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Ski Portillo, Chile - A Cruise Ship in the Mountains


Ski Portillo, Chile - A Cruise Ship in the Mountains

Skiing at Ski Portillo

Jonathon Selkowitz

Railroad to Resort

At a base elevation of over 9400' and an annual snowfall average of 400" Ski Portillo doesn't have to worry too much about sufficient snow. Very close to the Chile/Argentina border, the skiing on the Portillo slopes was actually a byproduct of the installation of a railroad to connect the Chilean central valley with the Argentina city of Mendoza. Fortunately, for future skiers, two of the first engineers to study the feasibility of the terrain for a railroad were Norwegians with a love of skiing and the rest, as they say, is history.

Hardy recreational skiers followed after the railroad was commissioned in 1910, eventually European ski instructors arrived and a small hut, dubbed the Hotel Portillo, was constructed for lodging. This small hut grew over the years into the "Gran" Hotel Portillo which was inaugurated in 1949.

The Alpine World Championships go South

After the purchase of the ski area by two North Americans, Henry Purcell was hired as General Manager in 1961 and he put Portillo on the road to becoming one of the premier skiing vacation destinations in the world. Purcell added new chairlifts, the first in South America, and he boldly made a case to lure the 1966 Alpine World Championships.

At that time, the World Championships were the only venue outside of the Olympics where all the world's ski racers could come together to compete. Hosting this international event confirmed a ski resort's prominence. After being awarded the games by the FIS and overcoming complications brought on by an overabundance of snow, in August of 1966, ceremonies at Portillo officially opened the first major ski event south of the equator and Portillo took a place among the world class ski resorts.

The Purcell Influence Continues

Henry Purcell eventually took over ownership and continues as Executive Director, having brought about many positive changes over the years. He introduced snowmaking and grooming machines, along with five chairlifts to compliment the Va et Vient lifts that provide access to great open slope powder skiing and steep chutes.

Beginner and intermediate skiers have also been well provided for in both marked terrain and a ski school that is recognized as one of the best in the world. Communications, once at the mercy of Mother Nature, are now guaranteed by fiber optic cable and there is a cybercafe with full internet access.

Skiing the Chilean Way - A Great Family Experience

The ski area itself has not changed much. It was, and is, a boutique ski resort. It has a laid-back Chilean style atmosphere where nobody must rise too early, meals are social events, and dinner is served late - with an afternoon "tea" to tide guests over. The pace is leisurely and naturally lends itself to making friends and relaxing.

It's easy to imagine how this atmosphere provides the ideal vacation setting for families to have fun, learn new skiing skills, and generally hang out together. Family activities at Portillo center around the ski slopes, Hotel Portillo, a great ski school, Kids Camp, professional childcare personnel, and plenty of activities so parents can also enjoy their ski vacation.

Families can experience a hassle-free ski vacation at Ski Portillo and spend time enjoying one another and the spectacular mountains. The Hotel's Living Room encourages games, card playing, and socializing - instead of television watching (a movie cinema features family movies throughout the week).

Parents need only walk outside of the hotel to drop their children off at the kid-friendly ski school. Portillo offers slopes for all abilities - from never-evers to expert. With a maximum of 450 people in the resort, parents don't need to worry about their children being on crowded slopes.

There are special "Family Weeks" designed for families visiting Portillo during school vacations, with special activities to keep the whole clan entertained. There are even extra special packages available - One Child Skis Free Weeks and Two Children Ski Free Weeks!

Plus Something for Everyone

Single skiers and those coming as a group are never left without activities, as there are always a variety of "Theme" weeks featuring Wine Festivals, Mountain Fests, and weekly learning and big mountain adventure clinics. There are also Girlfriend Getaway weeks offering savings for women skiing a small groups.

Travelers can experience the ultimate combination South American vacation - snow at Ski Portillo, Chile, then sun and sand at the new Tierra Atacama Adventure Spa in Northern Chile. The 32-room Tierra Atacama Hotel & Adventure Spa is an all-inclusive luxury resort.

Tierra Atacama's Uma Spa, (which is an Aymara word for water) offers Uma massages, aromatherapy, body wraps and scrubs, stone treatments, and stimulating and relaxing soaks. Local Chilean elements are incorporated into the spa treatments and include desert herbs, salt from the lithium rich salt flats, and volcanic muds from the mountains.

The US dollar still goes far in South America, and this is the perfect opportunity to beat the summer heat. The oldest and most exclusive resort in South America, Portillo combines old-world elegance, breathtaking scenery and epic skiing, all in an intimate resort that accommodates only 450 guests a week. No wonder many returning visitors refer to Ski Portillo as being "A wonderful cruise ship in the mountains."

For information or to book a vacation to Portillo (including flights), call toll-free from the U.S., 1.800.829.5325 or email reservas@skiportillo.com. For additional information, visit Ski Portillo.

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