50 Year Anniversary of 1966 Alpine World Ski Championships

| August 16, 2016 << Back

[This is an excerpt from Skiing Magazine written by Greg Fitzsimmons; CLICK HERE to read the entire article from Winter 2014 issue from Skiing Mag]

Portillo has beckoned skiers into the Andes from around the world for more than 80 years.They’ve always come for the skiing and the Chilean sun, but increasingly, in a time when other resorts are constantly expanding, building high-speed chairlifts, and erecting slopeside condos, they’re coming for something else…

“The people in South America live a little differently than we do up here,” says ski legend Stein Eriksen, who began visiting Portillo in the ’60s. “It’s a little more relaxed. There was good camaraderie and a lot of fun people and great food and wine.”

Inauguración de Campeonato Mundial de Ski en Portillo, Presidente de Chile , Eduardo Frei Montalva, 1966 (1)

In 1966, the ski world’s attention focused squarely on Hotel Portillo. Henry had managed to convince the International Ski Federation to hold the Alpine World Ski Championships on Portillo’s slopes. The event was challenged by avalanche danger and insufficient infrastructure, and to this day it’s the only World Championships to be held in the Southern Hemisphere.

But it put Ski Portillo on the map. Ski-film maker Dick Barrymore documented the 1966 championships in his classic movie The Secret Race, which starred the likes of Jean-Claude Killy, Guy Périllat, Léo Lacroix, Willy Bogner, and Jimmie Heuga. The film captured a scene in 1966 that seems little changed today.

That’s no accident, according to Henry, who has owned and operated the hotel and resort since buying out his uncle. “We decided years ago that we were not going to develop here, that we were going to leave it without condominiums,” he says. “We worked hard early on to create the character and atmosphere. It’s not hard to retain it anymore, though, because most people—guests and employees—like it this way. But there are people who come here and just hate it. They’re the ones who want more glitz and shopping and restaurants.”

Ceremonia inauguración Campeonato mundial de Ski 1966 (1)

Henry’s commitment to keeping Portillo real has preserved a level of authenticity uncommon in today’s bustling ski-resort world. His team
now has snow safety under control and internet service available in every room, but preserving the ambience has been a communal effort. Veteran employees who watched Henry’s son Miguel grow from a toddler running through the halls to the hotel’s general manager still refer to him as Miguelito. Juan Beiza, the charismatic maître d’ hôtel who greets guests at every meal with a familiar smile, has been a Portillo fixture for more than 40 years— just like bartender Jaime Cantillo, who has mixed decades’ worth of pisco sours.

And it was Portillo’s early ski pioneers—like those featured in The Secret Race, as well as Othmar Schneider and Pepi Stiegler—who clicked into bear-trap bindings and paved the way for modern heroes (and Portillo regulars) like Chris Davenport, Mike Douglas, Daron Rahlves, and Shane McConkey.

“We’ve watched the evolution of skiing happen right here,” says Henry. “Little 
by little, it seems like everyone gets down here.”

[This is an excerpt from Skiing Magazine written by Greg Fitzsimmons; CLICK HERE to read the entire article from Winter 2014 issue from Skiing Mag]