Ski Portillo is a dead set top bucket-list destination for serious snow travellers. The late great Warren Miller rated it his Southern Hemisphere favourite. Here at Snow Action we gave it a Perfect 10.
Right now you can grab a direct flight to Santiago, Chile from Sydney or Melbourne for just $AUD 1049 return economy (or maybe even less – see below), or $3899 up the front. Both LATAM and Qantas have similar deals – but they end soon so get on it!
Just remember ski Portillo weeks run Saturday to Saturday (with mini-weeks available part of season Saturday/Wednesday or Wednesday/Saturday – but trust us, you’ll want a full week here).
Portillo is as little as 2 1/2 hours north of the airport or downtown Santiago in good conditions, so you could be skiing the afternoon you arrive in Chile.
But why rush? Lob in a day or few before and enjoy Santiago. The easy, and cheapest, way to get up to Portillo is on the resort’s own shuttle bus services which run from the Ritz Carlton Hotel downtown via the airport to the famous yellow Hotel Portillo at 2800m, just inside the Chilean side of the pass and tunnel across the highest peaks of the Andes to Argentina.
On a good day with a clear road you’ll share the trip up, especially the last string of big hairpin bends, with lots of trucks hauling international freight. On arrival you can go ski back down over the top of the road on a series of snowbridge tunnels.
Occasionally big dumps make avalanche hazard on the road too great, so it shuts at the foot of the pass. Then you either helicopter in – as we did one year in late June after an early season storm dropped 250cm or so of snow in a couple of days – or you wait till it opens.
Heli lift worked for us. The hotel was half empty, the waist deep powder all ours.
Don’t worry too much when the hotel is full though – 450 guests maximum doesn’t overload lifts or slopes.
Like a small cruise liner, Portillo is fully self-contained, from the 4 meals a day to the aprés to the entertainment.
Ski your legs off, or just hang poolside checking the view. The pace is never rushed here. Even on powder days many guests are not up to that, content with a few groomer laps and maybe a long lunch/sunny siesta/party up at Tio Bobs restaurant on top of a cliff on the Condor Plateau side of the resort. The instructors are usually busy, which leaves the fresh stuff for those who love it most – like us!
Sure, the bare stats show Portillo is not huge terrain wise – it’s no Verbier, no Vail, no Valle Nevado or three valleys behind Santiago in local terms. But the runs on the map are the start. Access the side and above country and you’re talking serious steep action.
Some is directly lift-accessed, including the lines pictured here, from the va-et-vient avalanche proof drag lifts running up both steep sides of the valley. We rated the best of these, Roca Jack, as the Southern Hemisphere’s #1 soul-of-skiing lift on our top 10 of those.
The snow tends to come in a few big to very big storms, plus top ups, and a lot of sunny breaks in between. Corn snow here can be almost as much fun as powder days, and you just need to move around with the fierce high altitude sun to enjoy it.
For 2019 they have invested USD 3.5 million in more fixed and mobile snow guns to top up higher traffic areas and cover a total of 25 acres over 9 runs – including favourites like Plateau. This will ensure quality early and late season conditions, and even out between those famous mega dumps.
With limited space Portillo never needs to discount to fill beds. The reverse is usually true – prime week bookings fill up early. So don’t expect it to be cheap, except for the bunk room backpacker Inca Lodge annexe.
But inclusive rates with meals and lifts make it very reasonable value versus leading resorts elsewhere plus dining out every day.
But while you can’t expect discounts on the ski week packages, airfares do fluctuate widely.
*Economy airfares from Australia to Chile are often over $AUD 2,000 – so you can save a $1000 or more at the moment, with $1049 as low as you are likely to get – or even lower, LATAM site had a Melbourne fare for June showing as booked for $1001 return (as at Sunday 17 Feb)! We have been flying Australia/South America to ski for the past 18 seasons straight, and on and off since 1989, so we have learnt to spot the deals!
As a rough guide, Sydney – Santiago direct on Qantas is about half an hour shorter than Sydney – LA.
The ski season starts late June and ends late September, the last weeks of July are local school holidays and peak season for rates. Special Family Weeks have activities and deals for the kids in July.
August is a great month for powder – though as mentioned, we have had waist deep in June after a helicopter flight in. Wine Week is 03 – 10 August and Friends Week 10 – 17 August. It’s actually super easy to make new friends here – it’s like a private ski club.
If your prefer a local operator Travelplan have been selling Portillo packages for many years – check with them here.
Most direct are Qantas non-stops Sydney – Santiago and LATAM non-stops Melbourne – Santiago. LATAM also flies Sydney – Auckland – Santiago, and lots of one stop combinations are available connecting to one or other of these flights.