Article Co-Authored by Michael Mulcahy
The 15/16 northern hemisphere ski season provided some decent snow and new adventures. I was very fortunate and lucky to ski the terrain and snow that I did, and have the ability to travel to many awesome places. I give thanks daily for my blessings.
After closing out my North American season where I grew up on Kachina peak New Mexico in June of 2016 I was forced to be a responsible adult and focus on my career. Thus working 60hr plus weeks from early June all the way up until September. Appling the ski bum mentality working hard all summer in order to pursue skiing all winter.
Skiing pow in the middle of North American summer is something special and you know it thus, you are extra grateful for the experience and fortune you have.
Once in Santiago you have the option to use a local company Ski Total if traveling on Sat or Wed or a taxi set up through Portillo any day of the week in order to go about 100 miles up to Portillo. We stayed in the Inca Lodge which is a dorm style housing and includes 4 meals a day, 3 and tea actually.
My brother expressed that his second thought as we arrived to Portillo was “pure desolation.” Aside from the luxurious and elegant Portillo Hotel, there is nothing but the imposing Andes surrounding you on all sides, bearing down and whispering your name. “Dude, come hike right now. Throw your shred sticks on your back and get up here.” At least that’s what they were saying to me. Portillo is 147 kilometers from Santiago, but I felt like I was 147 light years away in another universe.
It was spring like conditions at Portillo but still lots of great snow and access to terrain. The snow was hard in the morning and soft in the afternoon after warming up, making it ideal for hiking and boot packing. The resort itself had lots of fun long groomers and access to off piste terrain off Roca Jack rope tow that provided steep, sustained, and committing lines, once it softened up in the afternoon.
With the mid afternoon sun baking the Andean purse of snow, we had wet buttery turns all the way down. Each time, my tips pointed straight, it felt like I was jetting right into the lake below. If there is any complaint about shredding massive vert right into a lake, its the climb out. Because the lake does not freeze over, once you’re gleefully at the bottom you realize you still have to hike out on a treacherous ski length wide path and then literally climb over rocks at the beach of the lake. This would not fly in the States but it only added to the adventure and the sense of being in another world (or country).
They have an open boundary policy much like North America, in which you can use the lifts to access terrain and then leave out of a gate at your own risk and then enter back into the resort through a gate only. The patrol staff is helpful and likes to know if you are stepping outside the gate.
With hiking out of the top of the lift access terrain, and being in good shape, and motivated you can ski 4000-5000k vertical lines back to the resort. Most of these lines are steep and sustained for the entire pitch. This is the best aspect of spring like skiing in South America. With safer and more stable snowpack in a spring conditions charging these lines is less complex and potentially safer.
On the final day we felt that a hike to the legendary Super C Couloir would be the best way to close out a great trip. It was a fair amount colder the night before and intense cloud cover in the morning as we started. Weather reports said it would clear and sun would be out in the afternoon. As we boot packed up from the top of Roca Jack rope tow the snow was quite hard which made for easy climbing. It took about two hours to reach the flank.
After we got confused at the entrance point of the boot pack we found the entrance to the final 1000k foot narrow climb. With no sun and a deep freeze overnight the boot pack was solid ice, with only whippets and Ice axes and other people in our group with no ice gear at all it was decided that last 1000k feet might be more than would be safe for our group, thus we decided to ski back down the entrance couloir, which provided nearly 4000k continuous vertical in some pretty great chalk snow and wind blown powder. Furthermore this gave us an excuse to come back.
Michael expressed that “I had four or five fluffy and steep turns before the snow transitioned to corn. I can only dream how marvelous the 5,000 vertical trip down would have been with the right conditions, however, I had no room to complain about shredding a 5,000 vertical feet run in the Andes in September”
What Michael found to be the most enchanting and unique thing about Portillo was not the sheer ruggedness of the mountain or the vast desolation. What he found to be most exceptional and rare was that for the five days we were there, it felt like we were part of one great big family. Everyone eats together in same lodge Everyone drinks together at the same bar and everyone soaks together in the same hot tubs sharing stories and tribulations of the day. This feeling is also exemplified by the hospitable hotel staff and the awesome patrol crew.