Portillo is a ski resort in Central Chile. It is located close to the Argentine border and the actual skiing area runs right across the serpentine road to Mendoza.
For 60 years, Portillo has given the ski and snowboard enthusiasts a unique experience. With an extraordinary skiable terrain, natural beauty and numerous facilities and apres ski activities, Portillo is a tourist destination for all ages. It has ski slopes for all levels, 14 lifts, certified instructors are committed to help guests enjoy the ski and snowboard, people feel like home. To make it even more pleasant experience, passengers in Portillo should not wait to get on the lifts.
The road to Mendoza in Argentina runs past the resort. Try to flag down a bus or hitchhike. The hotel will organize a shuttle back to Santiago for a reasonable price.
Hotel Portillo will pick you up in Santiago and shuttle you to the mountain, it's about a two to three hour trip. Also, any bus heading to Mendoza will drop you off at the resort. However be cautious because if they shut down the road due to weather they will not let a bus through, they do let the shuttles through most of the time.
The resort is easily reached from Santiago in a few hours by car. An excellent but expensive highway (CLP$2200 total one-way for a small vehicle, possible to bypass a tunnel on the way back, saving CLP$1600) takes you to Los Andes, where you make to turnoff and start the climb to Portillo. The road from here is decent but often carry heavy traffic. Have chains with you in winter, when there is frequent heavy snow fall. The road is sometimes blocked by trucks failing to do the ascent to the border.
Getting a lift on a truck is an easy prospect, as there are a constant trickle of them slowly making their way to and from Argentina. But the smaller car the faster. You'll save hours (or even days!) if picked up by private vehicle.
If put off by the steeply priced ski passes, you can ride the lower slopes and hitchhike back up with trucks. Bring your own gear or rent in Santiago and try to look as if you actually do have a pass. Although very possible for adventurous travelers, it's not generally recommended. Critics of this money saving activity argue that the tickets are less expensive than in the US and on par with Europe. They also call skiing without a ticket "stealing", a description budget travelers find preposterous and wrong in every important way. What ever is your belief, you will not get to take full advantage of the higher mountain terrain without utilizing the lifts. And consequently will be rather bored - if you're not a decent skier don't come here and if you are you need a lift pass and want the helicopter.
Make sure you get to Tio Bob's. Lunch on the top of the mountain offering spectacular views of the resort.
- The skiing is great, the resort is filled with open flowing runs. The most enjoyable aspect are the off-piste powder hunting, easily accessed by screeing from the lifts. The Roca Jack, Condor and one new one the name escapes me are the world's only sling shot lifts (aka va et vient). It's not a regular chair lift, it actually looks like a giant slingshot. There are runs for beginners and pros alike, but timorous intermediates may find they spend more time in the bar and restaurant than on the relatively few slopes that are prepared for their ilk. Incidentally the word "queue" doesn't exist hereabouts.
- Backcountry skiing and snowboarding is very possible. You'll find great open powder slopes right by the road. Competition from other backcountry hikers is non-existent. Bring appropriate avalanche rescue equipment. Beware that most of the runs is concave and gets very steep at the top. Be careful. You can supposedly check conditions with the resort before setting out. They operate heli-skiing.
- Pool bathing. There is an outdoor pool in the resort. It is heated through the mountains own geo-thermal heat, and it's a relaxing alternative to skiing. And was populated by the boys and girls of MTV Brasil on my last visit. Not exactly relaxing, but definitely an alternative to "feeling the powder of the Andes".
- Helicopter sightseeing seeing the altimeter in 5 digits when you are still on the ground sets the tone nicely and Aconcagua close-up is quite something.
Cigarettes before you get here, if they close the road due to snow you may find smokes get rationed, having a supply of your own will (1) keep you sane if you are fond of the evil weed, and (2) make you extremely popular in the bar and club.
- Hotel Portillo is all-inclusive with food and non-alcoholic drinks. The meals are spectacular and the attention to detail reflect the amount you pay. They offer four meals a day and give you one free lunch at Tio Bobs where you can try their Parillada. Service is efficient to the point of comicality: they'll get you through 3 courses in 40 minutes.
- The closest supermarkets are in Los Andes. Stock up here if self-catering. The minimarkets and Copec service station halfway sell snacks for double the price in Los Andes.
Tio BobsMountain restaurant
Don't leave Portillo with out having quite a few Pisco Sours. It's a Chilean speciality and the mascot of the mountain. It's made from grapes along the lines of Brandy. There is a bar in the hotel.
The Posada is the spot where all the locals hang out. It's right outside the hotel and half the price. Gets busy after midnight when the workers get off for the night.
Hotel Portillois the only hotel in the resort. You can stay at the deluxe Hotel or the hostel.
There is no organized camping close to the slopes. When going backcountry you'll find most flat spaces along the noisy road. Toilets are available in the hotel for non-guests. Bring warm sleeping gear in winter.
If you've got the wonga and the weather's right for it, take the helicopter transfer. Just don't touch the quick release door lever.