Written by Vapur Pro Team member, Chris Davenport.
I just finished my fourteenth year in a row visiting Portillo, Chile during the month of August. The last ten of those years have been spent running my successful Portillo Superstars ski camp, a week of good, hard-skiing, geared-toward experts looking to up their game. My history with Portillo goes much further back however.
My Dad came here for a few years in the ‘60’s as a ski racer, so I grew up hearing all sorts of tales about this amazing ski resort hidden high in the Andes Mountains. My Dad and his teammates would stop a few times on the flight down to refuel in places like Panama City or Lima or Quito, since the planes couldn’t make it all the way on one tank. These were the days before the international highway that links Chile and Argentina through the high pass at Portillo, so after arriving in Santiago, they hopped on an overnight train, inevitably with several bottles of Pisco, and settled in for the long grind up the mountain. Hearing these tales as a kid made Portillo sound larger than life – a place where ski dreams came true.
I first came to Portillo back in 2000 to run a ski photography competition called the Andes Photo Challenge. Partnering with Skiing Magazine, I brought six of the world’s top ski photographers and their athlete of choice to Portillo for a week of shooting a variety of subjects, including air, powder, and lifestyle. After the photo challenge concept was played out, I needed to find another way to come to Portillo, make some money, and ski every day with my friends. Portillo, with its incredible snow, terrain, and hotel/party life, has a way of getting under your skin and becoming a bit of an addiction. The camp concept was born and that first year I invited Shane McConkey, Wendy Fisher, and Chris Anthony to coach along side me. Somehow I convinced twelve bold souls to sign up and we were off. Shane was with us for the first six years of the camp, and early on I added Mike Douglas and Ingrid Backstrom as well. Now it’s grown so much that I’ve added a sixth coach, Daron Rahlves, to the roster. We also have a videographer, Jesse Hoffman, who started as a camper ten years ago and has been with me ever since. My twelve-year-old son, Stian, is on his seventh visit to Portillo this season and has been my assistant coach for a couple years.
We’ve been so lucky to get to ski with so many amazing clients over the years. Our campers range in age from 14 to 69, both men and women, with the common theme being that everyone is pretty much an expert. These folks trust us to show them the best snow and terrain Portillo has to offer, and we spend quite a bit of time working on skill development. Our campers ski in small groups and with a different coach each day, so they really get to pick up lots of individual tips from some of the best skiers in the world. Imagine ripping steep powder lines with Ingrid Backstrom one day and then Daron Rahlves the next. Or, allowing me to guide you on a hike up a steep and deep couloir. You could be learning to do your first 360 with Mike Douglas, the “Godfather of the New School,” or even dancing on tables in the bar with Wendy Fisher as the band rocks the stage. Regardless, Portillo is always a good time and my camp turns it up a notch for our guests with the guiding and teaching program.
Another element of the camp that make sit special for our campers is all of the coaches are on new gear – meaning next year’s gear, so our guests get to check out new skis, boots, clothing, and accessories before much of the industry has even seen it. For many years Mike Douglas and Shane, and me for that matter, would show up with white, graphic-less skis to test and evaluate. We’ve got a pretty authentic and inspired consumer group with us so they enjoy getting first looks, and in some cases, first tests of lots of new gear. One example is this year everyone was rocking their new Vapur Anti-Bottle on the hill, as they are so easy to roll up in your ski jackets or cargo pants. Another aspect of the camp that everyone really appreciates is the media side. Every day our resident media expert, Jesse, films and shoots images of the guests as they coach and ski with the pros. They take home plenty of epic shots and we edit up a nice highlight real for everyone. And in the evenings each coach gives a presentation, a slideshow of a recent trip, expedition or perhaps even a ski film segment in the works to be released in the Fall. These little details go a long way with our guests and are really fun for the coaches.
Fourteen years into my relationship with Portillo, I feel like we have gotten to know each other pretty well. It’s truly a home away from home for me during the dog days of summer here in Colorado. I know the other coaches of the Superstars Camp agree with me when I say it’s one of the trips I look forward to most every year.
A month in the Andes allows me to ski with all sorts of amazing people, both in the camp and private clients as well. My family comes down now every year and my boys have been lucky enough to experience some incredible skiing and deep storms over the years. I really enjoy the opportunity to work on my own skiing while I’m down there, figuring out new ways of doing things with my body position and balance, and developing skills that really take a lifetime to even get close to figuring out. But more than anything Portillo gives all of us a chance to share our passion for skiing with each other. My goal at the end of our camp, and at the end of every season in Portillo, is to send people home with the best ski vacation they have ever had. I’m proud to say that our record in that department is pretty darn strong. So thanks to Ingrid, Wendy, Chris, Daron, Mike, Jesse, Stian, Maureen, my Dad, and most of all the Purcell Family, the owners and gatekeepers of one of the world’s greatest ski destinations.
See you next season,