Portillo is one of those special places in the World. Special places are unique, spectacular, off the beaten path, unforgettable and just a perfect part of human ingenuity. It is amazing to think that someone had the foresight to discover and share these amazing places with the rest of us. Portillo is one of those places.
Located high up in the Andes on the shore of Lago del Inca, and dead center in the second highest mountain range in the world, Portillo is not just a ski area… it is truly a destination. And to think, this remote “special” place is only a short two-hour drive from Santiago, a bustling metropolis of five million in South America.
Leaving Santiago, you enter the high desert of Chile. It reminds me of the central valley of California minus the thousands of miles of aquifer and people. Despite that, you pass through the foothills of the Andes with Aconcagua, the highest peak in South America (22,834 feet) looking down at you and a budding wine industry sprouting all around.
At Los Andes, you turn east into an ancient river valley that snakes its way into the heart of the Andes. This is the only major highway between Chile and Argentina. There used to be a train that wound its way up and over the border, but like a lot of things in South America, that was long forgotten, and now the road is dominated by multinational truckers and ski bums like myself.
We quickly gain elevation, but it feels like we are possibly defying gravity as the mountains around us keep getting bigger and bigger. We pass massive hydroelectric projects, and finally start to see amazing snow and glacier covered peaks rising even higher above the river valley floor. We finally reach the one valley that connects to Argentina and start the countless switchbacks up. All of a sudden, a chairlift appears, and we look up and see a massive headwall packed full of snow above. Among the countless lines, I can pick out the “Super C” couloir, one of the iconic “special” ski runs in the world.
We finally turn the last switchback, and before us lays Hotel Portillo, a magnificent yellow skiers’ paradise. A stay at Portillo is often compared to a stay on a cruise ship, as everything you need is in the yellow hotel. But that is exactly why Portillo is so special. You can leave the hustle and bustle of the real world behind, and enjoy a week of uninterrupted skiing, with amazing food to sustain you, an awesome pool and two hot tubs for relaxing. Plus, skiing in the middle of summer is pretty unique for us Northern Hemi skiers.
That is exactly why race teams from all over the world have been making Portillo their temporary home for the last 30 summers. That, and the fact that Portillo offers the gnarliest, best Downhill training venue in the Southern Hemisphere.
This is my home for the next 15 days. Everyone always looks forward to coming down here. There is always amazing training, and besides that, there is never a bad day staying in Portillo, one of the “special” places in the world. I just wish there were more places like this.