Guide to Chile: Portillo Ski Resort
Chile's oldest ski resort, Portillo, has a magic to it that is quite hard to explain.
Is it the old world service? The stunning scenery? The fact that there are only ever about 400 people on the mountain? The food? The sensation of being on a large, yellow, snow-bound cruise ship?
But really, who cares? After 60 years, Portillo is still going strong and it does offer guests something wonderful. A majority of the people in the hotel at any one time will have been there before - it's that sort of place.
The general reaction, on arrival, of people used to European or North American resorts is that Portillo is going to be too small.
The actual slope infrastructure at Portillo is relatively small, 12 lifts serving 23 slopes. Of these 10% are for beginners, 70% for intermediate/advanced and 20% for experts. Though there is some serious off-piste to add to this.
The only people on the slopes are the hotel guests so there is never a queue on any lift.
There is nothing to stop you returning again and again to the same slope to improve your technique, choose different descents or just enjoy skiing in the high Andes.
The three slingshot lifts are as thrilling on the way up as the skiing on the way down and one of the services the straight kilometer where the world downhill speed record was once set.
Portillo also has excellent teaching staff on hand - mainly from North American resorts.
Slopes and lifts
Beautifully located in a high Andean valley set around the Laguna del Inca reflecting peaks of up to 4,800m. One exclusive hotel for 450 guests.
Slopes: 23 slopes for all skill levels
Lifts: 12 ski lifts
Max altitude: 3,350m
Snow: Dry powder (snowmakers available)
Season: June - September/October
Services: Ski classes, ski rental, heli-ski, outdoor hot pool, internet café and bar.
There is just the one hotel - the bright yellow thing plonked onto the hillside.
The hotel can take up to 450 guests. Most of these stay in the main hotel which is officially a four star but you must bear in mind that the hotel dates back to the 1940s so rooms are small by modern standards and windows fairly small.
In contrast, the communal areas are very grand with wonderful large windows looking out over the Valle del Inca.
Other accommodation options are the Octagon Lodge and the Inca Lodge, just behind the main hotel.
The Octagon Lodge is made up of rooms with two sturdy and large bunk beds with private bathroom. Staying here gives you access to all the hotel facilities - up to and including meals in the main dining room. This is a great option for groups of friends or families.
The Inca Lodge is much cheaper but it should be. Cramped dorm rooms, shared bathrooms and you have to eat in the canteen downstairs which serves mediocre food. Not recommended unless you have to.
You do need a degree of patience at Portillo, particularly when you first arrive.
Most of the hotel’s guests leave/arrive on Saturday. In fact, midday is almost exactly the time at which new guests arrive from international flights. Just in time to meet the entire hotel checking out.
You'll most likely love the place by day two but on day one it might try your patience. We recommend you pack ski kit near the top of your bag so you can whip it out, get skiing and check in later in the afternoon.
Service and Food
This deserves a special mention at Portillo as it is really a major part of the experience.
On day one your table is allocated at the restaurant you will always eat in the same spot and are served by the same, invariably excellent, waiters.
The restaurant has a spectacular view over the lake and the mountains. Head downstairs to collect your gear and ski out of the hotel for the morning.
Return for coffee and snacks at any time or stay out until lunch. Lunch and dinner are always three courses with various choices.
Remarkably, there is always something you will actually want to eat. Vegetarians are very well catered for.
Return for ‘onces’ (high tea) if you can manage more food.
Well, there isn't much else up here except for the hotel so that's the best place to start.
Apart from the skiing, you can relax by the fire in the living room. There is a cupboard full of games. The internet café has surely the best views of any in the world.
The outdoor heated pool is a perfect place to relax and unwind with a drink at the end of a day on the slopes.
After dinner, there is live music in the bar. The energetic then move on to the tiny disco in the basement.
It is possibly rather less sophisticated than they like to portray in their marketing materials but it is a great deal of fun.
There is also a tiny bar in the ‘village’ where most of the staff go.
Portillo is a two or three-hour smooth road transfer up from Santiago, a bit less from the airport.
Since Portillo is on the main road from the Chilean capital across the Andes to Argentina, when it does snow heavily, they clear the road quickly. Usually.
We, therefore, recommend that you pack all you need near the top of your bags, this way you can leave your check in until later in the day.