Resort Scorecard

Snowsure


Beginners


Intermediate


Advanced


Snowboarders


Après Ski


Families


Base elevation: 2,510 metres

Top elevation: 3,350 metres

Number of lifts: 14

Number of runs: 35

Access: Fly to Santiago and then two hours by road.

Portillo is a giddily high ski resort, two-hour’s drive north from Santiago. It has a most fascinating history – long ago the resort was bought by two rather maverick Americans and in 1961 Henry Purcell, then 26, was installed as General Manager. Forgive the cliché, but this was a man with a dream and he made it his life’s work to make this remote and magical spot, overlooking the emerald waters of Laguna del Inca, a cult destination for future generations of skiers. Henry Purcell is still there and his mission has been very much accomplished.

Portillo is magical, despite not even being the largest resort in Chile. However, it does have the highest mountain in the Western Hemisphere only a few miles away and from the hotel in Portillo you certainly feel scale, the majesty of the Andes range encircling you.

Portillo is accessed by a tortuous corkscrew road and when you eventually arrive all you’ll find is one big hotel, resplendent in iconic bright yellow. There is no ski village of note; this single building is your lot for the week. But worry not, this is all you need. You will sleep, eat, drink and be entertained in Hotel Portillo. It is the most complete hotel we know in all ‘ skidom’ and once ensconced, you simply need to submit to the life of a ski bum.

There is a member of staff to each guest, and all visitors are on full board, with four meals a day (including British-style afternoon tea) being served in a wood-panelled dining room with mouth-watering views across the lake. From the moment you arrive, you are made to feel part of some extended, multi-national skiing family. Indeed, simply by being here, you are.

Skiing in Portillo

Portillo is a high resort, which often results in some of the finest deep, dry and light champagne powder in South America covering its slopes.  And then, even better, there are an average of 80% glorious sunny days. All this goes some way to mitigate the fact that Portillo is not a particularly big ski area. But size belies the variety – there are plentiful different options for beginners through to experts. It’s a blend of good groomed runs and big mountain skiing with plenty of additional terrain for those who are willing to hike…though be careful not to end up in the lake.

The most remarkable thing about Portillo? The astonishing ‘slingshot’ ski-lifts, designed specially for its slopes. There are several of these lifts, on slopes prone to avalanche and, therefore, no permanent structures can be built. Imagine a draglift but with five or six abreast on pomas, all attached to one bar. The whole apparatus is then dragged at fairly high speed up the steepest (and ungroomed) slopes by an overhead cable anchored to rocks at the top and a gantry at the base. Not for the fainthearted - there’s even a leaflet which floats around the hotel devoted to instructions on how to use them!

The good news - the beginners’ areas are conveniently located right next to Hotel Portillo. For complete novices there is a magic carpet and the obvious next step up is a small slope on the other side of the hotel. Indeed, we can’t think of a more gorgeous place to learn to ski, with an ever-present Andean alpine backdrop.

Once you venture beyond these nursery slopes, you’ll find that the nearby green runs are nice and gentle and even the light blue’s don’t hold too much challenge.

For a ski resort venerated by the advanced skiers, beginners are well-catered for and need not worry about venturing anywhere particularly gnarly. Stay close to the hotel and you’ll be fine.

If there is a chink in the armour at Portillo, then this is where it is. If you like to spend your day, every day, cruising the reds and clocking up the vertical miles, then perhaps Portillo is not the right resort for you. Having said that, the groomed runs that are here are sheer class and there is good progression from easy routes to something a little more challenging.

Everyone should have a blast on the Plateau run that feeds into Las Lomas. This is an awesome steep groomed piste and often timed race gates are set up for the everyday Joe (like us) to use. If you want your ego quashed, compare your time to one of the European ski teams who will invariably be in resort for a summer training camp.

Here the mountains are steep and rocky and have everything to offer, both on and off-piste. Nirvana! The steep pitches and the chutes are the major drawcard for those who know (and like) what they’re doing. Freshies last at least a day, although not always in the really obvious areas. If you are ready there are several hikes to access more incredible lines through deep and dry champagne powder.

