Portillo, Chile

Thanks to overnight flights from the U.S. and a two-hour drive from the Santiago airport, you can ski Portillo the day you arrive.
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Thanks to overnight flights from the U.S. and a two-hour drive from the Santiago airport, you can ski Portillo the day you arrive.
Portillo Photo Challenge

At Portillo, there’s a good chance you’ll share a Poma with Seth Morrison or Daron Rahlves. It’s the off-season training spot for the pros. It’s no wonder why. All above treeline, the terrain is point-and-go, from rock-lined chutes to wide-open bowls to impeccably groomed cruisers. Laps are punctuated by boots-off, white-tablecloth lunches, hot-tub soaks, Ping-Pong with the locals, and thumping disco. Stay at the all-inclusive, European-style Portillo Lodge, where ski history seeps from wooden walls decorated with trophies from the first World Cup races. Thanks to overnight flights from the U.S. and a two-hour drive from the Santiago airport, you can even ski the day you arrive.

Quick Tip:  If you’re up till sunrise at the disco, don’t stress about missing a full day on the mountain. Lifts stay open until 5 p.m.

Start Here: In the springtime, the sun softens the Juncalillo side first and then the Plateau side. First ride La Laguna to Roca Jack to Juncalillo, and then head over to El Plateau in  the afternoon.

MUST HIT: Hop on the five-person Cóndor surface lift—the ride itself is entertaining. Then dip into 1,800-foot  Garganta (translation: “throat”), a chute off El Plateau. It narrows to a thin choke before opening to an apron.

The Stash:  Go right off La Laguna chair and you’re atop a hump called The Dome. Traverse far skier’s left and drop in for an 800-vertical-foot, rock-peppered slope that rolls to pitches over 35 degrees.

Powder Day: Take El Plateau to the Garganta chute. If the lake is frozen, ski across it back to chair. If it’s not, traverse back to the lift before descending to the lake. Ski all the way to the lake and you’ll trade 200 feet of powder for a short walk back.

Three Days Later:  Find stashes days after a storm by riding Cóndor and exiting the backcountry gate to skier’s right. Rip the top part of Lake Run,  a steep, wide-open shot that drops down to the water, then traverse left to get back inbounds.

Park and Pipe: There’s no pipe, but there are plenty of natural features if you’re creative. The rocks at the bottom of Plateau make prime launching pads. Or build a kicker toward the bottom of the Juncalillo lift or on the steep rollover below the Roca Jack surface tow.

Backcountry access: It’s a two-hour boot-pack to reach the Super C couloir, but it’s worth the effort. From the top of Roca Jack, boot up the couloir to the looker’s left, then drop in toward the resort for 5,000 vertical feet of light, dry turns. From the top, there’s a spectacular view of 22,841-foot Aconcagua—the highest peak in the Western Hemisphere.

Weather: Portillo sees mostly mild weather with 80 percent sunny days. But when it snows, it dumps. Storms come in from the west off the Pacific, stall over Aconcagua, and hammer Portillo.

Après: Soak in the outdoor hot tub and order a pisco sour at the bar. A blend of pisco brandy, lemon juice, and powdered sugar, the tangy, margarita-esque drink is Chile’s signature alcoholic beverage.

Fuel: An all-inclusive week at Portillo includes four meals each day. Dinner might be king-crab salad, filet mignon with merlot sauce, and mil hojas (cake with layers of creamy dulce de leche). La Posada, across the parking lot, is the local hangout for churrascos (beef sandwiches) and salsa music.

Up All Night: Have a beer and chill to live piano music at the bar across from the dining room in the main lodge, which is open till midnight. When it shuts down, move downstairs to the disco, where DJs fire up the underground beats every night at 11. You can rage until the early morning.

Digs: The Portillo Lodge is a huge, sun-colored ski-in, ski-out building at midmountain. Rooms have warm duvets and views of the slopes ($1,450 to $5,300 per week, all-inclusive). For a cheaper option, the neighboring Octagon Lodge is a dorm-style alternative starting at $199 a night.  —Susan Schnier

Elevation: 10,900 feet Vertical Drop: 2,500 feet Snowfall: 276 inches Acres: 1,235 Info: skiportillo.com