Ski With Kim’s 13 Lessons, 13 Years Skiing in Portillo
My first trip to Portillo was in August of 2004. Portillo snow safety director, Frank Coffey, was the one who encouraged me to visit. I hired Greg Harms to help me guide… A tall, strong, and aggressive skier who ripped up the mountain like no one I’d ever skied with. Greg showed me the ropes like a local who loves his mountain. It didn’t take long before I fell in love with Portillo. The skiing, the owners, the staff, the views, the mountain glow, the food, the laughter, and the friends took over. I’ll ski Portillo until the day I can’t ski anymore, and I’ll continue to share this magical place with anyone else who wants to experience the Portillo love affair.
Portillo is like a private resort. There’s only one hotel with 350 pillows and a staff of 400 to take care of guests. The thing about skiing in August is you get to share your vacation with the best of the best. Only people who love to ski, go skiing in the summer. You’re surrounded by like-minded people who are fit, adventurous, fun and passionate about Portillo.
With 13 years of valuable information obtained by guiding skiers in Portillo, it doesn’t seem right to keep all this knowledge to myself. In honor of my 13 years I’m paying it forward, sharing my experience, hoping to make your 1st, 2nd, or 14th year the best one yet:
Make your travel easy
Flying directly to Santiago from the East Coast is an easy trip as you’re staying in the same time zone. The red eye flights allow you to arrive in the morning and be quickly escorted to a waiting van or bus en route to Portillo. The weather in Santiago is similar to San Francisco; mild and temperate, so all you need is a light jacket and normal travel clothing. To avoid getting hungry on your travel, get some pesos at the airport for snacks and drinks when the bus stops on the way to Portillo.
Tip: Pack a ski outfit on top of your bag, so if your room is not ready when you arrive, you can hit the slopes while you wait.
Leave your sweater home
Hotel Portillo is a beautiful historic hotel and a very comfortable place to call home for the week. Outdoor time is for skiing and a soak in the hot tub or a swim in the pool. Warm indoor clothing or winter boots unnecessary here as you won’t be walking outside to or from dinner. Mountain casual is the appropriate attire for the dining room.
Tip: Make sure your mountain causal can be adjusted to lightweight tops for dancing after dinner.
Bring your own skis
While Portillo does provide rental services, it’s always best to bring your own gear if you prefer to have familiar equipment. It’s a long way to travel to end up skiing on skis you’re not as accustomed to. Portillo is a big mountain with a lot of off-piste terrain, so mid-fat skis are ideal to bring due to their versatility.
Tip: If you have room, bring your powder skis as well. Overnight storms can sneak up on you, and fat skis will be the recommended call for those types of conditions.
Pack for all types of weather
The weather in Portillo is like the Rocky Mountains in March, which is to say it can be warm and sunny or a full-on winter storm. The Andes can deliver a winter punch at a moment’s notice, so always be prepared.
Tip: Pack extra goggles, gloves, base layers and ski socks. Laundry service is available, but being prepared is crucial.
Keep your departure plans flexible
There are times when winter storms will close the road to Portillo. There is generally plenty of time to get out ahead of the storm, but you’ll be cutting your trip short if you “must go”. The ideal situation is to stay and wait out the storm. More than half of the hotel guests typically leave along with the new guests not being able to get in, leaving all that untracked powder for those who are able to stay.
Tip: Have the 800 number of the airline you fly written down so the front desk can help you call them if needed.
Spend time at Tio Bob’s
Situated on the west-facing side of the mountain, Tio Bob’s is one of the best on-mountain restaurants in the world. Blue skies and afternoon sun warm up the lunch crowd, while other skiers lap the Lake Run, keeping those who are spectating entertained. Below, the Lake of the Incas increases her twinkles as the ice melts off the surface: so when the helicopter swoops in to Tio Bob’s, it produces heli-skiers with shit-eating grins, GoPro footage and stories to share. You don’t go there just for the food!
Tip: Ladies, it’s a good idea to be wearing your bikini top under your ski gear for impromptu table top dance parties!
Unique to Portillo, you can book heli-skiing for either a day, or just a few runs. Rookie heli-skiers and experienced pros alike will agree getting in the bird is worth it. The views from the Andes from that perspective are breathtaking and the untracked pow is not to be missed.
Tip: Look for Aconcagua, the highest mountain outside of Asia. It sits at 22, 838 ft and is just northeast of Portillo.
Take time to watch the national teams train
You will never get this close to high-speed ski racing action in the States. In August, the Austrian speed skiers come to Portillo to train and the US team arrives in early September. You can stand right next to the training course and watch the best-of-the-best do what they do better than anyone.
Tip: If you’re visiting during these weeks, come prepared with posters or photos for the athletes to sign.
Hit the gym when the ski teams are working out
There is nothing more motivating than being surrounded by world-class athletes while they work out. If you don’t want to workout yourself, use the spin bike as an excuse to sit back and watch strength, agility, athleticism and beauty in motion.
Tip: August is when the Austrian men are there, so ladies, bring your gym clothing and your best smile.
Hire a guide or take a lesson
There are many secret stashes that can be easily reached with a short hike or traverse. Learn the mountain and get to the best conditions by hiring someone to show you the ropes. If you’re looking to join a group you can browse several options here.
Tip: Be honest with your skiing ability. You’ll get the most out of your day and your coach if you place yourself with the right people.
Workout before you go
Portillo has fabulous lifts called slingshots or Va et Vient (French for ‘come and go’). They are surface lifts made by Poma designed for avalanche prone terrain — where lift towers wouldn’t last. Pulleys, anchored to the mountain, pull four or five skiers at a time straight up the chute. The path is not groomed, so hang on for powder, avalanche debris, windblown crust, ice, and random whoop-dee-dos. This lift is not for the weak; the stronger you are, the happier you will be and the longer you will ski.
Tip: Remember how your legs feel the first day of the North American season? That’s how they’ll feel the first day of the South American season as well if you don’t do some pre-ski conditioning.
Learn to ride the Va et Vient (Slingshot) lift
Be sure to ask for instructions and ride along with others who have experience for your first few times. Also, start with the easiest lift and eventually progress to the hardest. Start with the Condor before the Roca Jack; it’s easer, shorter and not as steep. DO NOT jump off at the top. Wait for the lift to stop completely, it will jerk and sometimes slide back. Be patient, take your time, and get off one at a time. Unfortunately, I’ve seen vacations ruined due to not following these recommendations.
Tip: You’ll be anxious to start ripping down the mountain right away, but take a minute and look around! The tops of these lifts provide incredible views.
Plan your next adventure… Re-entry recovery
Returning home after a week in Portillo can be a little rough. At times you’ll find yourself staring out the window, not getting any work done, feeling low and dreaming about the Lake Run, the Inca Trail and Tio Bob’s. The best way to recover from this feeling is to plan your next adventure. Giving yourself something to look forward to will help with the tough re-entry transition back into reality.
Tip: Ski with Kim gives discounts for early bookings! 😉