Summer vacation offers a welcome break from work just as weather dictates an entirely unwelcome break from powder. Thank goodness for axial tilt: Winter has come to the Andes. Already registering a banner year for snow, South America's vast mountain chain boasts the best southern snow in the world and enough terrain to keep even the most aggressive skiers and boarders entertained. The pinnacle of this off-season seasonality? Portillo, Chile.
Just a two-hour drive from the Santiago International Airport, Portillo has been quenching northerners' summer slope thirst for more than 60 years. With a vertical drop of 2,500 feet, an average snowfall of over 27 feet, and an 80 percent chance of sunshine all winter, the mountains offer skiers excellent odds for scoring an epic day. The best terrain at the 1,235-acre, 14-lift resort is found via Portillo's famous slingshot lifts (Roca Jack, Condor, Vizcachas, El Cara Cara), which drag skiers straight up steep avalanche chutes and grant access to some of the best on-piste terrain on Earth. Expert skiers can hire a guide and head out of bounds, testing their mettle on steep couloirs like Primavera or Kilometro Lanzado.
Unlike many mountains in Europe or North America, Chile's wildest peak has no resort town. Instead, there is the Hotel Portillo, an aggressively yellow 450-guest hotel serviced by exactly 450 employees. Guests eat together in the main dining room, drink together at the bar, and dance together in the basement discotheque. This unique setup means uncrowded slopes, no lift lines, and fresh tracks for days after each storm. It also means that, after a week of skiing at Portillo, guests have 449 new friends from all over the world.
With a one-to-one guest-to-staff ratio, no request is too big or too small for the hotel's cheery staff. A climbing wall, full-court gymnasium, yoga room, fitness center, heated pool, and two St. Bernards keep boredom at bay. When the notorious Andean whiteouts shut down the slopes, keeping guests confined to the premises, the atmosphere turns raucous and the party rages along with the wind.
More information: LAN regularly flies into Santiago from New York, Los Angeles, and Miami. Shuttles run between the airport and the mountain, but more adventurous drivers might enjoy wandering the remote mountain roads between runs.
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