How does a skier pass a perfect summer day? In Ski Portillo Chile skiing the Andes. Sleeping, eating, cruising, swilling at Hotel Portillo.
by Lori Knowles

It’s a cruise ship kind of start to the day at Ski Portillo Chile. Wake up slow. Eat enormous breakfast. Take first run mid-morning once the snow has softened. There’s no pressure to rush, as nothing about this “ski vacation” is normal. For one thing, it’s August. For another, Portillo is south of the equator. Here’s a plan for your perfect Ski Portillo Chile summer ski day…

Breakfast In (South) America: Take it slow. Saunter into Hotel Portillo’s cruise-like communal dining room and take up your table. Red-coated formal waiters buzz about like the hornets you’ve left back at the dock in the Adirondacks. Survey the crowd. The “guests” on this skiing cruise ship are a spectacular mix. South American families dressed in happy skiwear: shiny pink puffy jackets. Lime green ski pants. Wide-framed, jewel-encrusted sunglasses. Only slightly more staid: skiers from New York, Vail, Whistler, Toronto, Aspen. They’re sporting Bogner and Kjus. Arcteryx and Patagonia are on the backs of the hearty-looking, ski-touring crowd. Wait… that one in gold lamé. Isn’t that a Brazillian monarch?

First Chair, Later is Better: Click into your skis and push away from the sunny yellow, slopeside Hotel Portillo. First chair up might drop you by the summer training start of the Austrian national ski team. These enormous ski species pick up speeds of about 80 kph. They’re duded out in their helmets and speed suits. Race bibs sport names like Franz, Hans and Josef. Stop to stare… skin suits look really good on the backsides of elite ski racers. Don’t catch an Austrian coach’s eye. “First run?” he’ll ask with disdain. “Vee have been verking since vile you vere sleeping.”

First Run, Juncalillo: The pistes of Juncalillo (pronounced HUNK-a-LEE-oh) catch the most sun in a Portillo morning. Snake down its treeless groomed tracks first. Subsequent runs, steer off-piste to ski the crud and small bumps — it’s quieter there. The bulk of South American skiers ride groomed tracks, leaving the good off-piste stuff sweetly untouched and under-crowded.

Afternoon Ray-Ban Rays: By noon make your way to the Plateau — the side of Portillo that catches the afternoon rays. (80% of Portillo’s ski days are sunny). The terrain here is treeless and vast. You’ll need a fisheye lens to capture it on camera. Ride the El Plateau lift, then the slingshot Condor—a bizarre, four-person Va et Vient (come and go) ski tow you’ll find nowhere else but Chile. Traverse to the off-piste of Plateau Superior, largely avoided by the masses.

Lunch with Uncle Bob: Lunch is perched mid-mountain at Tio Bob’s (Uncle Bob’s). Bob Purcell was Portillo’s original owner; his American nephew, Henry Purcell, now runs it. Tio Bob’s is a slopeside hut much like Europe’s, with a hypnotic view of Laguna Del Inca (Lake of the Incas) and the surrounding snowcapped Andes. It’s hot. Skiers throw off their gear and take up sunny residence at patio tables. Food is off the grill: Chicken. Salmon. Sausage. Soup. Enormous salads.

Skiing Gutsy Garganta: You won’t want to leave your perch, but you’ve got a date with Garganta (translation: throat), gutsy steeps akin to the Couloir at Whistler-Blackcomb. The sun-softened snow on Garganta is perfect… as is its pitch: steep and slightly bumpy, just the way you’ll like it. End the ski day with a clandestine zip along the Austrians’ closed downhill training course courtesy of Robin Barnes, Portillo’s ski school director. It is all part of Portillo’s daily Ski Ambassadors program, during which you’re VIP’d by the area’s experts.

Time for Tea: By 5 pm it is time for tea in the dining room — an event! Portillo’s civilized après-ski. Hot chocolate. Biscuits and jam. Tea in silver service. More red coated waiters and crisp, white linen. Later you can follow up with a nap, a swim in the pool, an 8 p.m. dinner, a lecture in the cinema, then… the hotel disco. For now though, afternoon tea and its accompanying Chilean sweet breads cap an extremely sweet day of Chilean summer skiing.

Hotel Portillo

The Location: Ski Portillo is located approximately two hours from Chile’s capital, Santiago, and accessible via direct flights from numerous North American cities.

The Skiing: Ski Portillo has 14 lifts and a vertical drop of 762 metres (2,500 feet). The ski resort’s Hotel Portillo at 2,880 metres above sea level combines panoramic views of the Lake of the Incas and is nestled in the shadows of 19,000-foot (5700-metre) Andean peaks.

The Hotel: Hotel Portillo boasts a 1:1 guest-to-employee ratio, four meals per day, plus an onsite gym, outdoor heated pool and spa, disco, wine bar, games room, lounge, cinema and an evening adventure lecture series.