A Good Run – Portillo, Chile

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The unruly Las Caracoles passage in the Andes

But as we all somewhat reluctantly clicked out of our bindings, threw our skis onto our shoulders, and practically tiptoed across the loose, rus­set-colored rocks to the part of the run still covered in hard-packed snow, I felt simultaneously enlivened and humbled – grateful that I hadn’t put off this trip, which my editor perhaps rightly described as “esoteric.” “Try to lodge the tip of your ski into the snow and then step into your binding,” said Rogan as we all struggled to keep our equipment – or worse, ourselves – from meeting the same fate as the vicuñas. Miraculously, we all managed to get our stuff back on with­out anything or anyone skating away, and one by one we all shot off separately: the astrophysicist, the engineer, and then my husband and me, gripping our edges with each tight little turn, a narrow trail of white dust floating behind us.

When we finally made it back to the hotel, we thanked Rogan, who congratulated us for, I guess, not tumbling to our premature deaths, as our descent was not exactly a case study in technical fluency. “I told you it would be scary fun,” he said, dropping us off at the ski valet. My husband and I were grin­ning like two idiots. When you’re a parent with a kid and a demanding job, routines are necessary to survival. They mean the difference between your kid eating whole wheat couscous and salmon or Chinese takeout. But hurling ourselves down an icy mountain, not knowing which turn would lead us back safely, staring at that blue chasm right in front of us the entire time, reminded us we are not solely the makers of Trader Joe’s lists and tacklers of hampers.

Here’s what I got totally wrong about Portillo: It isn’t the expert-only pil­grimage I had made it out to be in my head. The truth is, the resort, and more accurately the blazing-yellow hotel built in 1949 by the Chilean government, is more like a sleepaway camp for adults and adults with families who want to ski but also drink a great carmenère. Unlike in Jackson Hole or Aspen, there is no cowboy-inflected town or boutique-lined main street to cruise. Portillo deals in the old-school all-inclusive ski week That means when you check in on Saturday with the 449 other guests – mainly Americans, Argentines, Brazilians, Chileans, and Uruguayans – you’re eating, hot-tub­bing, and rehashing the day’s runs together in and around the mother ship. This is the land of Dirty Dancing by way of Italian ski lodge that has its very own social director, an affable, grinning Chilean who’ll toss a few bottles of wine in his backpack on a snowshoe excursion. The guy who takes your boots and stores them for you doesn’t need a claim check; he remembers almost every face and knows where your boots are when you come back

for them. It even has a Swiss yoga teacher, Heidi {she’s also a ski instructor), who will sit down with you in the bar to tell you how she first came to Argentina by boat and rode the six-hour train to get here back in the sixties. (Exactly how old she is nobody seems to know.)

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Teatime in the formal dining room

While there are certainly those more ambitious types wanting to be tested by Portillo’s couloirs, chutes, and untamed backcountry, the majority of skiers I saw here seemed more Euro in their approach, preferring to leisurely hit the soft, dry groomers, revel in the warm afternoons, and drink pisco sours in a heated outdoor pool after teatime. And because breakfast, lunch, and din­ner are included, all served by jacketed waiters in a formal dining room with leather-paneled walls and tables dressed in white linens, there’s no agonizing over where to eat or time spent trying to nab a reservation for five at some cut- rate Nobu. You show up with your family, or by yourself, or with someone you met that day, drink stand-out Chilean sauvignon blanc, order off the menu (always add a sliced avocado, and opt for peeled oranges for dessert), and walk 50 steps to the bar, where Jaime Cantellano, who’s worked here for 48 years, will be mixing your pisco sour before the Chilean cover band (three words I never thought I’d type) gets the party going.


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