I don't own a camera so I didn't take pics but the pics on the website skiportillo.com are accurate.
Date(s) Skied: August 3 - August 9, 2008
Resort or Ski Area: Portillo, Chile
Conditions: 88 cm of fresh day before I arrived, another 10 cm on day 2, mostly sunny and warmish but real dry, interesting to me that even though conditions were freeze-thaw the powder stayed soft, conditions varied on the different faces of the valley as they day progressed so you could always find show you like; be it untracked, groomed and soft or groomed and fast, or soft bumps (my favorite).
Trip Report: I am going to discuss the skiing as well as logistics and travel decisions.
Getting there: AA, LGA to DFW to Santiago, a few delays but now missed connections, a pleasant conversation with a Chilean woman sitting next to me who works in PR for a winery and was in Ohio for the summer studying english. We arrived in Santiago at 7 am. It snowed the night before I arrived so the road up to Portillo was closed, I had booked my transfer through Portillo Tours and travel and they were at the airport to meet me and arrange a hotel in Santiago as well as taxi to the hotel from the airport (which they paid for). I had an inkling that the road might be closed as a storm was predicted so I did a little research on trip advisor and saw that the Orly Hotel was rated # 2 in Santiago and was well situated. Portillo tours and travel found me the last room there for a decent rate ($90) and as I mentioned transportation was arranged. It was nice there, nice breakfast, a long walk around the city, tasty lunch, etc. The next morning at 8 am the phone rang and it was like "the bus is here waiting for you." So I got ready quick and was down in the bus. We stopped at 2 other hotels and picked people up and we were off. The drive up was nice, kinda looked like southern california except bigger mountains. The road though it is an international highway (Chile to Argentina) is really small and curvy. There was a line of 18 wheelers probably over 10 miles long parked on the side of the road as they still couldn't safly make it with the snow. We stopped in some cute roadside empanada place for a snack and bathrooms in Los Andes, good empanadas. Upon arriving in Portillo I was surprised how crowded it was, there were people everywhere. As it turns out this was unusual and only because it was a saturday and it had snowed. Check in was fine but I was totally overexcited, hadn't eaten but didn't want to waste time as the snow looked good. I forced myself to have a salad and some coffee and then I was on the slopes.
The skiing: Ok, my first impression was that it was too hot and the snow was all gonna melt and it was soo small of a resort I was gonna get bored. But none of that turned out to be true. I would sum the skiing up as diverse and great. There were lots of groomed runs with a variety of steepness, there were really fantastic traverses (Kilometro Lanzado skiers right off Caracara lift is easy and f-in awesome), there were some real sweet bump runs later in the week the runn on Condor lift being the best. I rarely if ever waited in line and often the liftie was waiting for me and I would be the only person on the entire run. I liked the slingshot lifts though a lot of people didn't, they kept the tough runs uncrowded and just took some coution in exiting. I ended up taking a lot of lessons and the instructor (Juergen) was great, we started with 5 students (some who weren't really at the same level as the others) but later in the week were down to 3. We focused on off piste and bumps which was totally great.The lessons ended up costign $29 for a half day so I thought that was a deal. Again I couldn't believe how long after it had snowed the snow stayed good. There was one windstorm where at about 11 am it suddently was 70 mile and hour gusts while snowing with now vis, I was on a lift at the time and it was scary, but we eventually got down safely but the lifts were closed the rest of the day. It snowed 10 inches and then around 8:30 pm became clear and the moon came out and everyone realised it was gonna be beatiful the next day. I had read that other resorts in South America had trouble gettign the lifts open but that was not the case in Portillo, the lifts were all in good condition and mostly new. They did drop charges to provoke controlled avalanches and maintain safety. The day after that storm was really awesome and that night no one wanted the fun to end so the bar and the disco were kinda rowdy... There were people hiking up to do things, I wasn't in to that, though I loved the traverses. The heliskiing in Portillo is in operation again. I talked to people who did it and they liked it, but also said the skiing was so good to start with there wasn't a huge difference. For me it wasn't worth the money, but it's there. One day they cancelled the heli runs because no one booked it and people were able to book last minute later in the week so it didn't seem too hard to do if you wanted to. If I hadn't taken the lessons I think hiring a guide for a few hours to show you were stuff is and how to do the harder traverses might have been a good idea, in my case the instructor showed us around. Most of the traverses are scoutable from the groomed runs so an experienced off piste skiier could find everything without a guide just by looking.
