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Portillo

Anyone who’s anyone in the winter-sports world has summer skied Portillo. This is where the 200km/hr ski speed barrier was broken, where Jean Claude Killy first emerged into the spotlight, and is counted among Warren Miller’s Top 10. South America’s best known ski resort is a remote piece of paradise; it only has one main hotel (but boy, what a hotel).

Beginner

Intermediate

Advanced

Snowboard

At a glance: • Summer skiing • Awesome powder terrain • Warren Miller star

Great for: • Experts • Off-piste

Anyone who’s anyone in the winter-sports world has summer skied Portillo. This is where the 200km/hr ski speed barrier was broken, where Jean Claude Killy first emerged into the spotlight, and is counted among Warren Miller’s Top 10. South America’s best known ski resort is a remote piece of paradise; it only has one main hotel (but boy, what a hotel).

Portillo Resort

Set high in the Andes, far above the tree-line and even farther from civilization, Portillo is surrounded by sharp, jagged peaks. Birds of prey turn circles overhead and sunsets turn snowfields and the Inca lake scarlet red. There are no shops, no condos, not even a village up this high, just the odd lodge and the iconic, yellow Portillo hotel (the “Cruise Ship” as they like to call it). What’s great about the remoteness is the solitude. The ski area’s 1235 acres far outnumber guests here, and this means you’ll often find yourself soaring down heavenly powder bowls and hoofing it to death-defying descents in isolation.

As for the Portillo hotel, it isn’t outshined by the terrain. Sitting like a fallen sun, bright yellow and huge on the edge of the Inca lake, this is an island unto itself with everything you’ll need for a quiet or long Spanish-style week of merriment (there’s even a hospital… But we’re hoping you won’t need it). Last time we checked, staff literally numbered guests 1:1, so just statistically speaking you’re going to be well taken care of. Service is warm and there’s a sense of community when almost everyone stays under one big roof. They make this even more fun with special touches like clips of ski classes screened in the cinema each afternoon and weekly talks on “skiing better” from the talented ski school director. Check out the Warren Miller movie (“…Like There’s No Tomorrow”) where the team ski jump from a helicopter into the hotel pool – they enjoyed this resort so much, they ranked it among their top 10.

There’s not even a language barrier to contend with, largely because the resort is owned by the Purcell family who hail from New York. Signs are in English and Spanish, staff are all fluent in both, and even the ski runs are rated according to the US and Canadian system. Sticking to Spanish tradition, however, dinner starts nice and late (usually just before 10) and fiestas last long into the night…

Stats & FAQ

Location: Valparaíso Region, Chile

Established: 1949

Open: June - October

Downhill: 1235 acres / 35 runs

Nearest Airport & Transfer Time:
Santiago International Airport (SCL)142km, 2 hrs
  • Beginner
  • Intermediate
  • Advanced
  • 15%

  • 30%

  • 50%

Top Altitude:3310m / 10,860ft
Bottom Altitude:9350 feet / 2850m
Resort Altitude:9350 feet / 2850m
Longest run:2.5km / 1.6 miles
Slope Orientation:E W
Vertical Drop:2486ft / 768m
Skiable Vertical:
Night Skiing:No
Glacier:No
Downhill Runs:1235 acres / 35 runs
Beginner slopes:15%
Intermediate:30%
Advanced slopes:50%
Lift Pass Price:
Nearby resorts: Valle Nevado

Skiing/BoardingSkiing in Portillo

Skiers and boarders delight in Portillo's powdery craters, steeps, chutes and groomed slopes, lacking only in tree runs. While Europe and the US grow lush and green, this lofty perch is at its whitest between June and October and perfect for summer skiing. The area’s 1235 acres doesn’t cover the truly humbling off-piste opportunities, which are what draw advanced skiers here like moths to a white flame.

But an infectiously energetic ski school (run successively by Olympian gold medallists), a resort-wide obsession with “skiing better”, and the prospect of the big white world out there heartens all abilities do some serious work on their skill set. Meanwhile, falling about on Portillo’s one-of-a-kind va et vient lifts and ski jumping into hotel pools keeps it all from getting too serious...

Beginners start their journey on the carpet adjacent to the Ski Box kiosk before moving up to a small slope on the other side of the hotel. We’ve never known it to suffer from overcrowding and it works wonderfully for families, as you can watch little ones while nursing a brew at the Ski Kiosk. Still, if you’re more of a wobbly second weeker and would prefer to stretch your legs, take a class with the legendary Ski and Board School and you’ll soon be up and away on the blue Canarios runs and those off the Los Lomas chair.

