Portillo, Chile, Sept. 6-7, 2007

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Portillo, Chile, Sept. 6-7, 2007

Postby Tony Crocker » Sat Sep 08, 2007 8:08 pm

Based upon my Las Lenas trip 2 years ago and the snow stats I collected then, I hypothesized that the higher Andes resorts would be very conducive to corn snow conditions.

The past two days at Portillo have confirmed that impression. I has not snowed for nearly 3 weeks. There's not a cloud in the sky, so it freezes every night at the 9,000 and higher altitude and it's blazing hot every day.

Portillo has 2 sides. The Roca Jack side faces east and also has the Juncalillo groomed trail going down 1,000 feet below the hotel base. The El Plateau/Condor side faces west. The intervening area that would face south and retain winter snow is occupied by Laguna del Inca. When the occasional steep slope would bend to face SE or SW there would be dry chalk that had not melted/refroze in the 3 dry weeks.

So Portillo is easy to read in the current weather, skiing the Roca Jack side late morning, taking lunch and then moving to the other side for the rest of the day. Skier density is very low, so even the low altitude Juncalillo trail retains a silky corn surface for a good 2 hours and only the very bottom of it gets chewed up by skier traffic. We had late starts both days, close to 11AM, so some of the Roca Jack off-piste was mushy and/or closed before we could get at it.

Both days I connected with Patrick after lunch to take a run at the Lake Chutes. Friday's run out there we step/traversed a bit higher than Thursday to get great corn snow steeps down to the lake. As hot as it is now, midwinter was cold and the lake remains frozen so you can get back to the base area.

Thursday Adam and I were fresh from a redeye flight from Lima and only 2 days removed from the 4 day Inca Trail hike. Adam was sick and my legs were less than responsive after about 3 turns in challenging terrain. Fortunately the corn groomers were nearly effortless and both of us got some rest and improved Friday.

Portillo is not that large, but terrain quality is very good from an advanced/expert perspecive. Portillo may be the second best area I've seen for in-bounds corn (next to Mt. Bachelor), but 2-3 days is about right for a trip here in spring conditions. Though we are staying down the hill in in Los Andes, I've been informed that you can get into the Hotel Portillo for less than a week on short notice if there is room.
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re: Portillo, Chile, Sept. 6-7, 2007

Postby tseeb » Tue Sep 11, 2007 9:10 pm

Hi Tony, I would appreciate some details about the logistics of combining Machu Picchu with skiing Chile. I want to ski Chile for my birthday (the first week of September) in the next three years and thought about going to Machu Picchu afterwards. Why did you do it the other way around? Can you give any details or tips on logistics for combining the two destinations? We would probably take the train to Machu Picchu although we would listen to your thoughts on the Inca Trail. My wife speaks excellent Spanish and can ski expert runs although is not comfortable with very much exposure. Thanks for any help you can provide. Another Tony
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re: Portillo, Chile, Sept. 6-7, 2007

Postby Tony Crocker » Wed Sep 12, 2007 6:05 am

June-August are the most popular months for hiking the Inca Trail due to being dry season. September starts to increase rain incidence, but only a little so I wouldn't dissuade a trip then.

Inca Trail permits are strictly controlled. They demand passport numbers in advance and check them twice on the trail. We barely got permits for Sept. 1-4 with 14 weeks notice. I'd recommend checking availability 5 months out and booking at least 4 months ahead.

Between skiing Chile and sightseeing Cusco, either will help altitude acclimitization for the other. The Inca Trail is more exhausting, so from that perspective it might be better to do the skiing first. With a travel day and a couple sightseeing days in Cusco you'll be rested and acclimatized for the hike.

If you come to Machu Picchu by train it will be crowded midday with daytrippers. Thus everyone strongly recommends staying overnight to have a more quiet experience in late afternoon and early morning the next day. If you do the hike you get there early and have a 2 hour tour with your guide before the daytrippers arrive. But if you have time it might still be worth staying a night there.

Our scheduling was constrained by the Aug. 24-26 Solar Eclipse Conference in L.A. and my younger son Andrew starting school Sept. 7, so Adam and I are skiing after Andrew went home.

