“No double-dog dares on the first day” we were advised, but VTdiamondskier and Skitreesha would NOT be reigned in! Mother Nature had prepared for our arrival in Portillo, Chile with over EIGHT feet of new snow that week, with a fresh 18 inches greeting us upon arrival August 22. We heeded none of the warnings: Don’t overdue it when arriving at high altitude, Don’t ski the day you arrive, Don’t drink alcohol for the first three days, yada yada. Are you kidding me? Like we could resist the call of the pow and the fine Chilean wine?? If breaking these rules were to kill us, we’d die happy.
After fueling up with a gourmet meal of seafood soup, filet mignon, and Lucuma cheesecake served by four of the world’s most attentive waiters, we set out for our first run.
I donned the tele equipment, knowing I would have to force myself into my new sport before getting too comfortable on my alpine gear. I’d only started tele skiing in February, and hadn’t been able to kick the alpine habit, so I basically still sucked. How did that knee bend work again?
Patty and I threw copious dares at each other for activities both on and off the mountain, but let’s just stick to the skiing here.
The first was to wander over to skiers’ right off of El Plateau chair on our third run. The two previous groomers gave me little time to find stability with the free heels, but Patty “encouraged me” down Pista Garganta, a Muy Dificil (translation: wicked fun) steep and fairly narrow chute high above the Portillo Hotel.
There were lots of tumbles (mostly mine), but the landings were soft and we laughed at our lack of familiarity with powder, while taking in views of the pristine Laguna del Inca adorned with magnificent patterns painted by the snow fairies. It turned out that my pal had led me to my first ever double-black tele run. Game on!
The next day, I chose the AT Rossis that had served me so well on Tucks. Patty and I mustered up the nerve to ride the Va et Vient “slingshot” lifts, the only of their kind in the world, to grab some freshies. These surface lifts drag four to five riders with pomas slipped between their legs up the mountain side-by-side at warp speed. For Patty and me, balancing on the ride up the steep slope and extracting ourselves off the pomas without snowballing backwards was more challenging (and terrifying!) than the skiing. Portillo has four such lifts that are erected in areas that traditional chairlifts would be taken out by avalanches or big dumps.
By day three, we dared each other out on “The Traverse” at the top of the Roca Jack slingshot.
Ben, a 16-year from Massachusetts (and T4T Lurker, no doubt) who had just come from the traverse, offered to lead us. By the time we reached our chosen spot, Kilometro Lanzado, the hot Chilean sun had warmed the snow to dangerous conditions and our young guide implored us to get moving. Ski patrol wanted us off the mountain, stat, as the avies now breaking above were harbingers of doom. (BTW, according to Google translate, Kilometro Lanzado means “Speed Skiing.” How very fitting!) Trying to quickly get down slopes that rival Tucks in steepness when you have only mid-fats to keep you afloat and little in the way of powder skills can be a sobering experience. I was disappointed that I couldn’t take my time, snap more pics, and immerse myself in the moment. But the threat of death is a motivator, and we sloppily made our way down. A couple of smooth turns, then crash. A few more, splat. Lather, rinse, repeat.
Fortunately, the two hours of free powder tips we’d received the previous day from Ksenija, our Aspen instructor friend, DID come in handy, and we eventually got ourselves back down on-piste beside the Austrians’ race track and out of harms way.
I went back the next day for another traverse adventure, which turned out to be more terrifying than the first, as I saw an avie break right where I’d skied just four minutes earlier. (Okay, this year I’m getting a beacon and some backcountry training!)
We met scores of fascinating people in Portillo including two free-heelers. Dani, a Swiss guy residing in L.A. had toted FOUR pairs of tele skis with him to Chile. He raced through gates on skinny alpine race boards outfitted with homemade risers to accommodate the tele bindings.
He was kind enough to give me some tele beta midway through the week, where he brought to my attention that I was barely bending my front leg at all, making a proper lunge impossible. He showed me the correct stance, which I could do (briefly) standing still, and not at all while moving.
I realized that despite my hard work in the gym, I had failed to develop any sort of tele muscles (fortunately, I HAD preserved my alpine quads, so it wasn’t all bad news). Dani swears by tight rope lunges, and now Patty is insisting we string up a tightrope in my backyard. The second tele skier, Jamie, is a Californian who has been traveling the world for the past six years on a tandem bicycle, offering the rear seat to complete strangers in a gesture of peace and friendship. His mission includes improving the lives of others by raising funds, building schools, developing systems for clean water, etc. His motto is Live Big, Give Big, Love Big. I encourage you to follow his amazing journey on www.peacepedalers.com
and be as generous as you are able to support his worthy causes. Patty and I look forward to hosting The Peace Pedaler as he travels through New England on his North American leg next year.
Towards the end of the week, after days of blue-on-white, beautiful bumps had formed on Condor (where we actually DID see a condor fly over twice that week). Patty and I would do laps until the afternoon sun brought down the avies, closing down the lift for the day.
Then we’d bask in the sun at Tio Bob’s patio (my own personal utopia) overlooking Pista Garganta and the lake.
Many of the days were unseasonably warm, so Tio Bob’s began to look like a day at the beach. I once saw a post on the Ski Portillo Facebook site: “A typical day at Tio Bob’s. Best day of your life.” It really was. BTW, if you heard a rumor about some crazy American chick skiing Canarios in a bikini on a triple-dog dare, well, I don’t know what you’re talking about.
Portillo has been dubbed “the cruise ship of the Andes,” but forget the negative connotations that description conjures. What they mean is that you dine on five star cuisine, get pampered beyond your wildest dreams, have an abundance of activities from which to choose, and never once open you wallet during your stay (except at La Posada, the locals’ bar where the beer and Pisco sours are oober cheap and there are NO rules). You eat, ski, and party with no more than 450 like-minded souls from all over the world who are typically booked in with you for a week at a time. Now pair that with the fact that Portillo is not at all pretentious, there’s never a lift line, and there are hard-core shredding options for skiers/boarders of every level. We were moved by the slope-side memorial to Shane McConkey, who loved Portillo as much as we did, and we celebrated the fact that we shared the slopes with the likes of Chris Davenport and the Austrian Ski Team. During that week, I was certain that our plane to Chile had crashed and by some miracle, I had made it to heaven…