The areas accessed by the ‘slingshot’ surface lifts offer the steepest and most challenging runs in the resort. The pistes often form small moguls quickly, and if the melt-freeze cycle is underway, some of these runs are not particularly enjoyable until the sun has taken the edge off the ice. However when the powder is in good condition these runs can be….wait for it….legendary.

It’s easy to be fooled by the piste map into thinking there isn’t much to Portillo – it shows just 35 groomed runs. However, to get the most from you ski week it’s essential to get into the easily accessed off piste. The panorama is wide and wild, and the snow is fabulous and forgiving. And it’s just endless…

For those who aren’t quite backcountry-ready, this is the place to learn. The  resort has an excellent ski school and a host of powder clinics with top-notch instruction. It’s also possible to get a guiding service from the ski school, if you don’t want to do your own backcountry experimentation. In fact, we’d almost insist this as the best way of accessing the delights – this is big, big mountain terrain and it’s easy to find trouble.

And then there’s the helicopter – a Eurocopter AS530 B3 operated by Suma Air. With capacity for four passengers, this will open up a whole new world of virgin Andean ‘pow.

As a result of the need to traverse flat spots around the hotel, skiing tends to be more popular than snowboarding in Portillo. Having said that, the last time we were in Portillo we hung out with a rather zany gang of American boarders and they were having the best time ever, if the sheer number of high-fives is anything to go by! I guess it’s what you make of it and all that champagne powder counts for something.

There is no terrain park or pipe at Portillo.

With the full range of facilities and entertainment on tap at the Portillo Hotel, we can confidently predict that no-one of any age will be getting bored. The ski school is excellent (with climatic end-of-week races), child-care is easily accessed and fun activities abound. The communal vibe extends to the little ones – new little Chilean (and American) friends are easily made and parents can relax knowing all is taken care of.

In the basement of the hotel there is a brilliant supervised games room and even an indoor climbing wall and full size basketball court. For infants there is a nursery or a private nanny service.  They also offer daycare, staffed by trained childcare professionals and private baby-sitting services are available for an extra charge. The kid's entertainment and activities director plans a daily afternoon program, which includes hotel tours, bread baking, scavenger hunts and other fun activities.

Indeed, the four weeks of July are the Chilean national holidays and the hotel creates a programme over this period to welcome families - children's entertainment; tubing; dance classes; wine tastings (for the adults, obvs!); fashion shows; magic shows; karaoke; themed parties and more. Unfortunately, securing a room during July is often ‘challenging’ – possible only with plenty of notice!

Over the years the owners, staff and guests have created a totally unique atmosphere at the hotel. Everyone gets to know each other, sitting in the same assigned table in the restaurant or meeting new people on the chairlift and then arranging a late night drink in the bar. And because the hotel doesn´t put TV´s in the rooms (genius!), most guests tend to be sociable.

After dinner, which is served in two sittings in the main restaurant, hanging around to listen to the live music whilst drinking a traditional pisco sour is de rigueur. Later? There’s always the disco…remember this is Latin America so it’s all about the hips!

The good news - the beginners’ areas are conveniently located right next to Hotel Portillo. For complete novices there is a magic carpet and the obvious next step up is a small slope on the other side of the hotel. Indeed, we can’t think of a more gorgeous place to learn to ski, with an ever-present Andean alpine backdrop.

Once you venture beyond these nursery slopes, you’ll find that the nearby green runs are nice and gentle and even the light blue’s don’t hold too much challenge.

For a ski resort venerated by the advanced skiers, beginners are well-catered for and need not worry about venturing anywhere particularly gnarly. Stay close to the hotel and you’ll be fine.

If there is a chink in the armour at Portillo, then this is where it is. If you like to spend your day, every day, cruising the reds and clocking up the vertical miles, then perhaps Portillo is not the right resort for you. Having said that, the groomed runs that are here are sheer class and there is good progression from easy routes to something a little more challenging.

Everyone should have a blast on the Plateau run that feeds into Las Lomas. This is an awesome steep groomed piste and often timed race gates are set up for the everyday Joe (like us) to use. If you want your ego quashed, compare your time to one of the European ski teams who will invariably be in resort for a summer training camp.