With regard to the skiing in Chile, within a month both Patrick and I will have some good reports and pics for you to get a good idea. One probelm is that the snowfall is volatile and skiing is marginal in dry years. So for skiing I advocate waiting for a big June storm before booking. If you're combining with Inca Trail, that's impossible; you have to book far in advance.
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re: Portillo, Chile, Sept. 6-7, 2007

Postby JimG. » Wed Sep 12, 2007 8:41 am

Tony, which lines off of the high traverse (the short hike up and then traverse out to chutes that drop down to the Juncalillo lift) did you get to ski if any? I spent alot of time in that area when I was in Portillo.

I also skied the chute directly above and to the right at the top of Roca Jack...sustained 45 degree pitch for a solid 1000 vert.

And I thought that riding that Juncalillo chair back up to the hotel was a little weird considering it went over the road in several places.
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Re: re: Portillo, Chile, Sept. 6-7, 2007

Postby ChrisC » Wed Sep 12, 2007 4:39 pm

Tony Crocker wrote:With regard to the skiing in Chile, within a month both Patrick and I will have some good reports and pics for you to get a good idea.


Looking forward to the reports.

Please try to compare it skiing in Las Lenas/Argentina as well. It looks like you are rewarded/confined/trapped in Las Lenas for a week - while in Chile you can mix it up Valle Nevado complex, be an infrequent day visitor in Portillo, rent a car and drive south to Termas de Chillan and possibly cat ski El Arpa. However, due to IMF defaults, etc. -- Argentina is still a better price than more economically successful Chile.

Anyways, I need to get to Portillo before a former classmate gets too old to be a male gigolo. Totally fun guy for a few days in Aspen. Sam with a famous last name http://www.skiwithkim.com/pages/portill ... guides.htm
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re: Portillo, Chile, Sept. 6-7, 2007

Postby Tony Crocker » Thu Sep 13, 2007 6:37 am

In terms of terrain nothing else in the southern hemisphere even belongs in the conversation with Las Lenas. My son Adam is quite emphatic on this and from his perspective it's the only area he would spend his own $ to revisit. It´s risky in terms of Marte's operation, but I've detailed those risks in some detail in my 2005 report and later FTO feature, so each reader can make his own judgment.

Due to warm weather Portillo was quick to close the chutes looker's left of Roca Jack and we never got to ski them. We had to ski maybe 1/3 of the way down Roca Jack, then veer skier´s right to a SE facing line of somewhat irregular chalk. We had one run looker's right of Roca Jack; the upper steeps´ snow was quite heavy and variable, but where it mellowed out a bit and turned north toward the lake there were maybe 10 turns of excellent smooth corn. Lake Chutes were definitely the best combination of sustained fall line and smooth spring snow when we were there.

I liked Portillo; I just think it's small for a whole week unless you have powder. In powder it must be great because it´s so empty. I think Portillo and NZ´s best area Treble Cone make an interesting comparison. Comparable size and advanced orientation. TC´s Saddle Basin has good south exposure and will be better for everyday skiing. But Portillo´s powder upside is far greater.

With regard to price, Valle Nevado is the most price competitive in South America for a one week package. But I wouldn´t want to be here for a week due to less interesting terrain. Chile´s virtue is flexibility. You have the option to vary your ski time among Arpa/Portillo, Valle Nevado group and Chillan for skiing. Patrick will tell you Chillan has the best skiing; I probably should have gone there instead of VN, but some of that is hindsight with the dump Chillan got Sept. 1-3.

I got 39 years of annual snowfall from Portillo. The volatility is scary, as there were 7 seasons with less than 2.5 meters snowfall. If skiing is the focus of your South America trip, do not commit $ until snow is on the ground.
Last edited by Tony Crocker on Thu Sep 13, 2007 3:40 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: re: Portillo, Chile, Sept. 6-7, 2007

Postby JimG. » Thu Sep 13, 2007 9:13 am

Tony Crocker wrote:In terms of terrain nothing in the southern hemisphere even belongs in the conversation with Las Lenas. My son Adam is quite emphatic on this and from his perspective it's the only area he would spend his own $ to revisit. It´s risky in terms of Marte's operation, but I've detailed those risks in some detail in my 2005 report and later FTO feature, so each reader can make his own judgment.

Due to warm weather Portillo was quick to close the chutes looker's left of Roca Jack and we never got to ski them. We had to ski maybe 1/3 of the way down Roca Jack, then veer skier´s right to a SE facing line of somewhat irregular chalk. We had one run looker's right of Roca Jack; the upper steeps´ snow was quite heavy and variable, but where it mellowed out a bit and turned north toward the lake there were maybe 10 turns of excellent smooth corn. Lake Chutes were definitely the best combination of sustained fall line and smooth spring snow when we were there.

