Portillo’s A-star Helicopter (just 4 skiers, a guide and pilot) flies you to terrain comparable to that found in Alaska – remote, big-mountain terrain, only a few minutes away from the comfort of Hotel Portillo. Heli skiing at Portillo is priced per run, at approx. $360 for the first run, and $230 for additional (generally a 2 run minimum).
We’ve been privileged to heli-ski numerous times, and Portillo was among the very best – for the scenery, the terrain, the guides and the value!
When we arrived at Hotel Portillo, first day, we were directed to sign up to heli-ski, weather permitting any day of our week at Ski Portillo. Frederick, the lead heli-guide, assured us we’d be paired with comparable skiers and have an “amazing day”.
Reporting to the Hotel Portillo lobby at 9am as requested, we met our heli crew and guides. With 12 guests, and 3 guides, we would share our helicopter for the day. After a brief rundown of our day, and avalanche safety protocol in the theatre, we suited up in ski boots and had a quick last bathroom trip before meeting outside dressed and ready. I was amped, ok – anxious, excited… a whirl of emotions, like chopper rotors.
Divided into 3 heli-ski groups, we were assigned our guide, Kelly – while young, she was incredibly knowledgeable and instilled confidence, but also smiled with a fun adventurous spirit that calmed my nerves. We played hide and search in the snow outside Hotel Portillo, practicing locating a buried transceiver, to familiarize ourselves with the avi-gear, levying a note of responsibility and seriousness to our alpine adventure. Then our pilot demonstrated boarding and exiting the helicopter, all very important safety information for our day.
As group #3, we waited while the previous groups flew off in the chopper. The helicopter returned within 8 minutes, since the tenure of high elevation terrain is so proximate to Portillo resort, just over a peak.
With a fury of wind overhead and flying snow, we boarded the helicopter in our orderly fashion, while Kelly placed our skis and packs in the basket and locked the doors once she took her jump seat by the pilot. Instantaneously we were hovering, climbing and soaring over the Andes, magical. Visual overload, so scenic – it was hard to focus on just one peak or perfect powdery snowfield, or waterfall. But I spotted the mac-daddy of Andes – 22,000’ Aconcagua! Wow!
Landing on a precariously high snowy plateau, we disembarked in reverse order, and huddled as instructed, till the helicopter whirled away, leaving us on a silent serene mountaintop of sparkling snow.
We admired the previous groups’ competent powder S tracks in an open snow bowl. My concern that being third would be a penalty was quickly erased when Frederick and Kelly chatted on radios, and we were heading into a different steeper untouched chute. Awaiting Kelly’s go, we took turns bounding down billowy snow in gorgeous terrain, breathtaking – especially at thin air elevation of over 13,000’. Big grins and more fresh tracks were ours in this magical remote wild tenure exclusive to Portillo Heli-Ski.
Waits for our returning helicopter in spectacular quiet open snow valleys went quickly. Water, snacks (my favorite peanut M&MS) and sandwiches were handed out to keep us fueled and fresh. Three amazingly long, just-steep-enough runs ensued, with plenty of photos and laughs and high-fives. As the only female in our heli-ski ski group – I felt tremendous kinship and respect for our guide Kelly, she’s such an accomplished ski guide in her twenties – in a male-dominated rigorous outdoor profession.
Flying back to Portillo’s in-bounds ski terrain, the ideal last landing was at Tio Bob’s where our heli friends gathered in the sunshine overlooking Lake of the Inca. Revelry, relief of a safe successful day, a wave of emotions and gratitude washed over me! Cheers to a little risk and big reward. Sitting outside enjoying après ski drinks, snacks and banter about our epic adventure, we snapped a few more selfies to archive our alpine bond. Skiing back to Hotel Portillo, I was blissful, and heading to that idyllic outdoor hot tub!
We’ve heli-skied (and cat skied) in Canada with RK Heli, Purcell Heli Ski near Kicking Horse, and Eagle Pass at Revelstoke, Monashee, plus a heli ski week in Bella Coola, with Whisper Ridge in Utah (no longer in biz – a hot-mess heli-ski story for another time – yikes).
Portillo’s heli-ski day was excellent. Well organized, with superb communication and expectations, amazing terrain, the appropriate level of safety protocol and awareness, but fun, and fresh lines. Did I mention we were in the company of Franz Weber, world champion speed-skier? Such cool companionship, competent skiers, and a truly incredible ski day in the Andes of Chile!
When you go to Ski Portillo, put your name on that heli-ski list right after you check in. Just pop in the office next to the Hotel Front Desk and you may be on your way to an inimitable adventure. Petra the amiable St Bernard house-dog may be lying in the office doorway, but she’ll let you pass if you give her a quick pat, to sign your heli-ski waiver (sign your life away as they say).