Catching up with Portillo

Portillo Ski Resort
Portillo Ski Resort

I spend a lot of my time chasing snow. Not in the sense that it’s running away from me, but more like I’m always trying to find it to ski on.

In Canada, we have the opportunity to ski pretty easily seven months of the year on winter snow with Sunshine and Blackcomb running ‘til late May. But that leaves five long months with no schussing.

In my world of athletics and ski race coaching, five months off snow is far too long at an elite level. Oh sure, we spend tons of time in the gym and getting fit for the upcoming season, but pretty much as soon as there’s enough snow to get a gate in the ground in North America, we start racing.

That leaves very little time from once the snow starts to fly in early November to when we race later in the month to really prepare. At my team’s level we need at least 40 days of skiing in the summer to get the work done. This year we got 44 in before landing in Sun Peaks for fall training.

I always say, “It’s hard to get better at skiing by not skiing” so I hunt snow. I hunt snow in June, July, August and September (this year I gave my athletes October off to stay home with their families and rest up for the long race season ahead of us).

This summer we skied glaciers in Whistler through June, we hit Mt. Hood, Oregon in July and August, and we just came back from training in the unbelievable Portillo, Chile.
All you diehards out there, this place should be on your bucket list. Portillo is the oldest ski area in South America and has a rich history of skiing and racing.

While I was warming up on a spin bike at the gym one morning I slipped a DVD called The Secret Race into the player. I was amazed. The first thing I saw was a young Nancy Greene standing outside of the very hotel I was in.

It was the 1966 World Ski Championships and it was an incredible race. The downhill was on the same track we were training on. The speeds were super high with some really big jumps (especially for leather boots). At one point there was a massive crash at the bottom of the downhill during the men’s race and they landed a helicopter on the track to evacuate the injured racer. Not a big deal, except the organizers didn’t stop the race! The rotors were still turning and they had two guys run out and basically act as goalies in front of the chopper as the next racer came speeding towards them. He just ducked lower in his tuck and went right underneath the blades into the finish, no big deal!

Nancy was lighting up the slalom but she crashed in the second run and ended up just off the podium. You have to ask her about it next time you run into her.

Portillo also has a long history in speed skiing. Speed trials were held on three occasions — first in 1963, when Dick Dorworth and C.B. Vaughn skied 171.428 km/h; again in 1978, when Steve McKinney broke the barrier of 200 km/h; and most recently in 1987, when Michael Prufer ran 217.68 km/h.

I was taking pictures of some of the paraphernalia on the walls and texting SPIN publisher and speed freak Adam Earle while looking at the wall of fame. He was also supposed to race here way back when.

It’s an incredible place with incredible skiing. If you like to mix your skiing with great food and delicious red wine, have a look at Portillo for your next ski vacation.

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