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Portillo Ski Resort, Chile

Portillo is the pioneer of ski and snowboard resorts in South America

Secluded in the Andes Mountains north of Santiago, Portillo is the pioneer of ski resorts in South America. The mountain’s layout, set on a high alpine lake, is just as intriguing as the 100 year old history that preceeds the present day Portillo. With an 80% chance of a sunny day and an average snow fall of 24.7 ft, Portillo is a “must do” for any rider on the South American continent.

Portillo’s story starts at the turn of the century when the main corridor through South America went through the valley at which this world renowned resort now lives. At this time Ferrocariles del Estado (Railroad of the State Co.) began construction on a railroad across the continental divide, and shortly after it was discovered by some of the first ski bums, who used the train to hitch a ride up to the fresh slopes above.

Decades later, in 1949, the railroad company built Hotel Portillo and the first lifts for the resort. Then in 1961, without getting the revenue as hoped, the railroad company sold the resort to private investors, who had a vision. Through resort manager Henry Purcell’s connections and charisma, the Alpine World Ski Championships of 1966 were brought to Portillo, putting the resort on the world map. Since then, lifts have been added and updates have been made, but the original hotel still stands on the same foundation and is still operated by the Purcell family.

The iconic hotel perches above the emerald blue Laguna del Inca (Lake of the Inca). Legend has it that an Inca princess fell to her death off of the surrounding cliffs during a “Royal Hunt” celebration. During the burial, the princess was wrapped in white linen and lowered into the lake. As her body entered the water, the lake turned emerald blue from the color of her eyes. Since then the cries of the princess can still be heard through the shifting ice of a winter’s night.

Va et Vient Lifts: The Va et Vient (French for “Come and Go”) lifts were built by the Poma company for Portillo’s Roca Jack, Condor and Las Vizcachas runs. People love them or hate them, but one thing is for sure, it is as exciting going up the hill as it is skiing down!

Why the Va et Vients lifts? Roca Jack and Condor are avalanche-prone; an avalanche can knock off even a major lift flat. The Va et Vients are pulleys that are screwed into the mountain at the top. Five skiers at once are pulled up the hill while “sitting” side-by-side on Poma discs that are suspended from a bar. It’s a little like waterskiing uphill, and is simple to use after you’ve given it a go.