FREESKIER Magazine’s Insider Guide to Portillo
“Portillo is a small mountain that skis huge,” says Chris Davenport, who has been going to Ski Portillo for more than 15 consecutive years to host his annual Superstars Camp. Every year, legends and pros like Mike Douglas, Daron Rahlves and Ingrid Backstrom join Dav.
Any given week you’ll see Pep Fujas drinking pisco sours with the Austrian Ski Team in Portillo’s bar, Tina Maze soaking in the hot tub, Julia Mancuso dancing in the discoteque, Colter Hinchliffe stomping out a booter and spinning flat-threes, or Freeride World Tour Champion George Rodney bootpacking to couloirs. Brands like Patagonia, Blizzard Skis and GoPro head south to shoot footage during August. And, FREESKIER sends crews down to work on stories about powder days in August.
Needless to say, swapping flip-flops for ski boots and heading below the equator to experience skiing during the Southern Hemisphere’s winter—from June to October—is insane. Ski Portillo is a must-visit spot for any real skier.
The best way to experience Ski Portillo is to book a week at the hotel. Everyone jokes that the yellow lodge sitting on the banks of the Laguna del Inca is like a cruise ship that crashed in the Andes. There are three options for accommodations—a room in the main hotel, a less expensive shared room in the Octagon, or a budget-conscious, hostel-style bunk in the Inca Lodge.
Don’t be fooled by the sparse-looking Ski Portillo trail map, there are endless options for the freeskier looking to get after it in August. In fact, the late legend Shane McConkey, who annually migrated to Portillo, would always say that what goggles you wear dictate how you see mountains, terrain, a ski resort or a trail map. McConkey wasn’t talking about Smith, Giro or Oakley goggles; he was alluding to the lens you see terrain with and your creative approach to skiing.
How To Do Portillo
1. A classic: Super C Couloir
Stand on top of one of the world’s most aesthetic couloirs after a three-hour bootpack off the Roca Jack poma. The line is steep and committing, once you drop in, you’re in. Granite rock walls frame the 4,000-foot line. It’s a run you’ll never forget and you’ll brag about for the rest of your life.
2. Techy: Toilet Bowl
With a couple of mandatory airs, a frozen waterfall to navigate and a backdrop of jagged rock, the Toilet Bowl is one to lap on a powder day. While it’s easily accessed off the Roca Jack lift, the line requires some beta and technical skiing to navigate.
3. Bucket List: Lake Run
Arcing powder turns above the mirrored waters of Laguna del Inca is a must. The Lake Run is an institution in Portillo. But, if you’re like FWT Champ George Rodney, you’ll look at the lines above the Lake Run and see endless options. Rodney will always traverse and climb off the Condor poma to link powder fields, chokes and chutes with the Lake Run. This creates a 3,500-foot, leg-burning top-to-bottom that ends on the shores of the Inca Lake.
4. Claim it: La Chimenea
There’s no better après-ski spot in the entire world—arguably— than Tio Bob’s. The cobblestone refuge goes off in the afternoon. Impress everyone at Tio Bob’s by booting up La Chimenea and skiing the beautiful chute that directly faces the Tio Bob’s deck. You’ll score pow in this south-facing line even when everything else is hacked up.
5. AK in the Andes: El Estadio
The apron of powder that sits beneath the exit of the Super C looks more like Alaska than Chile. Flutes and spines that never get skied reward those who poke around, link up jump lines by boosting off rocks with pristine powder landings, and tuck into hidden nooks and crannies that aren’t visible from the on-piste trails. The Estadio requires sweat equity and a traverse, but it’s worth the effort. Trust us.
6. A week after the storm: Ultima Quebrada
Have you seen those quintessential Portillo photos where
Dav or another pro skier is blasting a pow turn underneath cloudless blue skies? Odds are the photo was shot in this zone a week after a storm. No one skis it because it takes time to traverse to and patience to pass all the untouched zones you slide past en route to Ultima Quebrada. But, this spot is worth checking out during a high-pressure system. Bring your GoPro or camera, this is where you’ll nail the shot.
7. Hot laps: Gargantita Dos
Just like at your home hill, spinning hot laps on the chairlift in Ski Portillo is damn fun. The line to lap over and over if you’re looking to bang out efficient laps is Gargantita Dos. This chute sits right underneath the main chairlift, El Plateau; so, you can scope it out every time you’re heading back up. On low-tide years the exit requires an air, but you can ski it from top-to- bottom with your skis on the ground during deeper seasons. From chalk to powder, this line is highly rippable.
Put on your freeride goggles and look at Ski Portillo with us. Some lines will leave you puckered, some you’ll never forget and a few are fairly secret—until now.
[This insider guide to Ski Portillo was published by FREESKIER Magazine. CLICK HERE to check it out online.]
Words by Greg Fitzsimmons