by: SES84 - 16th May 2008

  • 5
  • Beginner
  • Intermediate
  • Expert
  • 5All-Mtn. Terrain
  • 5Family Friendly
  • 5Aprés Ski
  • 1Terrain Park
  • Overall Value

Full review

I went to Portillo for a week last year and am returning this year. I've been skiing all over North America (Whistler, Vail, Aspen, Telluride, Snowbird, Alta, Killington, etc.) and some other resorts in SA (El Colorado, Valle Nevado) and if I could only go to one place a year it would be a week in Portillo. The reason I love Portillo is just the whole experience of the resort put together. The parts themselves are pretty good, but when everything comes together its a special place. You know is special when you walk around on Monday night and see that everyone has a huge smile on their face. Terrain: Portillo's terrain is awesome. The mountain is probably the consistently steepest that I've seen. Some areas are really beyond awesome particularly to skiiers right of the Roca Jack lift, where there is a combination of open bowls and tight chutes. It also looks like they've added an additional lift skiiers right of Roca Jack that should make some of the bowls easier to access particularly for snowboarders. Last year you needed to get off the Roca Jack and traverse immediately on a 50 degree slope. This was very difficult for snowboarders (not exactly easy for skiiers) and I saw a massive fall down approximately vertical feet 800 feet. These extreme steeps and some rocks lead to some of the most horrendous falls I have seen and ski patrol sits at the bottom of the lift all day for good reason. There are also some excellent trails at Portillo particularly Plateau and the long run down to the Juncillo lift. The downside is that with only 1200 in bounds acres (cut down even more if the lake isn't fozen) you'll find yourself hitting the same runs and even lines over and over again. If you arr used to the endless diversity of Whistler, Mammoth or Snowbird then you might be disapointed, but if you just acknowledge the quality or the terrain you are skiing is as good as anywhere in the world then its much more enjoyable. Some years there is heliskiing, but there was somee sort of problem with the helicopters last year and had to cancel. Lifts/Crowds: Portillo doesn't have any high speed lifts, but they are hardly needed given the total lack of crowds. If you want to run laps on Plateau the Plateau lift gets you up fast enough and if you want to ski harder terrain any of the "Come and Go lifts" work fine. I'm not going to explain these lifts to extensively, but basically they are 5 person Poma style lifts that only take 4-6 people up the mountain at a time. They are unique to Portillo and designed to resist avalanches. Portillo has 3 of them (looks like 4 now). The downside is the low hourly capacity, and chance of a disaster getting off, but they do get you up the mountan pretty qucikly. 1100 vertical feet in 2:30 for the Roca Jack. In terms of skiing the mountain people start at skiiers right in the morning and follow the sun over to skiiers left later in the day. The two halves of the mountain flank the lake and the hotel. Given the crowds, long hours (9-5), and need for the sun to soften up the snow there is no need to run out early. There are occasionally long lines (up to 30 minutes) at peak times on some of "come and go lifts", but they are kinda sporadic and not terribly bothersome. One nice thing is that as most people tend to congregate in certain areas, its easy to run into your freinds even if you had a long night of drinking and got out late. At the end of the day your at a mountain that has 450 skiiers a day. What that means is some of the least crowded skiing anywhere in the world. That and great terrain per acre is what makes the skiing at Portillo special. Another nice touch is a GS course that is set up on plataeu every day. It's not exactly a full blown competition GS, but its more serious than your average Nastar cours and they have a timer running all day so you can compare your times. Its a nice touch especially because its free. Sure you don't get a medal, but its better than paying $15 for a flat Nastar course. You can also enter the town race at the end of the week if you desperatley want your Portillo medal (My gold medal does look pretty cool though). Snow Quality: The snow quality is exceptional and holds up very well due to the lack of skiiers. Portillo gets about 275 inches a year, but mainly in rather large storms. I went to Portillo 2-3 weeks after the last Storm and the snow quality particularly off of Roca Jack was still excellent. If you manage to get snow storm while your up there though after the ropes drop (could be awhile) it is going to be epic. You are really going to have