While Portillo’s modest trail network may involve repeating a few runs, uncrowded slopes and meticulous grooming are always a joy for intermediates. Finding your way around the lake, it’s often good to limber up on the Juncalillo side where the sun shines on several long blues. West facing slopes on the Plateau side soften up in the afternoon - do laps as rays bounce off the lake, which they almost always do (80% of the days are sunny over here).

50% of the piste map is rated advanced and over, and this doesn’t even take into account this area’s raw off-piste potential. Extreme skiers are a large portion of the hotel’s guest list, who view this as the Shangri-la of iconic hike-to terrain like the Super C Couloir, involving a very exposed boot pack up to a 3000ft couloir. This is not forgetting the U.S., Canadian, Norwegian and Austrian national ski teams, who use the area as their summer training ground. When you’re skiing among the tallest mountains on Earth (bar the Himalayas), it’s worth investing in a guide to make sure you don’t miss anything.

Portillo Apres Ski

Spending all your après hours under one roof (no matter how yellow) could easily get dull, but not in Portillo. They compare the hotel to a cruise ship partly for its overflowing itinerary - starting with a welcome reception, where you can get your money’s worth of cocktails and meet your new ski buds for the week. These are the fine folk you’ll be late night dining with, joining in the bar, getting groovy with at the disco, or relaxing alongside in the cinema, famous outdoor pool and jacuzzis. Kids love making firm friends here, with a basement games room and sport court to keep them out of your hair.

If cabin fever kicks in, find a seat at Tio Bob’s, an on-mountain refuge serving Chilean barbeque and wine on a sun-blasted plateau. Or hit up the Ski Box which does empanadas, beers and more wine and can be booked for tastings or private après sessions.

Best time to go

Best time to ski Portillo

When is the best time to ski Portillo?

The average annual snowfall at Portillo is 740cm (290”), and snow storms are generally short, intense and followed by blue skies. 80% of days here are sunny, upping your chances of an impressive goggle tan exponentially. Meanwhile, location and super high elevation ensure good quality powder, which is often dry and likened to the legendary stuff in the Rockies.

Because of the incredibly steep crags that are such a feast for the eyes, the cannons used to ward off avalanche risks can only do so much – and some of the more famous runs may be closed on short notice. On the bright side, there are more than a few to go around.

Like elsewhere in South America, snow conditions can be inconsistent and melt-freeze issues do occur. To supplement the annual snowfall, Portillo has snowmaking on a number of its groomed runs. One thing’s for sure, this resort is far whiter than anywhere else in the US or Europe between the months of June and October. It may be of interest that August is when the National Ski Teams train and when the nightlife is extra lively.

Peak Dates

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Families in Portillo

Portillo is super kiddie-friendly and in addition to childcare and kids’ ski school (which provides group lessons in English), they run lots of special programs. Sprogs will adore the weekly kids’ race on the Sol de Portillo’s Corralito track, followed by an awards ceremony in the hotel living room. To prep them for the big event, the Kids Camp provides instruction for ages 4 - 6, and children’s group lessons are available for all 7-13 year olds. Those 14 years and up join the adult groups, which should make them feel all grownup.

For after hours, a games room in the basement is crammed with fun stuff like table tennis, billiards, table soccer and wall climbing. July, when the Chilean school holidays fall, is often the biggest family month, with everything from tubing and dance classes to magic shows and karaoke, plus more than a few themed parties thrown in for good measure.

GroupsGroup Holidays Portillo

If your group is looking for something a bit different for the summer getaway, a week of wintery fun in the Andes should just about do it. The Portillo hotel is itself already one big group holiday, where you’ll mingle with other ski groups in lively bars and a livelier outdoor pool. While 12 is usually the hour most ski resort nightlife winds down, this is when the disco gets going, blasting tunes until the last guest leaves.

There’s a personal touch to trips here, where everyone can gather at the cinema for clips of each other falling down at ski school, or just join the crowds with beers on the deck. The hotel is always throwing private parties on request, whether you feel like a starlight dinner at Tío Bob's, a sushi session or dance offs in the Posada. And if the mood for a big bash only strikes while you’re in resort, these can often be arranged on late notice.

If you’re not just here to party - the resort holds a weekly ski/snowboard race called the Sol de Portillo for guests of all abilities, a fantastic way to pit yourself against the group boaster... Or just have a laugh, with a lively awards ceremony to cap it off in the evening.

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