Chile — This upcoming ski season at Ski Portillo will be a historic one. First opened in 1949, this will be Portillo’s 75th anniversary. In honor of that milestone, Portillo will introduce new activities this season.

First, the popular Tio Bob’s wine dinners that take place during Portillo’s Wine Week will now be held every week. The gourmet dinner features a wide array of Chilean wines, and guests can soak in the views from mid-mountain.

Secondly, Portillo is introducing star-gazing experiences. 90% of American residents cannot see the stars from the night sky, so visiting the Chilean ski resort gives you the opportunity to view many stars.

Third, each overnight guest who visits Portillo this season will receive a 75th-anniversary water bottle. Ski Portillo has committed to being plastic-free in guest-facing areas, eliminating plastic water bottles and other single-use plastics. In addition, they have water-filling areas on each floor and in public areas of the hotel.

In terms of events this season, Friends Week will be happening from August 10th to 17th, while Wine Week will be returning from July 27th to August 3rd and August 24th to 31st. Friends Week features complimentary ski tours with guest ambassadors, special wine pairing dinners, apres-ski parties, guest yoga instructors, film screenings, and more. Wine Week will feature complimentary après-ski wine tastings from Chile’s finest vineyards, attend special wine pairing dinners, and learn more about Chile’s rich wine landscape.

The skiing experience at Portillo is unparalleled. The wide-open slopes are uncrowded, as there are only a maximum of 450 resort guests on the mountain at a time, along with a small amount of day ticket guests. The thirty-five trails are serviced by fourteen lifts: five chairlifts and nine surface lifts, including four of the legendary Va et Vient (Coming & Going) slingshots. Most days at Portillo are Sunday, but they get a decent amount of snowfall, averaging around 21.68 feet yearly. Other services include equipment rentals, ski and board valet, off-piste guided skiing, helicopter ski tours, and three restaurants.

The history of Portillo is layered with many fascinating tidbits. Explorers first skied Portillo in 1887, as two Norweigan engineers visited the area to analyze the feasibility of building a railway across the Andes. The railroad was constructed in the early 20th century, passing through what would become Ski Portillo. Skiing was a common activity for the engineers and construction workers during construction. The railroad opened in 1910, allowing travelers to ski in this area, making it technically the first lift-serviced lift.

In 1930, the first actual ski lift was installed around the Lake of the Incas. Skiers began to visit the area more earnestly as a small mountain hut called the Hotel Portillo opened up. In the 1940s, the “Gran” Hotel Portillo began to take shape near the Lake of the Incas. However, World War 2, and the company that was building the structure going bankrupt, delayed its completion. It ended up having its grand opening in 1949, featuring 125 rooms at the hotel and three lifts on the mountain.

In 1961, Portillo was purchased by two North Americans: Bob Purcell and Dick Aldrich, men who had long traveled and worked in Latin America. They had skied in Portillo and were impressed by the spectacular beauty and amazing skiing they found. However, they felt the time had come for investment in modern ski facilities. They spent the following years building up the mountain’s infrastructure.

Tragedy struck the ski resort on August 15th, 1965, when a typhoon led to high winds and heavy snow, leading to multiple avalanches across Portillo. Five people died from a slide that destroyed part of their employee housing building. Two new chairlifts were badly damaged, as their brand new 1,800-meter Juncalillo Poma double chair lost 13 of 24 towers plus the bottom and top terminals. Visitors were trapped and had to ski twenty miles to the nearest train station to escape.

The resilient community at Portillo rebuilt as they redesigned their lifts to avoid avalanche dangers. For avalanche mitigation, Chile’s military offered artillery and a regiment of mountain troops to prepare the runs. They ended up hosting the 1966 World Ski Championships in Portillo.

Another interesting era for the mountain was the communist takeover of Chile. Cuba’s Fidel Castro even went to Portillo for an extended visit. Nationalization of the ski area was discussed in 1973 but never came to fruition.

Ski Portillo was eventually sold to Henry Purcell and his brother. Henry Purcell continues as executive director of Ski Portillo, and his son Miguel Purcell serves as the general manager. Over the coming decades, the ski resort modernized, adding new lifts, snowmaking, and other services. However, the experience has remained the same as it was decades ago. Nobody rises too early, meals are social events, and dinner is served late, Chilean style, with afternoon tea served to tide guests over. There are still no lift lines or many people tracking up the powder.

Regarding what it costs to visit Portillo for a week, it’s a great value, considering everything included. The all-inclusive ski week packages include accommodations, four meals daily (breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea, and dinner in the Hotel dining room – or the Cafeteria for Inca Lodge guests), lift tickets, and all the resort amenities. 

Rates for Ski Portillo signature 7-day Ski Weeks begin at US$3,050 for a Valley View room (per person based on double occupancy), US$2,050 for the Octagon Lodge (based on quad occupancy), and US$1,550 for the hostel-style Inca Lodge. Other accommodation options include Hotel Portillo Suites and the Chalets. Mini weeks, which consist of a 3-4 night stay, are also available. A limited amount of lift tickets are an option for those who want to make a day trip.

Portillo’s season will start on June 22nd and conclude on September 28th. With this upcoming winter being a historic one for Portillo, it’s a great time to head down there. For information or reservations, visit www.skiportillo.com for online bookings, call +1.800.829.5325 (US/Canada toll-free), or email reservations@skiportillo.com.

Mountain Stats

Trails: 35

Lifts: 14

Skiable Acres: 1235

Lift-Serviced Vertical Drop: 2500 feet

Lift Hours of Operation: 9 a.m.- 5 p.m.

Location: Renato Sánchez 4270, Las Condes, Los Andes, Región Metropolitana, Chile.

Image Credits: Ski Portillo

RELATED: 10 Things You’ll Find #OnlyInPortillo

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