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Belated TR: Portillo 8/04

post #1 of 22
Thread Starter 
This is a long overdue TR from the summer of ’04. It’s best I waited, as this was NOT my best experience in South America, but looking back now, I can give equal weight to the positives and negatives.

As many of you know, I’ve done the Chile ski thing for a few consecutive years now. I’ve only been to Portillo, despite attempts to make it up to Valle Nevado. Portillo is a wonderful and unique place like no other I’ve visited, but the winds of change are blowing. If Portillo is on your life’s list, and you want to experience it in its true form, I’d get down there ASAP.

Well let me back up. I’ve been to Portillo for ski weeks in September ’02, September ’03, and August ’04. By most accounts, I’ve seen it at its best in 15 years (‘02) and at its worst in 40 ’04). In ’02, they exceeded the snowfall totals of ’03 and ’04 combined BEFORE opening day. They even opened a couple of weeks early. It was truly a sight to behold.

My first 2 trips were solo missions. No friends were nutty enough to don skis and travel over 4000 miles to go skiing in the summer, and my wife felt she was not yet proficient enough to take advantage of the skiing there. So finally, in ’04, my wife felt ready, and I jumped at the chance to take her down to this wonderful place.

We arrived early and stayed a few days in Santiago (which I recommend). I’ll do a general recap of hotels later on. There’s plenty to do and see in Santiago, good shopping, food, culture, and nightlife. In fact, it was an earth shaking experience for us both (more later…) .

But on to the mountain! The drive up was typically harrowing, made a bit more so by a rookie driver who’d never made the trip! Thankfully the road was dry and the traffic light, so we made it up unscathed. A word of advice, it’s not necessary to arrange your transport through Portillo. I was intimidated by the thought of getting up to the mountain my first time, but you needn’t be. There is an ARMY of cab drivers at the airport who will fight for your business. $60 will get 2 people up to Portillo in a taxi. The resort will cram you in a van or bus for $75 per person. Renting a vehicle can be a cost effective option. I did it in '03, but probably wouldn't recommend it to a first timer.

Well, check in went pretty smoothly, and into our lake view room we went. Magnificent! The bluebird skies that would dominate the next few days made for a spectacular scene right from our balcony. Laguna de Inca (the lake) is breathtaking. If only it were frozen!
We got squared away, laid out our gear, and prepared for the ski day to come. Dinner was fantastic as usual, you won’t lose weight on this vacation. 4 meals a day are included, and the dinner menus are typical of the better restaurants most of us are used to.

Ski day 1- Sunny, warm, and deserted. No one even tries for first chair, so it’s all yours if you want it. The Mrs. And I headed up the Conejo lift for some warm up runs on easy greens and blues. She seemed a bit out of her element in this environment, perhaps a bit uncomfortable above the treeline with imposing jagged peaks in the background. So after about 4 short runs, I decided to move us over to the sunny Juncalillo side, home to Portillo’s longest blue run. It was sunny over there, but unfortunately, the lower third of the trail was in really sketchy shape. I knew she would have a problem, so I waited up to guide her through the crappiest sections. Well, you may sense where this is going. She got distracted by the line of trucks coming up the switchbacks, got hung up in a big pile of mashed potatoes, and went down. Knee twisted almost 180, screaming, the whole bit. 2 hours and 5 runs into it, her ski trip is OVER. At least she got a cool sled ride by a good looking Kiwi patroller.

This pissed me off a great deal. They advertised a 17” base on Juncalillo, but when I got down there, they had half a dozen guys shoveling snow onto the run to keep it covered. It was literally like 3” average base. In fact, they closed the run altogether 2 days later. A trip to the clinic (cash only, por favor) revealed a probable ACL tear, though not terribly severe. He put her in a brace, and prescribed pain meds. If only they had faced the facts and closed that run earlier…Oh well, I guess there are worse punishments than hot tub and massages for the rest of the week.

