Portillo Ski Resort

The Portillo ski area is the oldest and most recognized ski resort in South America nestled in the high Andes of Chile along side the Argentina border.  It is conveniently located only 2 -1/2 hours from Santiago or 3 hours from the airport and has spectacular scenery and amazing history as you are transported back in time by its old world elegance.

Portillo’s setting and the drive to it is fabulous for scenery with the steep valley walls and towering Andean peaks.  The sight of  the bright yellow and sky blue historical hotel, the Grand Hotel Portillo, built in 1949, is stunning as it sits nestled at the foot of the high mountain lake Laguna Inca, and between the narrow jagged Andean mountain peaks looming straight up on both sides.

Portillo’s  geography creates a ski area where the skiing is done on the two valley walls where the runs are steeper but short and then a few longer intermediate runs that trail down the middle of the elongated valley to elevations below the base area.  This geography limits the amount of terrain available to the typical skier unless you are willing to hike along the peaks on either side of the valley to catch some of the very steep and fresh terrain with an experienced guide. It should therefore be noted that Portillo is the smallest ski area in Chile in regards to inbounds skiable acreage for the typical skier.portillo2

The Portillo ski area is the most recognized ski area South America due to its long history which began in the 1930’s and it’s long time ownership by an American family who purchased it in 1962. Through their efforts over 4 decades they have marketed Portillo very well in the USA as the ski destination of South America.  Thus it has a strong American culture and clientele with Chilean nuances and has become the common name associated with skiing in South America.

Portillo’s illustrious history includes hosting the first and only World Championships in Latin America in 1966, numerous Speed skiing competitions where world records were set between 1963 and 1987, and hosting numerous National Ski Teams from North America and Europe.

Portillo’s longest run named Juncalillo is unique to the world.  It is the longest run at Portillo and winds down the valley below the elevation of the Hotel while travelling over avalanche shelters that are covering the international highway connecting Chile to Argentina! On the chairlift back up you are hanging over the constant stream of transport trucks below you as they wind their way up the numerous switch backs required to climb over the Andes on their way to Argentina.

Another unique feature to skiing Portillo is their famous Va et Vient (French for Come and Go) lifts, the most noteworthy being the Roca Jack and Condor lifts.  These are specially designed lifts for being located in avalanche chutes.  This surface lift comprises a simple single cable running up to a single pole with a pulley located in the middle of the avalanche chute.  Each end of the cable has a loading device attached which is bar wide enough for 5 button seats mounted side by side.  It then rockets you up the slope at 3 times the speed of a normal surface lift as the other end descends to load the next group of five skiers.  Then a slow coordinated dismount of the 5 skiers is required as you are stopping just on the steep slope with no flat prepared stopping area.  It all makes going up the slope as thrilling as the skiing down of it!

Portillo Resort is a great ski area steeped in history and worth a visit, but due to its limited size and all the great skiing on offer in Chile we recommend only a couple days skiing at Portillo and then move on to explore the other larger resorts and experience more of Chile’s unique culture, skiing and snowboarding.