Skiing the Southern ’Sphere
A skier’s summer daydream realized.by Christian Gennerman
You think a winter of constantly skiing deep, light, dry Utah powder would be enough to tide me over from season to season. Alas, I can’t remember how many times I’ve pined for powder in summer. To have it engulf my face in mid-August has been a dream of mine for many years, and each summer, I’ve found myself eyeing the southern half of a globe, wondering what Andean delights were waiting patiently for me and my skis. Friends have gone there, tasted the frozen nectar, and reported back to me with tales that could imbue the most level-headed skier with jealous rage. Finally, this summer my daydream became a reality.
I have been to the southern hemisphere and had face shots in August. Yes, face shots in August. I became acquainted with Chilean powder at Portillo, a famous ski resort northeast of Santiago where winter Olympic skiers often train during the off-season. I took a plane from Salt Lake City to Atlanta and then on to Santiago, Chile. I arrived at 9am in Santiago, and by noon I was skiing. Since Chile and Atlanta are in the same time zone, jet lag wasn’t an issue and I had plenty of energy to get on the slopes.
The first day was a rough one with hard, icy conditions making my summer legs scream for mercy. Powder skiing eluded me still, but the winter had been going off in Chile, so I told myself to be patient and the snow would come. On September 17th total snowfall was an impressive 464 inches. The next morning a storm moved in that would last through the night and bring anywhere from 1-2ft of perfect powder.
Portillo is like nothing you have skied in the States. The runs sit below massive rock walls that top out around 17,000’. Wind helps cake these rock faces with snow which then becomes the enemy as it could release and take an unassuming powder farmer for a ride. Subsequently, it takes a day or two to open the best runs at Portillo. But when those gates drop, you’ll find huge open bowls and 1500’ chutes waiting to be harvested.
Portillo has the only high speed surface lifts in the world. There are two of them appropriately named slingshot lifts. Four to five people line up, straddle the poma style plate, and then the lift starts up. If there is a jump in the track you can catch some good air because you’re screaming up the mountain. I experienced a bit of ski culture shock, if you will, riding these crazy lifts, but they take you to the goods so I wasn’t about to complain. The Roca Jack in particular takes you to incredible terrain like tight chutes that are only a traverse away and naked bowls of untouched powder. This is where I found the 2 feet of powder I had dreamed about many a summer. I brandished the Salomon Pocket Rockets and wrote my story in the snow, arcing huge radius turns that made my soul sing. I flew down the powder without a care in the world. There was no need to savor it, for I was but a slingshot away from doing it again and again and again. For each line I skied, I didn’t cross a single track. This was better than my fantasy.
The other service lift takes you to the Lake Chutes. Once you get off the lift head left and uphill. This is where chutes and bowls mix beautifully with each other. There was only about 12 inches of snow on this area but it was perfectly smooth underneath. So I threw down the gauntlet and let ’em fly. 1500 vertical feet of untouched, perfectly smooth snow. I can remember yelping like a kid on Christmas as I skied the Lake Chutes. I finally made it, I skied powder in August. Goal accomplished, dream realized. And I was thanking eons of cosmic chance and geological events that allowed me to be there.