It’s August, there isn’t a cloud in the sky and I’m surrounded by 14,000ft peaks and to my left, the 22,838 ft peak of Mt. Aconcagua, the largest mountain in South America and one of the famous 7 summits, stretches out on the horizon. I’m about to carve some powder turns on a run that leads down to the glistening Inca Lake with the Iconic yellow building that is Hotel Portillo sitting on its shores. Part of me wants to just sit there and drink in this amazing moment but the reality is I’m in a ski group lead today by Mike Douglas, the godfather of free skiing, and in the middle of the run is resident photographer Jesse Hoffman. All I can think is “Just don’t fall!” Well – I fell!It’s August, there isn’t a cloud in the sky and I’m surrounded by 14,000ft peaks and to my left the 22,838 ft peak of Mt. Aconcagua, the largest mountain in South America and one of the famous 7 summits, stretches out on the horizon. I’m about to carve some powder turns on a run that leads down to the glistening Inca Lake with the Iconic yellow building that is Hotel Portillo sitting on its shore. Part of me wants to just sit there and drink in this amazing moment but the reality is I’m in a ski group lead today by Mike Douglas, the god-father of free skiing, and in the middle of the run is resident photographer Jesse Hoffman. All I can think is “Just don’t fall!” Well – I fell!
This is Portillo Chile’s Superstars camp. A ski camp for expert level skiers led by ski legends Chris Davenport, Chris Anthony, Ingrid Backstrom, Jess McMillan, Wendy Fisher and Mike Douglas. I was introduced to the camp through a post on Chris Anthony’s Facebook page. Chris and I met earlier in the year skiing at Points North Heli in Alaska. For me this presented not just an opportunity to ski a beautiful mountain with amazing skiers but a chance to show my 15-year-old daughter that there was a lot more to skiing than ski racing and to expose her to 3 of the most accomplished (and inspiring) female big mountain skiers in the sport (Ingrid, Jess and Wendy).
“The camp is open to all expert skiers looking to take their skiing to the next level,” says Davenport. “It’s a really fun vibe. We do some drills and work on skills, but mostly we just go out and ski hard in a variety of terrain, and
expect to do some hiking, traversing, and exploring in search of the best lines and best snow in South America.” – Chris Davenport.
This year in Portillo was a bit different. We arrived a day late as the highway was closed due to Avalanche control. Portillo just got hammered, somewhere between 10-15’ of new snow! There really wasn’t time to or “do some drills” we were all way too stoked to ski this legendary Chile Powder!
The downside of all this snow was that we were delayed a day in Santiago until the cleared the road to Portillo. The trip up the mountain is its own adventure. After a day of waiting in Santiago, Route 60 opened only to traffic heading to Portillo. As we drove to Los Andes transport trucks lined both sides of the roads where driver’s had been patiently waiting for days to make their way up through the Los Carcoles Pass. Hotel Portillo is located near the top of the pass next to the Argentinian border. This is a primary route for goods being shipped all the way to and from Brazil. There was no freight being moved on this day. The ride up the mountain gets “interesting" as you leave Los Andes to climb an extremely steep section with 29 curves headed up the mountain. Many of these curves are hairpin. The skeletons of Semi-trucks left to rot after tumbling down the steep highway can be seen as we make our way to Portillo. CNN rates this road #9 on the top 10 deadliest roads in the world.
Portillo is located at an elevation of 9450’ above sea level. Staying in Portillo is much like being on a cruise ship. Once you check in for the week you are treated to 4 scrumptious meals a day (including tea time). The hotel has a pub and a theater room, but one of the greatest’s features, other than the skiing, are the outdoor pools. After a great day of skiing, there is no better way to wind down and truly appreciate where you are then soaking in one of these hot pools with a cold beverage in your hand while the large peaks of the Andes mountains look down on you. For the truly adventurous, you may want to run down for a quick dip in Inka Lake!
This is dream camp for skiers and this year the conditions were perfect. All our skiing was lift access. We did some short traverses and a couple of small boot packs to get us to some spectacular runs of un-tracked powder. One of these lifts is called Roca-Jack. It’s the fastest land-based lift in the world. You line up 5 wide on a palm-a-lift type disc and hang on as the lift sling shots you into steep alpine terrain. The lift stops when you get to the top with a slight roll backwards. It’s good entertainment to watch people get off this lift for the first time, especially snowboarders!
One of my favorite memories of this week was a group lunch we had at Tio Bobs. A restaurant located at the top of one of the lifts overlooking the Hotel and the Inca Lake. While the food was amazing, it was sharing the incredible views with my daughter and our new friends we met through this camp that made lunch at the top so amazing. You develop a strong comradery with the other skiers in your group when you attend this type of camp.
Skiing Portillio is already on the bucket list for most serious skiers. But to visit there as part of the Superstars Camp and getting to ski amazing runs with legends you’ve seen for years in popular ski movies – those are memories that will never fade.