I liked Portillo; I just think it's small for a whole week unless you have powder. In powder it must be great because it´s so empty. I think Portillo and NZ´s best area Treble Cone make an interesting comparison. Comparable size and advanced orientation. TC´s Saddle Basin has good south exposure and will be better for everyday skiing. But Portillo´s powder upside is far greater.

With regard to price, Valle Nevado is the most price competitive in South America for a one week package. But I wouldn´t want to be here for a week due to less interesting terrain. Chile´s virtue is flexibility. You have the option to vary your ski time among Arpa/Portillo, Valle Nevado group and Chillan for skiing. Patrick will tell you Chillan has the best skiing; I probably should have gone there instead of VN, but some of that is hindsight with the dump Chillan got Sept. 1-3.

I got 39 years of annual snowfall from Portillo. The volatility is scary, as there were 7 seasons with less than 2.5 meters snowfall. If skiing is the focus of your South America trip, do not commit $ until snow is on the ground.


Las Lenas is BIG. And I agree about the terrain choices. Almost endless.

I guess I had good snow conditions when I was in Portillo. The high traverse was open every day I was there. Interestingly, the lake was not totally frozen when I was there and the Lake Chutes were not open all the way to the bottom. We did ski down to the lake on one run, but the hike back up to get out of there made repeating the trip unpalatable.
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re: Portillo, Chile, Sept. 6-7, 2007

Postby Tony Crocker » Sun Sep 23, 2007 2:24 pm

Finally some pics.
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Patrick and Andy pick their way into one of the Lake Chutes
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After the choke point there's lots of room to spread out and find a good line.
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Not sure who this is, because it looks like the run we skied the next day.
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Skating across the Laguna del Inca towards the Hotel Portillo. Midwinter was very cold, so the lake was well frozen despite the current warm weather.
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Patrick overlooking Portillo from the far eastern boundary, near the top of the Vizcachas slingshot poma. Roca Jack is the shaded slope on the far side directly above Patrick's head.
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Zoom picture of the Super C Couloir while driving up to Portillo. We await the details from Patrick's friends.
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Portillo's unique slingshot Roca Jack poma in action. A speedy climb of 1,115 vertical.
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Richard starts down from the top of Roca Jack
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Last edited by Tony Crocker on Sun Sep 23, 2007 2:43 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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re: Portillo, Chile, Sept. 6-7, 2007

Postby Tony Crocker » Sun Sep 23, 2007 2:40 pm

More Portillo pics.
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Adam in the off-piste bowl skier's left of Roca Jack. The best corn over here was the fall line to Adam's left toward the lake.
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On the Roca Jack side we traversed back to the lifts instead of skiing to the lake and hiking out.
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Lunchtime view from Hotel Portillo of pool, Laguna del Inca and 3 Brothers peaks at far end of lake.
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Second day's Lake Chute run we traversed and stepped up higher to this entry.
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Adam follows Patrick down a Lake Chute.
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Common entry to Garganta, under El Plateau lift, was sketchy. The El Plateau cliffs would have many more little chutes with deeper snowpack.
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Patrick went back for an encore Garganta run, entering from the top this time.
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re: Portillo, Chile, Sept. 6-7, 2007

Postby WintersBest » Wed Sep 26, 2007 7:16 pm

Wow! I have been to Portillo a number of times and I've never seen garganta look anything like that (all that brown and such a narrow opening). I was there about when it last snowed a few weeks before you and the difference is amazing. Must have been very warm.

Corn at Portillo can be wonderful. However, too bad you didn't make it out until 11AM -- you missed some of the best skiing in Portillo!!Truthfully you really can't judge Portillo without skiing off the traverse. There is tons of great terrain there. When it is warm though you need to hit it early before they close it (avalanche risk).

You haven't really had the Portillo experience without the traverse terrain -- although the frozen lake makes it great too but you could have added a few more fantastic runs to each day if you hit the slopes earlier.
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Re: re: Portillo, Chile, Sept. 6-7, 2007

Postby Patrick » Wed Sep 26, 2007 7:31 pm

WintersBest wrote:Corn at Portillo can be wonderful. However, too bad you didn't make it out until 11AM -- you missed some of the best skiing in Portillo!!Truthfully you really can't judge Portillo without skiing off the traverse. There is tons of great terrain there. When it is warm though you need to hit it early before they close it (avalanche risk).


