and weather map.

 

17 Comments
  1. Joseph Fisher

    11th October 2018 7:59 pm

    I was there in 2009. The photos show thin snow up to the hut. During our stay, some people climbed the glacier with pic axes and crampons. Now it is bare rock.

  2. Shadeburst

    18th October 2018 2:46 am

    Water supply for La Paz: the way that glaciers work is that water precipitates from the atmosphere in the form of snow. The snow compacts to form ice. At the leading edge of the glacier the ice melts. This results in a stream of water.

    If temperatures are too high the water precipitates from the atmosphere in liquid form. This results in a stream of water.

    The water supply is unaffected. It doesn’t go through a snow/ice stage, that’s all. There is no disastrous consequence.

  3. Pierre Clouthier

    9th December 2018 10:14 pm

    Visited in 1969.

  4. Martin flinders

    17th December 2018 6:21 pm

    I was there in 1991; absolutely stunning. I drove up to it in a 16 ton Bedford truck. The road was very dodgy!!
    I will go and hunt down the film, it looks very interesting.
    Martin Flinders (ex-Exodus expeditions)

  5. Trevor jose

    3rd April 2019 2:24 am

    Went there in 1999 and the place was very deserted and just us few tourists. The road up was very scary in the bus and we did not see snow until we got to the top. I say snow however when you stepped on it you found that it was ice and not very big area. Looking at the current photos I am sad to see places like this just go to rack and ruin because of our lack of appreciation of the climate damage.

  6. Marcia Petersen Christopher

    20th February 2020 12:36 am

    I was there in 1962 for a Junior-Senior class picnic. There was a lot of snow. We went down the glacier on sheets of waxed plywood. It took two hours to trudge back to the lodge because the snow was thigh deep and the air was very “thin”. All in all, it was an adventure of a lifetime.

    • suzanne OConnell

      31st May 2020 2:55 am

      Marcia,
      I am researching Chacaltaya, and other melting glaciers, for a book and would love to have additional information from you. Do you remember the time of year or the day of the week? What was the name of the school? Was this a common class event? Do you have any pictures?

    • suzanne OConnell

      31st May 2020 3:11 am

      Hello Marcia,
      I am writing a book about the melting of mountain glaciers and will feature Chacaltaya. Your story is fascinating. I’d like to know more about it, was it an annual event? Was the ski lift running? What was the name of your school? So many more questions. I would appreciate it if you contacted me soconnell at wesleyan.edu. Thanks, Suzanne

  7. Liam C

    1st March 2020 2:12 am

    We visited it today, February 29, 2020. We were the only people there, it was very strange. It’s all rock, with just one or two tiny pockets of snow. We climbed to the top and took some pictures before the altitude was becoming too much, I had such an earache! The road was pretty scary, but one of the coolest I’ve ever driven, the nearby lakes and snowcapped mountains in the distance were literally breath taking!

  8. […] Chacaltaya – Once the highest commercial ski resort in the world, Chacaltaya is now closed but is an interesting place to visit. Standing at approx 5,375 metres you may find […]

  9. […] Chacaltaya – Once the highest commercial ski resort in the world, Chacaltaya is now closed but is an interesting place to visit. Standing at approx 5,375 metres you may find […]

  10. […] Chacaltaya – Once the highest commercial ski resort in the world, Chacaltaya is now closed but is an interesting place to visit. Standing at approx 5,375 metres you may find […]

  11. […] Chacaltaya – Once the very best business ski resort on the earth, Chacaltaya is now closed however is an attention-grabbing place to go to. Standing at approx 5,375 metres […]

  12. Jerzy

    15th June 2020 4:18 pm

    Hi
    I have never been there but love such a wild places.It is tragedy for world that it happen global problem with warmer weather.
    Hope that we can do something to stop it otherwise it could be nightmare one day for us.
    Best wishes from Krakow Poland
    Jerzy

  13. […] to Chacaltaya – As soon as the very best business ski resort on the planet, Chacaltaya is now closed however is an attention-grabbing place to go to. Standing at approx 5,375 metres you […]

  14. Kenyon Stebbins

    19th July 2020 5:51 am

    Susan Lyman and Kenyon Stebbins went to Mt. Chacaltaya in January 1973 in the middle of our year long vagabonding adventure throughout South America. Somehow we got from La Paz up to the mountain, and Ken wanted to say that he had skied in the highest ski area in the world, so he begged and borrowed skis and boots from a nice woman who let him take two runs. Then Susan and Ken walked up as high as our energy would allow us, several times And then we would slide down on our plastic sheet going what seemed like very fast and a little bit dangerous, but we had a ball. However when we got back down to La Paz, Susan had a horrible headache, and ended up spending three nights in a hospital, diagnosed with Soroche, or high altitude sickness. Those three nights in the hospital with a private room and an English-speaking director, cost Susan only $35. We will never forget it!

  15. Mimi

    9th September 2020 1:08 pm

    I was there in 1997 with my husband and another couple. It was so beautiful. I’m sad to read that the snow has melted.

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