:the hotel: Ok I decided to save money by staying in the Octagon, I feel I made the right decision. My roomates were all nice and mellow and there to ski and the accomodations were pretty comfortable. I was afraid it would be crowded or dirty or loud but it wasn't. There was a cheaper option, the Inca lodge, I spoke to people staying there, they said it was uncomfortably small and stuffy but also that they felt it was a great deal money wise. Everyone gets to use the same facilities of the hotel, the lounge, the pool, the bar, the disco, the sauna, the game room, the gym, so no one really spent much time in their room anyway. The Octogon and Hotel guests get to eat in the dining room while the Inca guests eat in the Cafeteria with the instructors and staff. I chose to eat in the cafeteria twice just because it was faster and I wanted to get in and out quick, the food in the caf was quite good and ther view was awesome. The food in the dining room was really amazing, unusual fresh seafood, great variety of choices, but the dining room was very formal. You had to come at the specific time and dress up for dinner and I wasn't really used to that, it felt a bit pretentious to me. I overheard people comment that it wasn't like it used to be when you had to wear a jacket and tie for dinner, or even before that when dinner was black tie. OMG kill me. Again the food was amazingly good and intersting, abalone, ostrich, venison, lamb chops, lots of vegetarian options. Otherwise the hotel was fun, it was wine week and so there was free wine class and tasting every night sponsored by different chilean wineries. I did it twice which was enough for me, the wine was good but at that altitude I could't drink to much, well not at first, heheheheh. People did feel the altitude, I had prepped with an aspirin a day and a lot of water for a week before and I was fine, just tired the first day or so. I really would reccomend not drinking alcohol the first night as everyone who did seemed to get sick. The hotel had a lot of other activities and I really enjoyed the Yoga classes. The teacher, Heidi, has been a ski instructor at Portillo for many years and really did a great Yoga practice for skiing, so I didn't get too sore. I admired her a lot as she was obviously a hard worker. There is free wifi in the hotel and a lot of people were using it, there was also a library with computers to use for a fee. The bar and disco were pretty fun, I like to watch people (and make fun of them, I know I am evil.....) so it was funny for me to watch the drunken hook ups and stuff like that. The bar had a decent live band most nights. No one really danced in the disco but it was fun anyhow. I was travelling alone as my partner was working in europe for the summer, but it was easy to meet people there. I was alittle hesitant in such a closed environment to answer honestly when people asked about my wife (my partner is a guy) but when I did I didn't encounter any trouble. There were a lot of newly weds on there honeymoons there which was fun. Total guy honeymoon fantasy, right? I would guess that 1/3 of the guests were from Brazil, 1/3 from Argentina, and the other 1/3 from everywhere else (USA, Canada, UK). There were some snobby rich people inclding one american woman who wore leopard skintight body suit to snowplow all week in her full time private lesson (I was dying). I met a lot of interesting people too. In a place like that the conversation runs the risk of becoming rather status oriented which can be a bit repetative (what do you do for work, where did you go to school, where did you ski, oh yea, well listen to what I did, blah blah blah). I tried to avoid doing that myself and did meet a lot of cool people.
I can speak decent spanish and ended up talking to a lot of South Americans about where else they had skied. Everyone agreed that Portillo was the best in terms of snow, lifts, and terrain. One person told me Las Lenas has better terrain when Marte chair was open but hat he had gone 5 days in a row after it snowed and all the lifts were close so he would sit in the lodge and wait and they would not announce anything, I don't have a lot of vacation time so I am not dealin with that. Another person told me Bariloche was the best when it had snow, but that it is unusual for Bariloche to have enough snow. Other people told me Valle Nevado was decent but MUCH more crowded than portillo. In terms of money though it looks expensive Portillo turned out ot be a really good deal in that the food and lfit tix are included in the lodging price as are all the activities. Most people commented that they didn't end up spending much on extras. The hotel ended up crediting me for the first night that I didn't make it up because the road was closed, so that pretty much offset my bar tab and lessons. I was real happy with my choice to go there and probably would go back, though I am eager to explore southern Chile next time.
Please PM me if you are considerign going and have any questions.