Day 2- So now I’m solo once more. I’m not going to give a daily blow by blow, because each day was roughly the same without new snow. Groomers, moguls, and race course. The actual skiing was quite unremarkable. That’s the kicker about Portillo, you need several elements to fall into place in order to enjoy its full skiing potential;

-Good base
-Frozen Lake
-Fresh snow

I had none of these. Without the frozen lake, the place skis very SMALL. Almost 75% of your off piste options are eliminated, because they terminate at the lake surface. If you are limited to marked runs, and are a good skier, you will ski the place out in 2 good days.

So I amused myself as much with the non skiing and après activities as I did with the skiing. An apres wine tasting party at Tio Bobs (a picturesque mountaintop barbeque joint), a massage, lots of photos, some seminars, etc. One major highlight was the fact that it was “Ski With The Superstars” week at Portillo. About 40 people paid somewhere north of a grand extra to spend 5 days freeskiing with Chris Anthony, Chris Davenport, Wendy Fisher, and the legend, Shane McConkey. So they were always around, and I got to BS with them a bit and had some cool photo ops.

I had fully intended to heli ski this time around as well, but reports from those who’d flown already that week dissuaded me.

I don’t like the modernization I’m seeing at the resort. Wifi access in the main lounge is taking away from its old world charm, and making it look more like a Starbucks full of laptop geeks. I think they’re starting to succumb to some of the pressures of Joe Skier from the USA. If they put TV’s in the rooms, then I know it’s over.

Some other minor complaints were that I had a few logistical problems with management about the room rate, checkout, etc. I won’t go into detail except to say that you must be on top of them to refund your tax! You aren’t required to pay it, and they’ll be only too glad to keep it if you don’t know better. It amounts to several hundred dollars for 2 people staying a week.

Also, it seemed a bit “clique-y” with the superstar group in attendance. In previous years, I always hooked up with a cool crew of people. Not this year.

So my synopsis is this; Portillo can be great. Or it can be just OK. Don’t book early, and don’t plan on going in June. Wait until they start advertising snow depths and totals. If they don’t have 100 inches snowfall, and 30-50” base by July 4th, don’t even bother. Unless, of course, you want to go more for the overall experience than for the actual skiing. Then go whenever best suits you. Prices drop drastically both early and late season, and I think the absolute best time to go is the first week after regular season prices end (around 2nd week of Sep.)

Now a few words about Santiago. We stayed in quite a few hotels there and I’ll pass on the pros and cons of the ones we tried. We fly on standby passes, and we got bumped for 3 days trying to get back home. That’s why we were in so many dang hotels! But our loss is your gain, read on;

Crowne Plaza- Downtown. Beautiful 4 star hotel around $100 a nite. The Chileans take their hotel management very seriously. For the most part, every one we stayed at was spotless, and the staff was sickeningly courteous and efficient. CP gave us a crazy good rate, first for airline employee, then for “distressed passenger”, and we ended up there for 2 nights, 1 on the front end of the trip, and one on the back. Great spa, cheap spa services, great restaurant, lounge, and wine bar. Nice rooftop tennis courts, and very nice outdoor pool and spa (alas, not heated). Good location near shopping, dining, bus and subway. Oh, and we can vouch for the structural integrity if the building. We awoke one morning to a 5.9 earthquake! I’m like, “Hon, what the hell are you doing over there, calisthenics?” She’s like, “What are YOU doing, I’m not moving!” Then we’re both like, “Oh sh!t!!!” It was a little scary, but mad cool at the same time.

Hotel Plaza De San Francisco- Downtown. Really high end, snazzy joint. A little more $ than Crowne Plaza, about $120/nite. 4 star as well. The rooms are individually decorated with local art and artifacts, and overall the place seems more like a high end apartment complex than standard hotel rooms. Indoor pool and fitness room, very good restaurant on site. Recommended for sure, especially if you’re only doing one night in Santiago.

Hotel Orly- Downtown. Smaller boutique hotel for a lot less money ($58 US, with full brkfst.). The room was TINY. Barely enough room for 2 of us and ½ our bags. Had to put the skis and the rest in storage. The breakfast was really good, and the location was very convenient, but unless you’re traveling light and on a strict budget, I’d pass.

