Monday, September 2, 2013

Skiing - South American Style

Me on the right, with longtime ski friend Ed Farmer
   When it's the middle of August in the U.S., it's the heart of winter in South America. Since much of the continent is near the equator, we don't associate winter sports with South America. But Argentina and Chile not only extend toward Antarctica, they also have rather high peaks in the Andes.

   Portillo, Chile is the oldest and most glamorous of all the South American resorts. Most skiers spend a week in this all inclusive Chilean resort complete with ski school, spa, disco, bar, and three course meals.

   Portillo is know for it's very steep expert terrain. It's so steep that some of the runs are prone to avalanches. Because conventional lifts wouldn't last, the special 'Va et Vient' lift was invented just for the steep Portillo terrain, and is only used there. There are 10 sets of instructions to ride the lift, known also as 'The Slingshot'.
   Beware,  rule #7 is the most important: Make sure the lift has stopped before you get off


   The high point of the Portillo experience is the hospitality and customer service. There is a limit of 450 guests and a equal number of staff members. The dining room serves three course meals for lunch and dinner plus a terrific breakfast and a tea time snack to tide you over (Chileans eat dinner late). This is not your average ski fare. One night we had a Seafood Bruschetta, Leg of Lamb and cheesecake for desert. Be prepared to be spoiled.

   If you are an expert skier, the steep chutes are some of the best in the world. If you are an intermediate skier you might get bored with a week at Portillo, the blue runs are rather limited. One of my favorite is Juncarilillo, which is over a mile long and actually goes over the winding mountain highway and one of its tunnels. The ride back on the lift is one of the most unusual in the world, climbing above the switchbacks filled with heavy trucks headed to the Argentina border.



   There are a variety of activities to keep you occupied during your non skiing hours. The Portillo Hotel has everything from a cinema, game room, a full court gymnasium, a great bar to an after hours disco.
   Another highlight of your stay will be the world famous Portillo pool and hot tubs that overlook the lake. It is an incredible spot to catch the sunset.

   I would also recommend a meal in Tio Bob's, a restuarant that sits high atop the resort. When the snow is deep, the adventurous will ski off a double black diamond run off the side.

The view high atop the resort from Tio Bob's Restaurant

The hotel staff adopts a 'cruise ship' attitude, making sure that guest have a variety of activities outside of skiing. Yoga classes, nightly movies, snow shoes tours and wine tasting where all offered during my stay. On the slopes, there was also an opportunity to HeliSki and to particiapte in the Portillo Slalom. 


   Overall, it was a tremendous week of skiing and meeting new people from around the world. I met numerous travelers who had been to Portillo for multiple summers. After my stay, I could see why.

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