We had never skied in Chile, never mind even visited South America! Ski Portillo kept popping up in ski conversations as THE place to go, especially since their winter is our summer.
Ski Portillo exceeded all our lofty expectations. This most legendary South American ski resort is a gateway (portillo means gate) to amazing skiing, phenomenal Andes Mountain sun and scenery, and one of the most unique ski resort experiences on the planet.
Portillo however is not always easy to get to, just 90 miles from Santiago – it take 2.5 hours to get to. One ski we met took 8+ hours in their shuttle. Portillo is the Chile Argentina border crossing, so traffic, and too much snow can close the road with its steep narrow 29 switchbacks. We pivoted to a helicopter ride when the mountain pass closed, a scenic $300 ride in was our only option.
Arriving at Ski Portillo, we spotted the bright yellow 1949 Hotel Portillo surrounded by stunning snow-covered peaks that divide Chile from Argentina, and the shimmering Lake of the Inca as a turquoise centerpiece.
Portillo immediately felt like a semi-private ski resort, with 1,252 acres, from 9,000 to 11,000’ elevation, 13 unique lifts and 35 slopes, shared by about 400 hotel guests. We immediately booted up, the staff had whisked our gear to the ski room, and we headed out the door to the convenient slopes.
Portillo’s unique high-alpine terrain is super scenic. While Portillo ski area doesn’t seem big at first glance, flanking both sides of the beautiful reflective Lake, we could traverse out to so much untracked side-country terrain from the Condor or Caracara sling shot lifts for big bowls and gorgeous chutes like Lake Run.
Note: Portillo is home to these unique slingshot lifts called to V to V (“Va et Vient” – go and come back) that whip four to five skiers up steep terrain where a traditional lift would be avalanche-prone. Our first ride was challenging, I was just happy to load and disembark successfully. Can’t say the same for some snowboarders, and the gal who tore her MCL getting off. See more on Portillo’s Slingshot.
No crowds, no lift lines, and not many inexperienced skiers at Portillo, although there is groomed mellow terrain nearest to the Hotel, and one of the best ski schools and kids ski camps in the world that attracts top instructors who choose to extend their professional season at Ski Portillo in “summer.”
Ski Portillo soon felt like a cruise ship on snow – only with fit, fun, like-minded passionate skiers. Our mornings and evenings, we enjoyed the 1949 Hotel Portillo, a veritable ski museum of alpine history and charm, with an amazingly attentive staff. Portillo’s classic Club Med style ski week is all-inclusive of skiing, lodging, and 4 delicious multi-course meals (including high tea) daily served in a grand lake-view dining room.
After skiing, there’s a spa, fitness room, indoor game courts, and a huge outdoor heated pool and two hot tubs which becomes the après ski social. There’s even a cinema, late-night live bands, and a disco. For kids, there’s a daily calendar of fun organized activities, in addition to ski lessons. See our review of staying at Hotel Portillo for a wonderful ski week.
Ski Portillo is not inexpensive, but we felt – worth every penny! Avid skiers that come here share deep dedication to the sport and fellowship like no other. We met so many cool skiers, all enthusiastic about their adventures, eager to hear about ours (we impressed a few with our 275+ ski resorts and counting accomplishments). Portillo is not, however, chic or modern. It’s cozy, historic, a veritable ski museum of the who’s who of alpinism – so many legendary skiers have stayed, skied and celebrated here as the photo-filled hallways will attest.
The Purcell family that own Ski Portillo and the multi-lingual Hotel team are wonderful, approachable and proud, they become family once you settle into the vibe and luxury of this one-of-a-kind ski retreat. Felipe, the effervescent social director, is ever-present, gracious and so helpful. Daily maid service plus turn-down in our 6th floor balcony room, the weekly ski race, après ski soaks in the huge outdoor pool, delicious multi-course meals on white linen, the affordable amazing Chilean wines featured, evening live music in the bar … all things I love about Portillo above and beyond the phenomenal ski terrain and views.
I also loved our day of Portillo heli-skiing, exclusively for guests. What an adventure of incredible camaraderie, snow-filled terrain up to 14,000’, three phenomenal descents, expert guidance by Kelly and Frederick, and super-scenic helicopter rides over the Andes – just minutes away from Hotel Portillo. See our Heli-Skiing Portillo review.
Ski Portillo is reputed for its 80% sunny days, and we had plenty – bring sunscreen and layers. But it can also dump. You can get stuck here for days when the access road closes. Good news – the trucks crossing the Chile-Argentina border are then stopped and it’s quiet. Not-so-good news, it can be wild, windy, a complete whiteout on the slopes with no tree definition (Portillo = Vertigo).
“Portillo Tours” is on sight in the Hotel lobby to coordinate your travel plans and transport. They can organize your lodging in Santiago (the resort put us up at The Ritz Carlton when we were advised to leave early before another storm cycle). Portillo Tours can also coordinate a wine tour to Chile’s amazing Colchagua Valley, or the luxurious VIK Chile wine resort in the famous Maipo Wine Region.
Take a ski trip to Portillo. It’s amazing! We hope you hit it like we did, with fresh snow, sunshine, super people, Mikaela Shiffrin training, heli-skiing with legends. Portillo is unforgettable, worth the Pesos, and the long travel to the southern hemisphere in “winter” mid-June to September.