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Trip Report Ski Portillo totally rocked my world

Discussion in 'Less Travelled' started by Ramshead, Oct 23, 2016.

  1. Ramshead

    Ramshead One of Us

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    I was lucky enough to go to Portillo in the last week of August this year with @The Snow Gauge, and have been meaning to post a review here for a while. Finally found the time and energy.

    Portillo is a ski resort like no other I have been to, and I imagine, like no other full stop. I’ll talk mostly about the skiing first, then a bit about extras like accomm, meals etc.

    OK, so if you arrive at night like we did, you wake up in the morning, stare across that magnificent lake to 4800m peaks beyond and go, uh huh, great views, but where the hell is all the skiing? This is the most deceptive mountain on earth. What you see from the base is definitely, definitely not what you experience on the hill.

    [​IMG]

    A local told me “this is a small mountain that skis big”, and oh boy, was he right. It’s actually NOT such a small mountain. There is 900m of vertical and every type of terrain imaginable, except of course, tree skiing, because it’s all above the treeline/cactusline. But because the hotel is situated at the bottom of a bowl about halfway up the hill, all you see is the upper 3 or 400m of vertical and you sort of think, well, what’s the big deal here? Reviews on tripadvisor.com won’t increase your confidence levels. Many people there say the place is overrated. My first response to that would be to say that 99% of people who post reviews on TripAdvisor are morons. My second response is I bet they’re just lousy skiers or boarders.

    If you’re a proper advanced skier, which I more or less am, this place has so much more than meets the eye. Looking out that hotel window, you see one big groomed blackish blue slope (would be rated red in Europe) and think OK fine, that’ll be a nice warm-up. Which it isn’t, or wasn’t in the freeze-thaw conditions we mostly experienced, because it’s on the shady side of the hill and was icy early. The better warm-up is the long sweeping run down to the Juncalillo chair (pronounced Huncaliyo), which catches early rays and is lovely at about 10 am when the surface is just starting to thaw. This is where the international race teams train early in the morning. Many of these teams famously return to Portillo each year. The Austrians were there when we visited. Yeah, those guys can ski a bit.

    The runs down to Juncalillo are genuine blue wide leg-burning groomers that go for a good 3km or so. Just for laughs, the chair crosses the main highway snaking its way from Chile to Argentina on the way up, so you get to do a whole bunch of truckspotting from the chair, which is kinda cool. You reach the top of Juncalillo, maybe do another lap to really get your thighs pumping. Now it’s time for the big dance.

    Higher up on this morning-sun side of the mountain is Roca Jack, one of Portillo’s famous slingshot lifts. My Portillo partner @The Snow Gauge wrote excellently on the subject of these lifts on his blog. Suffice to say woohoo! So fast. So freaky. The slingshots have no lift towers because the terrain is avalanche prone. There’s just a cable and a weird five person poma contraption. Park yourself at the bottom and wait. Up goes a bunch of five. While they go up, the next poma thingy comes down. You can’t go up until the group is at the top, but the lift moves so fast and the queues around here so short this is not a problem. I reckon the thing travels the 300m vertical or so in about 2 minutes.

    This is funny. Make sure you watch till the last few seconds. Yep, happens a lot, Getting off these things is awkward.




    From the top of Roca Jack you are king of the world. This is where the big small mountain becomes the big big mountain. There is just so much terrain to explore here. You can ski a straight shot straight back down to the lift on a good genuine black pitch. This would be great on a powder day. But the best stuff is over to skier’s right. Cross over a ridge line and wham! You are in chute and bowl land. Peak Portillo is probably the famous Super C couloir which is on this side of the hill too, if you’re prepared to hike a few hours with a guide. But there’s still loads of goodness without hiking. It’s basically a case of pick your line and go for it – all safety and other things considered. There are chutes, ridgelines, mini bowls, you name it. Through a bowl, over a ridge, a few turns on the ridgeline, into another small bowl, and so on. Such interesting, fun and challenging skiing.

    Here's me on the goodness just off Roca Jack.I posted this pic on another thread recently, but hey, there are not enough pics of me doing cool things, so excuse the re-post.

    [​IMG]

    We ventured into this terrain on 5 or 6 cm of nice fresh stuff after a light overnight snowfall. It was deeper than dust on crust, but only just, and not quite enough to cover all the frozen slush from the day before. So some turns were sublime, others extremely hard work. But even though conditions were not perfect, at least it was free of traverse tracks and other skiers. It would be totally insane on a foot of fresh. Just all time, and for days afterwards, because Portillo limits ticket sales to keep the place chilled.

    In the afternoon, you change sides of the mountain. Take the Plateau chair and have a warmer-upper on that blue run you see out your hotel window, then up Plateau again, and up another slingshot lift called Condor. Now it is time for Lake Run. Will it shock you to learn this goes towards the lake? This is another fantastic part of the mountain with several beautiful steep pitches going down towards the lake, all of them punctuated with assorted terrain features for those like a bit of adventure. It was corn central in the arvo when we were there. Mmmmm. Corn.

    As REM sang, that's me in the CORNer.

    [​IMG]

    Lake run takes you a bit wide. From the bottom, there is a short walk back to civilisation alongside a trail called the Inca trail which is carved into a cliff face and has a nice sturdy guard rail to prevent you plummeting into the lake below. You can literally keep your skis on while doing this, or walk. Your call. About 20 sidesteps up a very small incline, and you’re traversing back to Plateau. Easy peasy, even for this unfit suburban slob.

