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Summer Skiing’s Shangri La – Portillo, Chile

Charlie Walker July 12, 2022 623 2 5

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Summer Skiing’s Shangri La – Portillo, Chile

When it comes to the world of sport, each has its holy cathedral to which pilgrims seasonally migrate. Football has the frozen tundra of Lambeau Field. Baseball has the ivy of Wrigley and the Green Monster at Fenway. And as spring blooms, golfers and fans alike flock to the abundant azaleas of Amen Corner at Augusta. For us skiers, our hallowed halls take a more natural form. The mountains are where we not only commune with sport but with nature. While winter peaks and resorts across the globe are plentiful and posh, as the months warm, and summer sets in, one destination beckons. Some place south, where the pisco flows like wine, and the skiers flock like the salmon of Capistrano. I’m talking about a little place called Portillo.

For the past 73 years, this bright yellow lakeside hotel has been a beacon to skiers with a summertime itch with only one cure, and the home to a southern hemisphere skiing experience unlike any other. Nestled in the Andes mountains of Chile, Portillo is a one-of-a-kind winter playground and a box that should be checked on every skier or snowboarder’s bucket list. For the unfamiliar or the hesitant allow me to take you through the ins and outs of summer skiing’s Shangri La.

It’s Easy Peazy Summer Ski-zy

I know what you’re thinking. Chile? Isn’t that, like another country or something. And yes Carmen San Diego, you’ve cracked the code. Portillo is two hours drive northeast of Chile’s capital, Santiago. Flights are not Spirit airlines cheap, I will grant you that. But, with direct or easy connecting flight from almost every major US city, and door to door shuttle service upon arrival, it’s easier than you may think. I have had drives from San Francisco to Lake Tahoe on holiday weekends that have legitimately taken longer than hopping down to South America for some summer shredding.

Hotel Portillo
Once you’ve finally arrived at Portillo, the journey has just begun!

Upon arrival, there’s nothing else to plan or worry about as the week-long ski-cation is all-inclusive. The meals alone deserve their own separate article and are worth the journey. What about gear? Traveling light? Plenty of rentals and demos are available. Or pack your own planks and have them ready for you daily at the ski valet for a ski-in, ski out treat. With a hotel capacity of only 450 guests and minimal day ticket allowances, the only lines of the entire trip will be at TSA.

Compare all of this, to insane daily lift ticket prices in the states, and sky-rocketing rates of short-term rentals in ski towns these days, and you might start thinking about only arcing turns, and pushing pow midsummer exclusively from now on.

World Class Gnar

Okay, ok. We got you there. So what about the skiing? Literally, no hyperbole, no jokes; just world-class conditions. There’s a reason World Cup skiers and their respective national teams from around the club come each year to train. But, it’s now all built for racing and bashing gates. Big-name free riders and film companies arrive in droves annually to test products and shoot segments in the epic southern hemi conditions.

The resort posts a skiable area of 500 hectares. I did the math for you, that’s 1,235 acres of terrain. While that seems like a lot, I can tell you that conversion is wrong. Something I learned in Algebra once taught me that sometimes the limit does not exist. That applies with the terrain at Portillo. With a base elevation of 9,500 ft and allegedly topping out around 11k, the entire resort is above tree line. So, depending on how aggressive you want to be, if you can see it for the most part, you can ski it. And another mathematical fun fact is that the metric system also doubles your gnar points.

Portillo Trail Map
Portillo Trail Map courtesy of www.skiportillo.com

A unique feature at Portillo is their “VA y vient” lifts, or slingshot lifts. These badass next-level rope tows are on steroids, and keep things moving after heavy snowfall. The access to steep and advanced terrain they provide is unmatched and opens up doors to truly make Portillo your playground. Really wanna earn your turns? Put in some work on the book pack up to the Super C Couloir. One of the world’s most aesthetically magnificent couloirs and boasts an over 4,000 ft descent to the base.

Paint this unmatched terrain of steeps, cliffs, couloirs, and endless groomers on a canvas of the abundant annual Andean snowfall, mirrored by the majestic Laguna Del Inca capturing the reflection of every turn, and you’ve got yourself a picture-perfect powder dream.

Unreal sunset in Portillo
No filter is necessary as the sun sets on another picture-perfect day in Portillo.

A Taste Of The Good Life

A trip to South America for some turns might be a little indulgent, so if you’re doing it, do it right. Treat yourself. And in that aspect, Portillo will see to it that you do. Even if you were to remove the skiing, this is the vacation of a lifetime. The photos you may see of the mountains, or the lake, or the hot tubs (of which there are two incredibly large ones) overlooking said mountains and lake, do not begin to do the natural landscape justice. The quiet calm and serenity of this remote getaway is only disturbed by the daily battle of sunrise versus sunset, as to which is more breathtaking. You will have so many gorgeous posts on social media that your friends and family will be annoyed. Even the most jet-setting influencers will be jealous.

As for a taste of the good life, allow the wonders of the kitchen staff, to spoil your taste buds three times a day. Four times, if you get off the slopes by tea time. No more overpriced chili in a bread bowl, or cold hot dogs on stale buns. The meals are vibrant and fresh, and with such variety and artistry, catered to your every desire. Meal time is an experience you long for. And a meeting place to break bread with your friends new and old to recap the day’s adventures on the slopes, compare runs and appetizer choices.

Not out getting pow, or stuffing your face? What else is there to do? Go to the movie theater, the climbing wall, the gym, the spa, the salon. If you are bored you’re doing it wrong. Something not to be missed each night is live music in the piano bar. There’s a different band every night & each will have men and women older than you, up dancing on tables singing the night away. Up for more nightlife? Then there’s also a Discoteca open even later. And should you fancy a wilder and more authentic night out, walk down the hill a hundred meters or so and enter La Posada. This is where staff, guests, and locals mingle at all hours of the night. Just don’t plan on hitting the first chair in the morning.

Ski The South – Ski Portillo

I think it was Mark Twain who once said, “The raddest winter I ever had, was a summer in Portillo.” While this write-up may seem like a sales pitch, it’s truly not. Though if I have you sold, thank you, and you’re welcome. This article is a public service announcement. If you love skiing, world-class cuisine, and overwhelming natural beauty. Go to Portillo. If you love being pampered, culture, and partying. Go to Portillo. If you simply want me to shut up about how amazing it is? You guessed it, go to Portillo!

Next winter, if you want to shoot Corbet’s Couloir in Jackson or lap KT-22 in Tahoe. Do it, head out west. And, if you’re more the born from ice, and only ski it if you can type, then Ski The East. You’re not cheating on your favorite home mountain, you’re just ready for a little summer fling! So, as the seasons change, know that it’s always winter somewhere. Ski The South(ern) hemisphere. And, remember if you don’t go to Portillo this year, you’ll just be one año older when you do!


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