Boulevard Suites by Marriott- Las Condes, about $100/nite. Woooowwww! This place was just the shizznizzle (or the “bees knees” if you’re over 50 ;-) ). Located in the upper floors of the Marriott (35th floor and up) are the Boulevard Suites. My wife and I both agreed upon entering, we’d live there for good. The décor was Scandinavian, sort of “high end Ikea” might describe it. Fresh flowers and orchids scented the suite, and huge corner windows provided a stunning view of both the city below, and the snow covered peaks beyond. We were both dead tired at midnight after a long ride back from the airport, and looking forward to sleep. But once we saw the room and the view, we couldn’t let it go to waste. Hello, room service? Bottle of white and your cheese platter please! We dimmed the lights, put on the stereo, listened to Spanish music, and sipped wine until we both fell asleep on the couch. You’ll love this place.

Ritz Carlton Santiago- Las Condes, 5 star, around $200+/ nite. Well, it was our 5th wedding anniversary the week before, so this was a little surprise for Mrs. X. I found a neat package deal that included 1 nite stay, full dinner for 2 with wine, massages for 2, and breakfast for less than the cost of 1 night stay in most Manhattan hotels. She was blown away! Rooftop heated pool and hot tub under a glass atrium, fitness room, luxury spa, gorgeous oak bar and library/lounge area, this place was great. The room was beautifully decorated, and a chilled bottle of champagne and chocolates awaited us upon check in. These folks do it up nice. If you’re up for a splurge, you could do a lot worse.

Another interesting side note, we happened to be there while Chilean tennis players Nicolas Massu and Fernando Gonzalez were vying for Olympic gold. They were successful, defeating the USA, and winning Chile’s first Olympic Gold Medals ever! In any event!

Well within minutes, people took to the streets in the most moving display of national pride I’ve ever witnessed. My wife and I stood on the sidewalk shooting video of car after car, truck after truck, loaded with flag waving Chileans streaming by. This party lasted for hours and continued well into the night.
How’d you like to be either of those 2 dudes when they get back home?

The subway system in Santiago is clean, safe and efficient. The buses, not so much.

Taxis are pretty cheap, and easy to hail.

Don’t miss Barrio de Bellavista, their version of Greenwich Village. Neat sidewalk cafes with cheap eats and drinks. Empenadas and Churros from street vendors were sinfully good, and dirt cheap. Lots of beggars and stray dogs, but hey, that’s life in the big city. I bought an empenada for a particularly hungry looking Husky and made a friend for life!

Well there it is, I’ve said all I can. Good, bad or indifferent. IMO, it’s a pilgrimage any deadly serious skier should make. Enjoy.
post #2 of 22
Thanks for the great report! I've dreamed of going there for years. I hope I'll finally get there, possibly in '06. You gave me inspiration!
post #3 of 22
Beautiful! I really wanted to get down there last summer but the snow reports held me back… This summer is out of the question for that I’m recouping from an ACL reconstruction surgery to my right knee. Maybe next year…

Nevertheless, your trip report was inspiring, as always. Sorry to hear about your wife’s misfortune; hope she’s doing well.
post #4 of 22
Thanks for the great report. I was in Portillo in 2002 and this past August in Valle Nevado (both with N.A.S.T.C., who will be doing their annual Portillo clinic again in August if anybody's interested in going with a group).

I loved them both. Portillo has the legend and the "magic" and the beauty, along with the usual great skiing and the "adventure." In 2002, we had to be evacuated out a day early because a 4-day blizzard was bombarding the resort). It's fun to sit in the dining room and meet the Olympic teams training there. And to sip a glass of wine under the stars in the outdoor pool under a full moon . . .truly unforgettable. And the fact that there are no televsions and you're really in this cozy world makes for a really unique trip.

Since the hotel only holds 450 people tops, it's never crowded. After the first day, nobody even looks at your lift ticket ever again. The South Americans like to eat dinner really late and then disco, so they sleep late.
Only the "crazy Americans" are out on the slopes at 9:30. Unbelievable to have the whole place to yourself for hours.