    So overall, this is a place where you can do back country style skiing pretty much every run, should you choose, That’s the beauty of Portillo. It’s steep too. There are so many places where you can make friends with gravity.

    In four days there, I had one doldrumsy afternoon where the vis was sketchy and it all seemed like a bit too much effort. On that particular afternoon, I would have loved an extra groomer or two for variation, plus maybe a few trees or something. Sometimes you’re just not up for the mega challenge, y’know? But that mood passed. This is a place for adventurous skiing. My tip is to arrive well rested, have a few pisco sours but not too many, and ski energetic days but not necessarily long days.

    Portillo overrated? No. Not in a million years. Misunderstood by poor skiers and boarders would be my assessment. The resort is limited in some ways, sure, but so what? Go home from any ski holiday and ask yourself: which turns do I remember? Chances are it’ll be half a dozen turns here or there. It’s been nearly 2 months since I came back from Portillo but I feel like I remember almost every run. Portillo is awesome.

    Oh, and the food, accomm etc? The food is amazing. You will put on weight here. It’s hearty ski lodge fare meets fine dining. Great seafood. Landfood was also good. Use your imagination from there. Rooms were fine, outdoor pool was as good as it looked. price is less than you might think, Qantas return to Santiago can be booked relatively cheaply well ahead of time, transfers are easily arranged (2 hrs) and Valparaiso, on the coast of Chile an hour from the capital, is the coolest little city in the world to visit. I didn’t visit Santiago beyond the airport.

    Let me know if anyone wants more info about logistics or anything. Cheers!

    [​IMG]

    And for those interested in Chilean skiing beyond the resorts, I enjoyed and recommend this recent trip report from @Lady Mamabear
     
    #1 Ramshead, Oct 23, 2016
    Last edited: Oct 23, 2016
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  2. dr80

    dr80 One of Us Ski Pass: Gold

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    Sensational trip report thank you.
    Certainly piques the interest... mmm chile
     
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  3. dawooduck

    dawooduck relaxed and comfortable Ski Pass: Gold

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    One day ....

    Thanks for sharing :)
     
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  4. Jacko4650

    Jacko4650 One of Us Ski Pass: Silver

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    Thanks. Very interesting.
     
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  5. LMB

    LMB Old but definitely not Crusty! Ski Pass: Gold

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    Fantastic!

    PB and I watched the slingshot lift video about 5 times - cracked up laughing each time and still can't work out how we would pull it off on a board. Gotta start strapped in - surely! LOL

    Thank you for the report.
    We will be back. And Portillo is now top of our list for new things to do in Chile. Great read :thumbs:
     
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  6. Ramshead

    Ramshead One of Us

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    Thought I'd embed a trail map here too. Forgot to do that in my TR. Bit hard to see, but Roca Jack and Juncalillo is on left of pic. Plateau and Lake Run are on right

    [​IMG]

    Also just remembered I have a bit of video of skiing up around Roca Jack, which you can watch here. Excruciating commentary, for which I apologise.
     
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  7. Mr Bean

    Mr Bean One of Us

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    Went there in 1999. Still rates (in my mind) the best powder and best scenery. Spectacular :)
     
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  8. Legs Akimbo

    Legs Akimbo Grumblebum Ski Pass: Gold

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    Wimped on a perfectly good opportunity for an epic send. That pimple in the middle had your name on it.
     
  9. Ramshead

    Ramshead One of Us

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    Nah bro. Got it sweet on the next run!
     
  10. benchives

    benchives Part of the Furniture Ski Pass: Gold

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    Setting a high standard for suburban desk slobs!

    Always love your work @Ramshead
     
  11. Ramshead

    Ramshead One of Us

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    Cheers mate. As u know I always seem to have my best adventures the week after the Olympics. Bring on Pyeongchang 2018!
     
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  12. Zimboo

    Zimboo A Local

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    First visited / skied here in the 90's. The stench of Pinochet was still everywhere in Chile.
    By coincidence, when I was a teenager still at school (in Sydney), the house next door went up for sale and our new neighbours were from Chile. The Dad (a lawyer in Chile) was tipped off that he was maybe the next to dissapear under Pinochet's regime.
    He packed his family up (wife and 2 kids), crossed the boarder into Brazil and eventually made their way to Australia as refugees.
    Love Chile............Pinochet was a animal.
     
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  13. absentskier

    absentskier Old n' Crusty Ski Pass: Gold

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    Great report, thanks for sharing @Ramshead
     
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  14. Zimboo

    Zimboo A Local

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    Sorry, didn't mean to put any dampener what so ever on your great report. :thumbs:
    Chile is doing great things recently, but has a very dark past, which all who visit I hope can try to understand as well. Education the key..............to rid the world of the mongrels.
     
    #14 Zimboo, Oct 25, 2016
    Last edited: Oct 25, 2016
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  15. Ramshead

    Ramshead One of Us

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    I spoke to a lot of Chilenos when I visited the city of Valparaiso. They are haunted by their nation's dark past and are desperate to be a more functional democratic country. Right now the country is stable and forward-looking. There is a real sense of guarded optimism about Chile's future. It certainly is in a better political state, and the general vibe is better, than Brazil, where I spent the preceding three weeks. Thanks for your comment.
     
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