We first heard of Portillo when our sons were ski racing.
During the summer, when our boys were practicing lacrosse and mountain biking, we’d hear whispers about other families winging off to Chile for summer ski training, enjoying endless winter and sharing slopes, if not coaches, with the United States Ski Team.
“We’ve got to get there,” I’d tell my husband. “Can you think of a better summer family vacation?”
He agreed. And thus was set in motion a goal, an aspiration, another entry on the so-called “bucket list,” which in the case of many families is a “things to do before they go to college list.”
Timing being what it is, our boys were already in school when we went to Portillo in August. Our trip was during a quiet week in the Portillo season (in between popular family weeks in July and the Chilean holidays in mid-September), when there is usually good snow.
Our boys, bummed as they were to miss this trip, were incredibly good sports about being left in Colorado.
Still, at least once a day, I’d look at my husband and say, “I wish the kids were with us. They would absolutely love this.”
Portillo History and Terrain
Situated at the top of 29 switchback turns, a few kilometers from the Chile-Argentina border, Portillo is isolated at the top of the Andes. Two hours from Santiago, the highway is wide, safe and maintained meticulously after snowstorms.
In 1949, the Chilean government built the iconic blue and yellow Hotel Portillo to encourage tourism and recreation, taking advantage of it’s location along a busy railroad line. Then, in 1961, the hotel was sold to the Purcell family from the U.S., who still operate the resort.
Because of the resort’s isolation (with just a Customs house and an Army base for neighbors), all meals are included with lodging. And while day tickets are available, most guests come for an entire week.
With only 123 hotel rooms, and a handful of additional rooms in two small lodges and several chalets, the slopes are never crowded.
Most days, you’ll find about 1,000 – 1,500 skiers spread across the resort’s 1,235 acres. The math is pretty easy — and pretty awesome — about one skier per acre.
Situated completely above tree line, the lines are endless. Eighty percent of the resort is groomed and there are plenty of places for beginners to learn and advance on progressive terrain that is perfect for teaching.
Still, the real Portillo magic comes from the endless powder turns off of numerous traverses and hikes.
When the snow is plentiful, there’s no reason to ski the same line twice…unless you love it.
Portillo for Families
There are a lot of really good reasons for families to come to Portillo. One of the best is the low skier load. When my boys were young, my biggest fear was that an out-of-control adult would accidentally take one of them out on a crowded slope.
You never have that fear at Portillo. The terrain naturally divides beginners from experts and while there are several places where all skiers funnel together to return to the lodge, the lack of crowds alleviates any concern.
Another way back to the lodge? Take the tunnel originally built for the train. While you can’t hear it on my amateur video, the train whistle is an awesome effect!
A Week of Ski School
Since most guests come to Portillo for a full week, the ski and ride school encourages week-long group lessons for kids and adults. This has some big advantages.
First, more time in lessons with outstanding instructors means more progression. But even more importantly, it means that your kids (or you) will have the same instructor all week. The intimacy and small size of the resort means that your kids can interact with their instructors on snow during the day and then talk to them later that night at a meal. It demystifies the entire experience and allows real relationships to develop.
For most kids, this gives them a sense of comfort and trust. It’s a great recipe for learning and fun, which culminates each Thursday in the resort’s recreational Sol de Portillo race for ski school kids and other guests.
Making New Friends
Additionally because most lessons are group lessons, your kids will find friends at the resort. Just like your kids, these kids are at Portillo for a full week and eager to take advantage of the gymnasium, the game room with pool, foosball, ping-pong, the climbing wall and the snow tubing hill, when they’re not skiing.
Daycare and a children’s center are also on site for little ones who don’t yet ski or ride, or who just need a break from skiing.
Even better, there are evening activities for kids (for example, one night kids were baking bread while adults were tasting wine), as well as non-stop fun during the July family weeks.
As for lodging, most rooms at Portillo are doubles, although there are options for family rooms with two bathrooms and bedrooms (one with bunk beds) and suites in the Hotel, as well as four bed bunkrooms with private baths in the Octagon Lodge.
To see three minutes of the Portillo Experience, especially for families, check out this video produced by Ski Portillo. (Video Courtesy Ski Portillo)
Next: Portillo for Couples and Friends
- Why Ski South America?, April 17, 2013.
- No Kids, No Problem: Portillo For Couples and Friends, October 9, 2014.
- The Portillo Experience: Tips for Your Best Ski Vacation, October 13, 2014.
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