But at the same time, I found Portillo rather intimidating and not particularly friendly. Even the owner was aloof, even when you were
enthusiastically raving about the place.

I was glad I was with a group because had I been alone, I would have
felt very isolated.

On the other hand, we found Valle Nevado to be fun and playful.
It's bigger, more variety of terrain for one thing. Not as upscale as Portillo's old 1940's-50's what I imagine Sun Valley used to be like feel. More Scandinavian Ikea type decor. Paper thin walls. About 5 or 6 Different restaurants -- not all of them good. Italian, French, etc.

But the "vibe" is much friendlier. We decided it was probably due to the fact that Valle Nevado is closer to Santiago and gets a bigger number of skiers coming in and out. ALso, Portillo is owned by Americans. And because of the South American economy, there now are more Americans at Portillo than ever, as opposed to the previous more international mix of Chileans and Argentinians. We decided that Americans tend to be more clique-ish and stand-offish. We included ourselves! So big groups of Americans who don't know each other pretty much stay to themselves.

You get in an elevator at Portillo and people are often silent. The front desk staff barely speaks English, which makes dealing with check-in and settling your bill, etc. incredibly difficult. (in a way that's one thing that makes Portillo a magical place. THey don't cave in to Americanos who don't know Spanish. But it's still can be a pain and frustrating).

At Valle Nevado, there weren't that many Americans, but there were tons of South Americans and Canadians and Germans and Italians -- people from all over. You get in an elevator and they say hello! In the heated outdoor pool people chatted with you. The ski teams loved having us join them at breakfast to schmooze a little. And the front desk staff spoke English and were always eager to help.

We all spoke about how great it would be to split a trip and do 1/2 Portillo and 1/2 Valle Nevado. But that would be difficult and expensive, since it's about 1 1/2 hour drive from Santiago to Valle N. and about 2 1/2 to Portillo and no way to do it other than to go all the way down and then a totally other different direction to get to the other one. (And this is on narrow roads with dozens of hairpin turns)-- to both resorts.

In any event, skiing in August in South America when it's hot and
humid and disgusting here in New York (or wherever YOU live) has been my salvation. Highly recommended!
post #5 of 22
I really appreciate you taking the time to post this, well done and thank you! this is why I joined epicski after "guesting" for a few years!!
post #6 of 22
Thread Starter 
Glad to hear it was useful. With the pitiful season many folks had this winter, I won't be surprised if SA skiing is a very hot topic this May and June.

I may do Las Lenas for a change if early season snowfall is good.
post #7 of 22
Originally Posted by xdog1
Glad to hear it was useful. With the pitiful season many folks had this winter, I won't be surprised if SA skiing is a very hot topic this May and June.

I may do Las Lenas for a change if early season snowfall is good.
las lenas, warren miller extreme skiing filmed there I recall or was that white magic?...whatever....enjoy!! I'll keep saving my money....I'll give your review a kick to the top here so maybe some other bears get to enjoy it
post #8 of 22
Thread Starter 
Warren actually filmed at Portillo as well, and one of his frequent stars, Chris Anthony, was there with me this past August.
post #9 of 22
I was down there in 2001. I can vouch for Marriott- Las Condes. Truly an impresive Hotel with fantastic views. I had a room just below the Penthouse.
I stayed down in Santiago and drove up to Valle Nevado, El Colorado everyday. The road is one way up in the mroning & one down in the afternoon. I only had a delay getting up one day after a storm but they have crews who will rent you & fix chains .
Santiago is a great base way cheaper than staying in the resorts. The resorts also do not have much happening in the evening.

I stayed one night at the Hotel Portillo, very old , over priced. Upside, really international mix of people & normally has some National Ski Team based there. In my case The Austrain National Ski Team were in the bar most nights !

I also second the advise about not to book early . Wait until they got/advertise snow . Andes snow is notoriously unpredictable.

My reommendation for South American skiing is Las Lenas & Bariloche in Argentina & Termas de Chillan in Chile .

post #10 of 22
Thread Starter 
Bro, that's a minimum 3 hr roundtrip drive, daily.