Here the mountains are steep and rocky and have everything to offer, both on and off-piste. Nirvana! The steep pitches and the chutes are the major drawcard for those who know (and like) what they’re doing. Freshies last at least a day, although not always in the really obvious areas. If you are ready there are several hikes to access more incredible lines through deep and dry champagne powder.

The areas accessed by the ‘slingshot’ surface lifts offer the steepest and most challenging runs in the resort. The pistes often form small moguls quickly, and if the melt-freeze cycle is underway, some of these runs are not particularly enjoyable until the sun has taken the edge off the ice. However when the powder is in good condition these runs can be….wait for it….legendary.

It’s easy to be fooled by the piste map into thinking there isn’t much to Portillo – it shows just 35 groomed runs. However, to get the most from you ski week it’s essential to get into the easily accessed off piste. The panorama is wide and wild, and the snow is fabulous and forgiving. And it’s just endless…

For those who aren’t quite backcountry-ready, this is the place to learn. The  resort has an excellent ski school and a host of powder clinics with top-notch instruction. It’s also possible to get a guiding service from the ski school, if you don’t want to do your own backcountry experimentation. In fact, we’d almost insist this as the best way of accessing the delights – this is big, big mountain terrain and it’s easy to find trouble.

And then there’s the helicopter – a Eurocopter AS530 B3 operated by Suma Air. With capacity for four passengers, this will open up a whole new world of virgin Andean ‘pow.

As a result of the need to traverse flat spots around the hotel, skiing tends to be more popular than snowboarding in Portillo. Having said that, the last time we were in Portillo we hung out with a rather zany gang of American boarders and they were having the best time ever, if the sheer number of high-fives is anything to go by! I guess it’s what you make of it and all that champagne powder counts for something.

There is no terrain park or pipe at Portillo.

With the full range of facilities and entertainment on tap at the Portillo Hotel, we can confidently predict that no-one of any age will be getting bored. The ski school is excellent (with climatic end-of-week races), child-care is easily accessed and fun activities abound. The communal vibe extends to the little ones – new little Chilean (and American) friends are easily made and parents can relax knowing all is taken care of.

In the basement of the hotel there is a brilliant supervised games room and even an indoor climbing wall and full size basketball court. For infants there is a nursery or a private nanny service.  They also offer daycare, staffed by trained childcare professionals and private baby-sitting services are available for an extra charge. The kid's entertainment and activities director plans a daily afternoon program, which includes hotel tours, bread baking, scavenger hunts and other fun activities.

Indeed, the four weeks of July are the Chilean national holidays and the hotel creates a programme over this period to welcome families - children's entertainment; tubing; dance classes; wine tastings (for the adults, obvs!); fashion shows; magic shows; karaoke; themed parties and more. Unfortunately, securing a room during July is often ‘challenging’ – possible only with plenty of notice!

Over the years the owners, staff and guests have created a totally unique atmosphere at the hotel. Everyone gets to know each other, sitting in the same assigned table in the restaurant or meeting new people on the chairlift and then arranging a late night drink in the bar. And because the hotel doesn´t put TV´s in the rooms (genius!), most guests tend to be sociable.

After dinner, which is served in two sittings in the main restaurant, hanging around to listen to the live music whilst drinking a traditional pisco sour is de rigueur. Later? There’s always the disco…remember this is Latin America so it’s all about the hips!

Getting There

Portillo is less than two hours’ drive from the Santiago airport, placing it right in the heart of the Central Andes and literally only minutes away from the Argentinean border. Indeed, the road which climbs to the resort is also the road which leads to a major border post between the two countries. Therefore, much care is taken to keep it open - even when big storms hit the Andes this road will be cleared in only a few hours.

There is a helicopter based up at Portillo, used for sightseeing cruises and, of course, heli-skiing. On occasion we are able to also book this for private transfers from Santiago – but only with plenty of notice.

Resort Scorecard

Snowsure


Beginners


Intermediate


Advanced


Snowboarders


Après Ski


Families


Base elevation: 2,510 metres

Top elevation: 3,350 metres

Number of lifts: 14

Number of runs: 35

Access: Fly to Santiago and then two hours by road.