Bucket List: Skiing in Portillo, Chile
April 26, 2019
For those of us obsessed with skiing and seeing new places then Portillo, Chile needs to be added to your bucket list! This is an iconic Crayola colored ski resort (a mix of Sunglow with Bluetiful accents) in South America that can’t be missed. The whole concept of an Endless Summer appeals to many, but for some of us an Endless Winter is something we dream about all year long.
There is great news for us Nords…summer skiing IS accessible for those of us in the Northern hemisphere. Jetsetting south to the Andes mountains can bring you back to winter even in our steamy summer months here in the USA. From late June until early October (depending on conditions) you can wax up those skis or snowboard and hit the slopes.
Ski Portillo is a fascinating destination resort in so many ways. First of all it’s the oldest ski resort in South America that’s welcomed an international crowd since 1949. It’s most recognized by it’s steep pistes, chilly Inca lake, blue sunny skies and the stand out yellow colored hotel. The hotel calls out to you like a beacon and there is nothing else around…other than giant mountains. Granite spires intimidate, but blanketed in white snow they become way more friendly.
Portillo is located 102 miles (2 hours) from the largest city in Chile, Santiago. This is where you will likely fly into when coming from the USA. Do spend a day or so touring this colorful city. While there, be sure to try some empanadas and Cazuela (a chilean stew.) Wash it all down with a quenching Pisco Sour.
Santiago is vibrant in so many ways. You will see colorful street art everywhere you turn. It’s filled with great history and I highly recommend putting on some comfy shoes and walking around the centrally located park, Cerro Santa Lucia. Perched way up high you will get to see breathtaking views of the city. This was the vantage point for the conquistadors who used it as a lookout point when they were conquering Chile. It’s also the remnant of a 50 year old volcano!
Another great viewpoint is Cerro San Cristobal. Both foot tours will help to get your legs prepped for the slopes! Check out this great post by Santiago Tourist which can give you some more great ideas on what to see in this colorful city.
How to get to Portillo
I booked my trip with PowderQuest tours. It was simple planning and they took care of every detail. Ski.com can also easily do this for you…I highly recommend them for all your ski planning. Plan to spend the night in Santiago then leave via shuttle to Portillo. These well priced packages are all inclusive and will include 4-7 nights in the hotel or the smaller Octagon lodge. Both accommodations include full board (breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea + dinner), lift tickets, transfer to and from the airport. You can also book directly through the resort.
While in Portillo you might stumble upon some magazine and branded photo shoots in action. I got to the resort right after a Bogner shoot with pro skier/model Sierra Quitiquit This is the time of the year brands are prepping for their fall/winter look books and this setting couldn’t be more appropriate and beautiful. You also might see World Cup teams in training.
Once at Portillo you will want to ski! Well that is right outside your door as this is a ski-in/ski-out property. Settle into your room and bring your gear down to ski valet for storage. Once geared up and outside you are likely to have sunny skies (80% of the days are) All skiing is above tree line and there is terrain for every level. While skiing, take in all of the breathtaking views of Inca lake and the Andes tallest peak, Aconcagua standing at 6,961 m (22,838 ft). Eighty percent of the slopes are groomed daily, but there is plenty of adventure for the most ambitious skiers both on and off piste.
One of the most interesting parts of your ski experience will be the slingshot lifts which I never experienced anywhere else. Watch my short video below to see what those look like. They are very entertaining indeed. My cautionary advice: pay attention to yourself and everyone around you on the dismount! It can get kinds of sloppy. Plan ahead with folks on the lift to make the smoothest exit. You will see what I mean when you get there. Word has it that Portillo just added new snowmaking equipment to make your experience even better.
Also, be sure to hit up Tio Bobs on the ski hill at the top of the Plateau lift. This bar/restaurant is so fun and super tasty too. The views are awesome, as you are perched over Inca lake. Be sure to have another Pisco Sour while there!
The Hotel & Dining
Even though the trek to Portillo might be a bit of a journey, once you get there it’s time to unwind, relax and take in everything this all-inclusive resort has to offer. There is no reason to leave the hotel grounds the entire week you are there. You really won’t want to and there is nothing close to visit anyway. There is no shopping, charming village or restaurants nearby. Expect to make new friends everywhere you go in the hotel, whether it be at meal time, on the slopes, for aprés ski, in the great room or at the bar. I traveled solo on this trip and within the first few hours there I met my ski squad…new friends who I had the best time with!
There are two seatings in the large dining room for each meal. I signed up for the earlier seating, but then my new buddies insisted I sit with their group of 10. Each meal was more delicious than the last and the conversation flowed like the wine. Read more about the dining. You won’t believe how fresh the food is. The menus are creative and you will find something for all diets.
I’ll never forget taking my first bite of the Chilean avocados known as Palta. They are the creamiest, most delicious avocados I’ve ever eaten. We ordered extra at every meal. I’ve never tried anything like them before or after this trip. There is no need to skimp on calories here, trust me you will work it all out on the slopes. Try everything you can!
Make a point to never forget tea time. Trust me you will likely be very hungry with all the skiing you’ll be doing.
Booking your room: If you can, I suggest a balcony room if available. There aren’t many of them…but the bigger views and time to spend out doors is well worth it.
While at the resort take some time to go to the pool. It’s beautiful out there, glance up at the sky to stargaze. If you are into it, there’s a whole aprés ski scene in the hot tubs.
The spa is simple and is great for post ski massage. There is also a fitness center if you want to do weights, cardio and stretching. I went to the daily yoga classes with the fabulous Heidi Knauss. She has been working at Portillo for four decades with her other home in St. Moritz, Switzerland. Her classes fill up so get there a bit early. She will always make room! It was so helpful to stretch sore muscles after hitting the slopes hard.
There’s something to be said for a resort where 60% of the guests are return bookings. I bet if you go you will want to go back. I sure do!