untracked powder for days. Most days are also warm and sunny which keeps you warm and the snow soft. Ski School: I wouldn't normally comment on ski school since I'm way past taking lessons, but for Portillo it deserves special mention. Since Portillo is one of the few ski resorts in South America and probably the most prestigious they get the top pick of ski instructors from around the world. We went down with a freind who had skiied one day perviously in his life and he took morning group lessons. I don't remember the ski school rates (check the website), but they were definatley WAY less than comparable rates in America. His group lesson was with an english skiing group with 3 other skiiers. By the third day some of the other skiiers had stopped and rather than combine his group he just got a private lesson. Portillo has a prety wide array of learning slopes so they can slowly get you up to the top of the mountain. By the end of the trip my freind could negotiate Plateau the hardest groomed run on the mountain with limited falling. If you are trying to teach a freind, girlfreind or Wife how to ski Portillo is the place to go. Hotel: The Portillo hotel is one of the coolest most unique ski resorts in the world. Almost everyone that goes stays from Saturday to Saturday so its like a crusise ship with skiing. You get to know a lot of the guests and staff by name and almost everyone by sight. Many of the guests and staff return year after year and its amazing to see people meet up with old freinds on Saturday's. What seems nice is that meeting people isn't forced. They don't force you to meet with other guests, but it just seems to happen with all the events they have planned. Of course one of the awesome things is just who these guests are. The first day I was there I was going up the Roca Jack and was next to none other than Herman Maier. Literally we are talking about the best skiier of a generation and I'm there skiing with him. The whole austrian ski team along with Chris Davenport was there. When you ski in the summer you just get to hang out with a who's who of skiing. Yeah you might see Stein Erickson at some planned event at Deer valley, but its not the same as having a drink at the bar. Two downside of the hotel. One for me, but probably a plus for other people is how kid freindly it is. Since its totally self contained and the kids know each other from Ski School they basically run free all over the hotel. I'm sure its great for parent's, but its a little frustrating in such a nice hotel. Two, the hotel like everything in South America is a little inflexible or lazy. Although its way better than the average south american ski resort, you are still somewhat flabergasted. For instance you can't have coffee in the dining room and they couldn't find our reservations for the first hour we were there. You need to give the hotel some credit though for the extras that come from the staff. Whether its the boot guy who remembers you after the first day or your waiter doing a magic trick its pretty cool. The hotel has a lot of amenities and planned events. Some of them are cool and others are a little funky, but either way there is always something to do after skiing even if its just hanging out in the great room or in the bar. To me skining is actually only a third of the day. Some exaples: Outdoor Pool and Hot tub (best anywhere though a little cold). Water aerobics in the pool (kinda strange). Welcome Cocktails party (who turns down free booze). Gymnasium (If you can play basketball or soccer at 9000 feet I'm sure its cool). Hat Fashion Show(No, I'm not joking they actually had this, it was bizzare, but they gave free wine). Movies in the Cinema (Kinda Bizare). Gym with machines and Yoga Classes (Skiing has me beat, but if your on the Austrian National Team or something). Bar. Internet Cafe (On this they do charge to use the computers, but wireless is free. And most American Blackberries work. I wish they let you on the computers for 15 minutes at a time so I didn't need to bring my laptop, but I think they want to keep the Kids off the computer so you can use them for business. As far as lodging options you have three choices: The Grand Hotel: This is where I stayed, but the most expensive. For Couples or Families its probably your best bet. The Octagon Lodge: This is where I am going to stay this year. Its 4 bunk beds in a room with a private bathroo. If you don't have 4 people you get a random person, but most people are still pretty cool. The awesome part is that you still get to eat in main dining room and do it at a significant cost. Even if your on a budget go to the Octagon. The Inca: The Inca is really a pretty gross experience that I'd suggest against. Its a hostile/Staff