Not my idea of a "vacation".

And if it dumps huge, you're not getting up there. If it's high season, you may save a few pennies by staying in Santiago, but if you ski low season, you really won't save anything.
post #11 of 22
Im from Europe were well practised in Rally Driving in the Mountains (inc chain up) :-) Took just over 1 hour on the way up. Longer on the way down but I wasn't on a mission in that direction !
post #12 of 22
Awesome info. I'm only 22 finishing college planning to enter the working world soon and I'm already thinking about what a great break a week of skiing in South America would be during the summer.

Any chance you could compare the price to a similar experience in Europe? My guess is that the USD goes pretty far in Chile but are prices inflated at ski resorts?
post #13 of 22
Thread Starter 
Originally Posted by gbubnis
Awesome info. I'm only 22 finishing college planning to enter the working world soon and I'm already thinking about what a great break a week of skiing in South America would be during the summer.

Any chance you could compare the price to a similar experience in Europe? My guess is that the USD goes pretty far in Chile but are prices inflated at ski resorts?
I'm not a seasoned Euro skier, only been there once. But from my research and limited experience, many places in Europe can be a better "general" value.

But this is highly dependent on your demands and expectations. If you're there strictly to ski, and don't give a crap about sleeping or eating, you can do Portillo DIRT cheap ($500 USD/week, bunk, food, and lifts included in the Inca Lodge). Whereas, if you need to be in the main hotel, with upgraded meals, you can pay almost triple that.

Do it smart and you can do it cheap.
post #14 of 22
I wouldnt say South American SKiing is cheap. Most the resorts are geared towards North American Tourists, everthing is priced in $$ .
Well, you wont find any skiing in Europe in the summer (except the melting Glaciers) however, in the winter there plenty of flights from US. THeres a whole range of accomodation. Most accomodation in France is appartment style so if you come as group the cost is split. In Austria you can stay in B&B these can be had in some of the famous resorts (St Anton, Lech ) from as little as €20 per night.
Just thinking back to my Ski Trip to South AMerica somedays I thought I was skiing in the USA with the amount of Amercans on the slopes !
post #15 of 22
Thread Starter 
Originally Posted by stanton
I wouldnt say South American SKiing is cheap. Most the resorts are geared towards North American Tourists, everthing is priced in $$ .

*I think 7 nights lodging, with 3 meals daily, and ski pass for under $500 is cheap. So would most Americans.

Just thinking back to my Ski Trip to South AMerica somedays I thought I was skiing in the USA with the amount of Amercans on the slopes !
*Well, at least you didn't get trampled in the liftlines, or have to wear a clothespin on your nose.
post #16 of 22
xdog, thanks for the great post. It was fantastically entertaining and very informative. This has been a dream of mine for a few years and I will take your advice and plan later on when I eventually do go. I'm thinking this would be a great graduation present next year, hmmm
post #17 of 22
Hello Fellas!

I skied in Portillo for 25 years and the report is accurate.I love the place!
Once I asked my older daughter,"do you want to go to Disneyland or Portillo?"
When she told me "Portillo!",I was a very happy man
post #18 of 22
Thread Starter 
You've done your job well. Screw Mickey, give me face shots!
post #19 of 22
Thread Starter 
Well, it's getting awfully warm here in NY, I'm hoping to god that the SA season shapes up early. If I go, it'll have to be around July 4th.
post #20 of 22
I'm booked at Portillo for the second week of August.

My attitude: there's no snow in Tahoe in August so I have to go elsewhere to ski. I'm going with 2-3 pals and our wives/girlfriends.
post #21 of 22
PICS - we need pics.
post #22 of 22
No snow in Tahoe in August? I'm hoping the Forth of July Chutes over by Barker Pass will still be skiable in August.

Ok, ok, that doesn't really count If it looks like a good year down there I'll be heading down this year too. Gotta get some more use out of my $100 "Reciprocity tax" I paid two summers ago on my way down there (you are charged $100 when entering Chile since the US charges Chilians the same when they come here).
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