Hasta Luego Portillo
Hasta Luego Portillo
It’s mid afternoon on a stunning bluebird day in Portillo, Chile. More cold Cristal beer is on its way to our table at Tio Bob’s.
Today started at 6 a.m., traversing across the frozen Laguna Del Inca with photographer Jonathan Selkowitz and Rewk Patten, one of the U.S. Ski Team’s men’s coaches. We had our sights on Cuatro Dedos, a nice white swath that runs from some high chutes down a few thousand feet to the lake.
Several climbing hours later we are on top of our line. A consistent pitch drops away under us, looking prime. A little cold snow, some corn, big fast turns, and we call it another perfect day on skis.
I showed up here the previous weekend, exhausted. A month of trolling around Argentina alone, like a little freeski urchin, had taken its toll, so it seemed like a good time to check out a place where I had heard the living was easy. I didn’t know what to expect exactly. My knowledge of Portillo was this: The surrounding peaks are very big (think Aconcagua), Northern Hemisphere ski racers like to train here, there is one hotel, and the hotel is yellow.
The first day was grey, so I checked out the surprisingly sweet, empty roller coaster groomers. From there I ventured into big-mountain terrain, from an interesting tour with ski patrol, to long, narrow, steep chutes above the lake, and wide open pitches. There are some serious couloirs across the road and lots of potential lines farther up the valley across the lake; I’m currently staring at those lines over my beer in the sunshine, plotting.
Until the hotel’s front desk calls up, that is, and tells me that my shuttle to Santiago has arrived. Time to finish the beer, say bye to everyone, weave through the NBC TV crew that is glued to the U.S. men’s alpine ski team, find my skis, and bomb down a groomer to the hotel.
After clomping through the Hotel Portillo with my skis, switching my ski boots to flip-flops, and peeking outside, I sigh. Having done my best to miss it, the shuttle is still there. As I climb in (still in my ski clothes) I think about the bright side. As my new ski patroller friend said the other day, “If you don’t ski everything you want, then you have a good reason to return." —Bridgid Mander