HALF MOON BAY, Calif., September 17, 2012 — If spring brings a certain sadness as the snow melts and you have to put your ski gear away for next year, consider extending your winter with a trip to Portillo, Chile. Just a few hours’ drive into the Andes from Santiago, the historic ski resort can keep your winter dreams alive until it’s time for the fat flakes to start piling up near your home mountain.
The resort’s handful of expert runs are only a few reasons why the world’s most accomplished skiers (gold medalists and extreme skiing champions) choose to vacation in Portillo. Tina Maze, a World Cup alpine skier from Slovenia, trains at Portillo. Additionally, the U.S. men’s and women’s ski teams, the Austrian men’s ski team, and the Canadian men’s ski team are training at Portillo this season.
Aside from the expert runs, backcountry enthusiasts come for the off-piste terrain and heli-skiing opportunities. But you don’t need to be an expert to appreciate skiing or snowboarding at Portillo. There are plenty of options for beginners and intermediate skiers, and the Portillo Ski & Snowboard School instructors are ready to help skiers and boarders of all levels.
The Portillo season generally runs from July through October. My recent trip there at the end of August was well timed, as it dumped snow right before my arrival and my first two days there. Nearly the second I walked into the dining room my first morning there, my friend Chris Davenport set a goal for me.
“You’re going to ski Roca Jack,” he said. “I’ll do it with you.”
I hadn’t skied in 15 years. Even then, I’d only been a solid intermediate skier. Roca Jack is one of Portillo’s expert runs, and it’s so steep, it requires a special lift, the Va et Vient, a high-speed poma able to transport five skiers and snowboarders up the steep terrain.
I knew there was no way I’d make it to Roca Jack in four days of skiing, but if one of the world’s most accomplished big mountain skiers thought I could do it, maybe I could. I found myself nodding along.
A day later, another Portillo guest disagreed with Chris. He suggested that I try Condor, maybe not quite as steep as Roca Jack, but still an expert run that I thought was equally out of my league.
Ultimately, I played it safe, focusing on getting consistent with intermediate and intermediate/advanced runs so that I could work toward the Northern Hemisphere winter without hurting myself before it even began. By the end of my time in Portillo, I had two favorites. The Juncalillo run is the resort’s longest, and the favorite practice run of the U.S. and Austrian downhill racers. The Plateau run, where Jean Claude Killy won a gold medal in the 1966 World Championships, is Portillo’s most popular.
If I’d had just one more day at Portillo, I might have taken Chris up on his offer to try out Roca Jack.
Where to Stay
The only lodging in this region is at the Ski Portillo resort. However, there are a handful of options: the hotel (with doubles, suites and family apartments), the Octagon Lodge (bunk-bed rooms for groups of four), and the Inca Lodge (hostel-style living). Reservations run Saturday to Saturday, and a ski week at Portillo includes seven nights’ lodging, four meals per day (breakfast, lunch, tea, and dinner), and lift tickets.
Portillo’s all-inclusive complimentary offerings also include use of the pool and hot tubs (perfect for après ski), the fitness center, gymnasium, yoga classes, cinema, game room, children’s activities, daycare center (complimentary for children three to seven years old), disco bar, as well as ski and boot check.
Rates for the week at Portillo begin at $800 at the Inca Lodge, $1,190 at the Octagon Lodge and $1,790 at the hotel.
Jill K. Robinson is an award-winning journalist and adventure seeker. Follow her adventures on dangerjillrobinson.com and Twitter @dangerjr. Jill is an avid kayaker and owner of Half Moon Bay Kayak Company.
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