Dispatches from Chile
by Travelocity.com Employees

Gourmet meals. Massage and sauna. Four feet of fresh powder. And the roads are closed.

Seeking refuge from the Dallas summer heat, six Travelocity employees boarded an American Airlines flight bound for Santiago, Chile late on a Friday night. Our final destination . . . Portillo. The famous South American ski resort high in the Andes Mountains that has played home to the U.S. ski team, the Chilean military’s mountain survival school and even model/former-rockstar-wife Jerry Hall.

"Travelocity employees...
seeking refuge from the Dallas summer heat"


Our nine hour flight ended early Saturday morning as the Boeing 767 touched down thirty minutes early at Santiago’s Arturo Benitez International Airport. After the requisite coffee, we were met by our drivers, Guillermo and his assistant Connie, both monolingual experts in all things Chilean. Faced with a four hour journey into the mountains, the group called upon the modest linguistic talents of two of its members for key bits of translation.

Following twenty minutes of exhausting travel, our private minibus arrived at our first rest stop – the am/pm Petrol Station/Minimart. From there, we continued for another hour before reaching Los Andes, the last signs of civilization on our arduous ascent into the mountains. Following a hearty breakfast of empanadas, café con leche and cheese puffs at the quaint Christ the Redeemer roadstop luncheonette, we were on our way.


"Exhausting travel in our private minibus"


Now, the only thing keeping us from our winter paradise was the obligatory snowchain checkpoint and the 30 switch-backs that left several members of our party wishing that they had packed Dramamine.


"Picturesque Lake of the Incas"

Upon arrival at the snowbound Hotel Portillo, we were greeted in the warm lobby by the hotel staff and Osa, a giant St. Bernard. The Hotel, celebrating its 50th anniversary and situated just above the picturesque Lake of the Incas, is a mountain oasis offering superb skiing for the expert and non-expert alike. In addition, the hotel is a self-contained village with hundreds of additional activities for those who may not be alpinistically-inclined.

Installed in our comfortable accommodations, we moved quickly to the large dining room, where we would enjoy the first of our four-daily gourmet meals (including ‘once,’ the Chilean version of high tea). Well-nourished and with no thought of sleep, it was time to hit the slopes.

As a first stop, several members of the Travelocity group headed for the renowned ski school, which counts Olympic Gold Medalists Stein Ericksen and Othmar Schneider among its past Ski School Directors. The current Director, Mike Rogan, is a U.S. Demonstration Team member and a contributor to Ski Magazine and other ski titles. We found the teachers to be extraordinarily professional, and each tailored the lessons to meet our individual needs.

Once the lessons were completed, there was still time to take some of the individual runs. As frequent visitors to North American ski resorts, we were immediately struck by the low-pressure atmosphere on the slopes. With a maximum of 500 guests, you will never encounter lift lines, nor will you feel as if you must constantly dodge fellow skiers. Skiing is at your own pace, allowing for a relaxing and enjoyable experience.

"Skiing is at your own pace..a relaxing
and enjoyable experience."

None of the hotel’s 125 rooms has a television or radio. This is to encourage all of the guests – who usually stay for at least seven days -- to take advantage of the apres-ski activities or, at the very least, relax together in the giant living room. While the majority of Portillo’s visitors hail from Argentina and Brazil, we ran into many North American guests as well. The atmosphere is inviting, and it is all-but-impossible to avoid meeting your fellow travelers.


"Common area for a game of cards."

As the snow began to fall heavily, we found ourselves quickly changing out of our ski togs and making our way to the common area for a game of cards, a quick read and a pre-dinner Pisco Sour. Entering the dining room for the second time, we learned that the guests are assigned to the

same tables for all meals. By the end of our dinner, we knew our waiters and the restaurant’s maitre d’ (a 30-year veteran) by name.

The group split up after dinner. Some went to bed (remember that we had just arrived in Chile that morning!), some went to the hotel’s pub to listen to the live band, a few watched a movie in the cinema, and still others headed outdoors to the hotel’s heated swimming pool. The very late-goers danced until 3 a.m. in the hotel disco.


The following morning, we reassembled for breakfast at 9 a.m. Shortly thereafter, the skiers collected their equipment from the convenient ski and boot check stations located in the hotel’s basement. Little did we know that this would be our last skiing opportunity for some time.

As the noon hour approached, so did "La Nina," the largest winter

"the largest winter storm to hit
the Andes since 1987"

storm to hit the Andes since 1987. With swirling winds, zero visibility and enough snow to keep Santa in business for many years to come, this storm was destined to keep us off the slopes for at least a few days.


Weather alone could not keep the Travelocity team at bay. That afternoon, we fanned out to the far corners of the resort to take advantage of the countless amenities including the fully-equipped gymnasium (with aerobics room), volleyball court, gameroom, massage room, cinema, cybercafe/business center and sauna. An evening snowball fight and return to the pub rounded out the day.

The morning of day five in Portillo, we awoke to clearing skies and the welcome sounds of dynamite. Portillo has an expert avalanche control team, and we knew that the early morning blasts meant only one thing – we had a big day of skiing ahead of us! After a hearty breakfast, we hit the slopes, and by midmorning, the skies were clear and we were floating through the knee deep powder off the Plateau chair lift.

"..didn't keep the Travelocity
team at bay."


The lift rides up were as exciting as the skiing, as we got to observe members of the staff enjoy the winter wonderland conditions. Their jumps and flips (and landings!) were great to watch.

By 1 p.m., our legs were growing tired and our stomachs were reminding us it was lunchtime. So, we checked our skis and boots with the slopeside valet and headed to the dining room.

The crews had been hard at work clearing the roads since first light, so we knew this would be our last day in Portillo. We spent the afternoon checking out the runs off the Las Lomas lift before heading to our rooms to pack.


"checking out the runs"


Our journey down the mountain was an adventure in itself. Met late in the evening by Guillermo, our original driver, we quickly found that the 30 switchbacks on the international highway had been transformed into a single lane path cut in the snow. In one area, an avalanche had buried the road, and crews had worked all day to cut a lane for passage. It was over 20 feet deep, and from the road the snow rose like cliffs on either side of our bus.

"a full
day in Santiago"

With only one flight a day back to Dallas, our late departure from Portillo meant we would have an opportunity to spend a full day in Santiago before heading to the airport. We hired a wonderful English-speaking driver to take us on a tour of the city, and we all piled into his van for a day of sightseeing and history lessons.

After a full week in Chile, we departed on American Airlines’ overnight flight back to Dallas. Just before nodding off, we gathered to plan our next adventure. Stay tuned…we guarantee you’ll wish you’d been there.


On the Web:

American Airlines, United Airlines, Lan Chile, British Airways, Continental Airlines, Iberia, and Lufthansa offer daily, non-stop service from principal North American and European gateways to Santiago. Consult Travelocity for schedule and fare information.

Hotel Portillo offers a wide variety of accommodations to meet the needs of singles, couples, group and family travelers. The Andean ski season runs from June to early October.


Contributing writers:
Elizabeth C. - Manager, Product Marketing
Ned. B - Director, Global Market Development

Contributing photographers:
Margie A. - Product Manager
Paul B. - Manager, Customer Relationships

 
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