State of the Portillo Backcountry: Super C Edition

Dropping into the Super C is steep and committing. It's a brilliant place to get walled, but those first few turns are much steeper than the rest of the line so be prepared.

State of the Portillo Backcountry: Super C Edition

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State of the Portillo Backcountry: Super C Edition

No matter how many switchbacks it takes, all roads lead to the famous yellow hotel of Portillo

No matter how many switchbacks it takes, all roads lead to the famous yellow hotel of Portillo.

Greetings from the Southern Hemisphere! It is amazing to be back in Chile, reporting from the crown jewel locale of Portillo. We’ve had some mixed weather this week, but the vibe is always good in Portillo, and there has been some fun backcountry ski exploration everyday. Options for touring in the area are many, but there is no one objective quite like the classic Super C Couloir.

One of the many cruxes of getting to ski the Super C is the climb to the top of the line. Some people climb it from the bottom, others go from the resort. If you choose the latter there is a traverse that to connect from one approach couloir to the one that brings you to the top. It's a no joke, no fall zone and very careful scouting, planning, and travel is mandatory.

One of the many cruxes of getting to ski the Super C is the climb to the top. Some people climb it from the bottom, most go from the resort. If you choose the latter there is a traverse that is a 100% no fall zone. A short rope, hard points, and very careful scouting, planning, and travel is mandatory.

Years ago, the couloir was faintly documented. Word of mouth spread, and all it took was one little page in a well known ski magazine to feed the story that there was a world class 5000+ foot descent nestled on the Chilean-Argentinian border. On my first trip to ski in South America 13 years ago I planned to visit several areas throughout the Andes over a few months. My time in Portillo was short. All I wanted to do was find and ski this so called super couloir.

Fast forward to today and there are plenty of photos, videos, and stories widely available documenting this truly fabulous line. This piece is anchored with photos I took this week while skiing the couloir with Lake Tahoe area locals Jillian Raymond and Marusa Bradac.

Dropping into the Super C is steep and committing. It's a brilliant place to get walled, but those first few turns are much steeper than the rest of the line so be prepared.

Dropping into the Super C is steep and committing. It’s a brilliant place to get walled, but those first few turns are much steeper than the rest of the line so be prepared.

After such a gap in time, I wondered how the couloir would feel to me as I was just 23 when I got my first crack at it, and many ski trips and many couloirs have passed since then. The truth is this is an absolute uber classic. It’s certainly worth the trip to Portillo, heck it’s worth a trip to Chile! That said, as the spotlight has grown on the Super C it’s incredibly important to follow a safe protocol if you hope to attempt the line. Many adventurers come to Portillo with hopes to ski the C, and while the surrounding backcountry access is incredible and should not be overlooked, a few tips on how to properly nail this standout line will go a long way.

As you work your way into the couloir you start to realize just how big it really is, and why the line is coveted by so many. Here Marusa works her way down from the narrow top confines as the line widens a bit.

As you work your way into the couloir you start to realize just how big it really is, and why the line is coveted by so many. Here, Marusa works her way down from the narrow top confines as the line opens up.

If you want to ski the C the first thing you need to have dialed is your own protocol. That means you have had previous experience traveling in big mountain terrain. You’ve used backcountry safety gear and are equipped with the minimal necessities of a beacon, shovel, and probe. Crampons and an ice axe are commonly required for a safe ascent, and depending on your group you might want to think about protecting the crux of the climb with a short rope as a fall would be catastrophic and potentially fatal.  If you’re aware of and can properly negotiate this exposure, and you’re more than capable of climbing 1800ish vertical feet, then it’s time to check in with patrol.

After a few tricky sections the couloir stays walled and opens up. Here Jillian enjoys some of the more aesthetic turns in the Siuthern Hemisphere.

After a few tricky sections the couloir stays walled and widens. Here, Jillian enjoys some of the more aesthetic turns in the Southern Hemisphere before teaching her afternoon yoga class at the hotel.

I can’t stress this one enough. The more time you spend in Portillo, the more you realize it’s like a big family. Everyone is here to share in a memorable trip. The staff is incredible in how attentive, friendly, and welcoming they are to each and every visitor. You’ll be on a first name basis with many folks after a few short days, but if the C is strongly on your radar you have to check in with patrol. Conditions vary widely with the Super C and there are many times the line is not in, the approach has high hazards, or the crux on the climb has changed enough to warrant extra equipment. The ski patrol is phenomenal at Portillo, and they will be the ones with the best real time beta on how the line is climbing and skiing. Every time someone goes after the C they know and are sincerely interested in making sure everyone can experience this classic line safely, and that they can know how conditions are so they can pass the information along to the next group.

This is the most professionally done video of skiing the Super C Couloir by Chris Davenport and crew. Dav has been finding great turns with his guests all week at his Superstar Camp.  

If you’re coming to Portillo for a few days, a week, or more, you’re fired up! From the piste to the backcountry, and all the amazing activities and events on any given day, this place is a non stop good time for skiers and riders. But if the Super C is your goal just make sure you do it right. Going with someone who has been up there before will make all the difference in the world, as will being properly trained to be in such a special area, and making sure when you’re here conditions are worthy by checking in with patrol.

In the end it’s a truly special line in a truly special place. To be honest, that first time my crew and I broke trail the whole way and skied the C in total powder. This time conditions were cold, chalky, and smooth, and you had to be on it for every turn. It was the kind of snow where a fall might be impossible to self arrest and even solid skiers would not have fun due to the no fall reality.  For whatever reason I enjoyed it more this time around, perhaps because of my two rad female amigas, perhaps because the more time you spend at the famous yellow hotel the more it fells like a home away from home, or perhaps because if you love to get walled this couloir will always be on this list of the best of the best. Regardless, the Portillo base is currently holding well, sun is in the forecast, and the resort is firing on all cylinders. Just make sure if you’re lucky (and smart) enough to make a trip this way that you do things right if you go after the C. Everyone will benefit as a result, especially you after realizing the scope of the backcountry access in the area, and that there’s no better way to tap into a quick blast of ski season than an annual trip to Portillo.

 

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