Portillo Ski Resort visitors can expect to enjoy one of the best skiing experiences anywhere in South America. A renowned resort on the international front, Portillo, as is true of some of the other Chile ski resorts, serves as a popular summer training ground for skiers and snowboarders from the Northern Hemisphere. Also hinting at its overall quality is the fact that the resort hosted the alpine skiing World Championships back in 1966. Advanced skiers and snowboarders can get plenty of thrills while shooting down the steep chutes at the Portillo Ski Resort, and if you prefer easier runs, there are some dandies down near the base of the mountain. There's something for all levels at this high mountain skiing and snowboarding destination, and should you be lucky enough to visit after a recent snowfall, plenty of fresh powder will likely be yours to enjoy for days on end.
The Portillo Ski Resort in Chile is only about 100 miles from the capital of Santiago, which helps to make it relatively easy to access for international travelers. Upon arrival, visitors regardless of where they come from, might be surprised that waiting in lift lines isn't part of the game. The resort only sells tickets to 450 resort guests on a daily basis, thus making for what it calls "smooth sailing on the mountain." There are fourteen different lifts to move the limited number of skiers and snowboarders around the mountain, and they include three quad chairs, a triple chair, and a double chair, not to mention a collection of surface or drag lifts. Should you need it, equipment can be rented before you make a break for the lifts. In addition to skis, poles, snowboards, and boots, the rental shop at the Portillo Ski Resort also offers helmets and tuning services. A helmet is recommended when skiing or snowboarding in general, especially if the slopes are on the icier side.
The ski resorts in South America are smaller when compared to large world ski resorts such as Vail and Whistler-Blackcomb. That being said, you can expect to enjoy plenty of variety and quality terrain at places like Portillo. On a Portillo ski vacation, visitors start out at an elevation of 9,450 feet above sea level. Those who take the lift to the highest ski point will have a 2,500-foot vertical drop awaiting them.
There are 35 total trails to choose from at Portillo, and they include beginner runs, intermediate trails, and slopes that cater to advanced and expert visitors. When advanced and expert skiers and snowboarders aren't enjoying the more difficult slopes at the resort, they can board a helicopter and fly off isolated runs in the surrounding mountains. On a heli skiing excursion, you'll have the chance to make fresh tracks on a slope that is devoid of others, save for a few friends and a professional guide. You'll have to pay extra to do some heli skiing or snowboarding, though it's worth every penny, peso, or pound.
On an average annual basis, approximately 25 feet of snow blanket the slopes at Portillo. This snow is often compared to the snow that you can expect to encounter in the Rocky Mountains. In other words, light and fluffy powder is very common. Some of the best powder is found in the off-piste areas. You can hire a guide to show you the off-piste terrain, or backcountry, as it is also known, and this is recommended if you aren't familiar with it. In addition to offering great backcountry guides, the Portillo Ski Resort also offers instructors for those who need lessons. The ski and snowboard school at Portillo is excellent, partly because of the fact that it offers English-speaking guides, not to mention guides that speak a number of other languages.
On a Portillo ski vacation, hitting the slopes and relaxing at the slopeside restaurant are among the top activities. Visitors also tend to find themselves hanging out at the snack bar when a break from the skiing and snowboarding is in order. This small snack bar offers all kinds of treats, including empanadas, sandwiches, beer, wine, and soft drinks. Rounding out the dining options near the slopes is a self-service cafeteria. As for the Portillo Ski Area hotels, there are only three to choose from. This lends to the resort's relatively relaxed environment. The most luxurious of the three hotels is the Hotel Portillo, which offers excellent views of beautiful Lake Inca and the Andes mountains that rise up high around this picturesque body of water.
While not overly luxurious, the rooms at the Hotel Portillo are both comfortable and tastefully decorated. Larger suites are available if you need them, and it is also possible to connect rooms to make a larger family unit. The other Portillo Ski Area hotels are the Inca Lodge and the aptly-named Octagon Lodge. Groups of four can book a simple, yet comfortable room at the Octogan Lodge, which is a small hotel with eight sides, and over at the Inca Lodge, the experience is similar to what you might expect at a youth hostel. The rates at the three different Portillo Ski Area hotels, it should be mentioned, include a week-long lift pass and four daily meals. Guests can also access a swimming pool, a fitness center, a disco, a piano bar, and a few other facilities on a Portillo ski vacation.
Image: Frank Shine