housing with common bedrooms and is overall pretty gross. If your hardcore skiing and just trying to hit Portillo for 1-2 days on your way to other ski resorts then its a decent option, but your really robbing yourself of the portillo experience and won't get to eat in the main dining room (there is a self service cafeteria with ok food). Even getting a good night's sleep could be a problem. Most of the people who I knew staying in the Inca were looking to upgrade to the Octagon if they could. Gastronomy (I'd say food or restaurants, but this seems to be the translation all the websites use). The main dining room is where you are going to have most of your meals. The room itself is magnificent. It looks like something from one of those great adirondak or michigan lodges, like something from the shining. It has an awesome mountain view. The dining room serves Light breakfast, heavy 3 course lunch, afternoon tea with light biscuits/cookies, and 3 course late dinner (8 or 9pm). If you stay in the Octagon or the Hotel this is all included and you get the same table and wait staff. For the main meals (lunch and Dinner) its three courses usually with 2-3 choices for appetizer and main. If you don't like the main choices there are some basic choices that are always available, but they are a big step down from the main choices. The food is very good, but not exceptional. It would be very hard to complain about and its better eating then I normally do skiing, but if you eat at the finest restaurant in Aspen or something then you might be a little disapointed with the somewhat old fashioned food. The wine list is almost all Chillean with some Argentine Wines, I wouldn't mind if they expanded out of the region a bit, but its a good selection and fairly priced. If you are coming for the day or staying in the Inca you eat in the cafeteria on the first floor. I haven't eaten the food there, but the prices look fair. The view is great. On the mountain there is Tio Bobs. You get one free meal there and can buy more if you want. Tio's is exceptional for its fresh grilled food and awesome views. I'd eat there every day if I could. Honestly, if money is no object you might just consider paying for meals every day at Tio's because its awesome. You last option is ordering food from the bar or in the great room. The food here is pretty basic, but its an option that's out there particularly if you get hungry at an odd time. Drinks/Partying: Portillo like all ski resorts suffers from a lack of women. If you really want to party with girls you have to bring your own. That being said its still good relative to most places. Partying starts in the hotel bar usually with a band playing at 10:30. They'll bring in 3-4 bands over the course of the week and I was particularly impressed. They tend to save the best bands for Friday and Saturday nights so that's when the parties get rocking. At about 12:30-1 or when the party gets a little too out of control (people were sliding across the tables) people will start migrating down to the Disco. The Disco is the only indoor place where you can smoke so its open all afternoon, but heats up at night. Depending on the night there could be partying till 5 or 6. It really all depends who is there how good it gets. It's a fun place with a DJ even if the decor is a little behind the times and the girl to guy ratio is a little off. La Posada is the employee bar down the road that should not be missed under ANY circumstances. Not only are prices chear $1-2 for a beer vs. $4-6 at the hotel, but it gives you that local flavor with hard partying. Its also really cool that you get to hang out with the staff and waiters etc. If you buy people a few drinks then you'll get even better service in the restaurant. Just don't be a fool and wait till the end of your trip to finally pay the place a visit. Getting there: Portillo is medium difficulty to get to. Fly into SCL getting in at Sat morning and take the portillo shuttle or arrange for a private transfer. Leave late the next saturday night. The transfers will cost you $50-100 round trip so its not bad at all. The only bad side is that the Portillo road can close for bad (or not so bad) weather. If you miss a day or get stuck for a day there are a list of policies describing what will happen. It's probably not the end of the world, but its a risk that doesn't exist at most North American Ski Resorts. Overall: If your a skiier of any type go to Portillo at least once and stay in the Octagon or the Grand Hotel. You'll probably go back. The Octagon particularly is a good value since everything is included. Its hard to do Portillo on a tight budget, but if you can stretch then its worth it.
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