Hi WintersBest,

Although I didn't write the long version of my Chilean Adventure, I skied a bit with Tony on his two days at Portillo. The snow was pretty much frozen hard ski conditions until maybe 10am on the East side (Roca Jack side) and almost till noon on the other side. The best skiing on the East would have been from 10-12 and from 12-3 on the West side.

Traverse from Roca Jack was open up to the next run in the am (whatever you call it), you could ski into the next one at the halfway point.
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re: Portillo, Chile, Sept. 6-7, 2007

Postby Tony Crocker » Thu Sep 27, 2007 1:51 pm

The traverse skier's right from the top of Roca Jack had marginal coverage. I think even when it was open you could only get one chute over. Based upon my run in the other direction the Lake Chutes had better snow.

I think Patrick and I got a decent view of Portillo. There's report on Epic from late August when it hadn't snowed in awhile but also had not warmed up enough for the corn we had. And it's wide open, so it's easy to visualize the parts we missed, like the bowls farther south off that traverse.

We were fresh from the Inca Trail and a redeye flight from Lima the first day. And not all that quick to get out the door in Los Andes the second day either. Second day I knew to head for Roca Jack right away, but I did not know they would close anything before noon. Patrick didn't start any earlier those 2 days, but he had a 3rd day and did get the first chute Primera Quebrada on the traverse then.

With fresh snow and a fully covered traverse that area would be very attractive, because there would be multiple long fall lines down to the Juncalillo chair. I recall comparing Portillo to Alyeska in scale and advanced weighting of terrain. Adam said, "No, there's nothing as long and sustained as the North Face." If that traverse went all the way out, then I think terrain would be comparable. But of course Alyeska gets twice as much snow.
Last edited by Tony Crocker on Mon Oct 01, 2007 1:41 pm, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: re: Portillo, Chile, Sept. 6-7, 2007

Postby salida » Fri Sep 28, 2007 2:22 pm

ChrisC wrote:Anyways, I need to get to Portillo before a former classmate gets too old to be a male gigolo. Totally fun guy for a few days in Aspen. Sam with a famous last name http://www.skiwithkim.com/pages/portill ... guides.htm
Him and my brother piss me off if I think too hard about it.


Chris, I skied with Sam for a bit when I was down there. Interestingly enough I also ran into him on a flight to Denver last December...

As for:
Jim G wrote:I guess I had good snow conditions when I was in Portillo. The high traverse was open every day I was there. Interestingly, the lake was not totally frozen when I was there and the Lake Chutes were not open all the way to the bottom. We did ski down to the lake on one run, but the hike back up to get out of there made repeating the trip unpalatable.


I had the same experience, and would say you haven't really gotten a good taste of Portillo until you'd skied the traverse out skiers right of Roca Jack. There must be a dozen fairly intense lines out that direction.
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Re: re: Portillo, Chile, Sept. 6-7, 2007

Postby Patrick » Fri Sep 28, 2007 3:32 pm

salida wrote:I had the same experience, and would say you haven't really gotten a good taste of Portillo until you'd skied the traverse out skiers right of Roca Jack. There must be a dozen fairly intense lines out that direction.


Although I'm certain you're right, you could say I made it into one gully (whatever you want to call) by cutting inside a snow pocket in the rockband. Some of those definitely looks like fun. BTW, the guy on the lake with the helmet did ski Super C the day I was at Arpa with Tony. I haven't really spoken to him since I got back to Ottawa.
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re: Portillo, Chile, Sept. 6-7, 2007

Postby Tony Crocker » Mon Oct 01, 2007 12:06 am

I do have one question for those of you who have skied during storms or the ensuing powder at Portillo. How much wind during the storm? How much wind affected snow after the storm? It seems obvious at Arpa and La Parva/Valle Nevado that there must be lots of wind during storms. Perhaps the cliffs rising above both sides (Roca Jack and Lake Chutes) of Portillo protect the snow from some wind effect.

IMHO this is another one of Alta's virtues. For its huge snowfall and alpine exposure it seems that Baldy and Devil's Castle keep the fresh snow from being wind affected most of the time.
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