’14/’15 Ski Gear Testing in Portillo, Chile
Since summer heat and I are not on good terms and skiing is my biggest passion, skiing pow in the summer has always been a dream of mine. This August, I was able to tolerate all the sweltering because I was finally going to get to fulfill it. I would be traveling down to Chile to ski for a week at one of the country’s oldest and most traditional ski resorts – Ski Portillo. Pictures of the bright yellow hotel juxtaposed against the stark snow-covered peaks (everything is above tree line) and the shining Laguna del Inca mountain lake at the base convinced me that this was THE place to cross off my bucket list.
Image via Ski Portillo
On our way up to Portillo from the Santiago airport one of the biggest snowstorms of the year was rolling in. The forecast was saying 11 inches, and the sky looked like it was about to dump that plus some. Our small bus chugged up an impossibly winding road and when we arrived at the top, the first flakes started to fall. Portillo was just as stunning as the pictures, and the novelty of winter in the middle of the summer was incredible – it felt like a sigh of relief. I instantly felt calm.
We suited up and did a few runs while our room was being readied. The resort was having a hard snow year (they usually get about 6 feet more than they got this season) and only a few groomed runs were open. However, just being on skis again in the chilled winter air stirred something inside me. With the storm about to unleash, I felt like I was awake after a long sleep. The peaks surrounding the resort are incredibly stark and jagged remnants of a volatile volcanic era. With no trees to soften the landscape everything felt extreme and energetic. Exhausted after 30 hours of travel, we headed inside after a couple of hours and the sky finally ripped open and started pouring large flakes.
We watched the snow fall and fall through dinner in the hotel’s quaint cafeteria. We ate tasty slow-cooked pot roast and mashed potatoes that were really soothing after a few meals of less-than-amazing airplane food. The night we slept deeply in the Inka Lodge (the hotel’s budget digs full of other ski-obsessed dirtbags like us), and when we awoke, the ground was coated in rich, fluffy powder.
It was a race to get all our gear on and when we got to the top of the mountain, the pow was already a half-foot deep with more coming. However, something felt strange. Then I realized what it was – the mountain was almost empty. Except for another couple and a lone tele skier, we had the mountain to ourselves. We looked at each other and ginned, and then let ‘er rip. Our faces had a perma-smiles for the next 6 hours.
Although the resort is small, the off-piste skiing is steep and incredible since it is usually virtually untouched. There are only 450 people max in the resort at all times, and the number of people skiing off-piste is usually small.
The little yellow hotel looked like a spec from the top of Roca Jack – the 5 person Poma lift that propels you up the mountain via rope tow – the effect is a like a set of water-skiing quintuplets (see video below).
The storm from the first and second days accumulated nearly 15 inches of fresh snow on the ground, which made the next few bluebird days completely welcome. We stripped to our baselayers, and even with multiple sunscreen applications, our faces still bore a severe red-brown goggle tan. A slope that would normally get ripped up in 45 minutes in Colorado, still had fresh, delicious powder three days after the storm since there were so few people on the slopes.
Needless to say, the skiing was incredible. It was the perfect environment to test some winter gear:
The Ortovox Haute Route 32
The first thing I noticed up front about the Haute Route 32 was the wide but thin hip belt and arm straps. The hip belt was integrated into the pack in a way that I didn’t feel any uncomfortable seams, lumps, or bulges, and the belt fit comfortably over my body. The weight felt very even across my back and hips. The other thing I noticed was the ultra burly material and the rubber pad at the bottom part of the pack to protect it from ski edges. I had zero worries about my pack getting damaged by the skis, and I did not feel the need to tip toe around the material at all. I also like that the ski fastener is a little wider to accommodate fat skis.
I really appreciated the back access to the main compartment. Although we didn’t need it in an emergency situation, the the easy-to-grab red pull tab makes grabbing gear from the main compartment very quick – extremely important when seconds count. The avy gear that we brought down fit naturally with zero struggle. The handle on the pack is also big which made grabbing the pack really easy – great for both traveling to and on the mountain. The padding on the pack was dense and comfortable without making the pack too heavy, something I really appreciated in the late afternoon after a full day of skiing. I get tight shoulders, especially when carrying a pack all day, so maybe it was a combo of the construction and the carefree, stress-free environment at Portillo, but I had zero shoulder problems wearing the Haute Route 32. I also loved the bright colors. They were fun and pretty without being too girly, and are easy to spot on the mountain. The purple is a color is great, but I am also a big fan of the green:
Optic Nerve – Boreas Inversion Goggles
The Boreas Inversion goggles from Optic Nerve are really unique. The large mirrored lens makes for a wide field of vision and a crisp, clear view. The curvature of the lens is supposed to replicate the curvature of the eye, so I was able to enjoy the incredible scenery, but also take in key obstacles like rocks and out-of-control skiers. A major pitfall of mirrored lenses is that they get scratched up easily because the mirror coating is on the outside. The mirrored coating on the Inversion is sealed into the lens, which kept it from getting damaged. The lenses are pretty bullet proof – between dropping them on the cement (whoops!) and a ton of traveling and bustling gear around, the lenses still looked brand new after the trip. They are also hydrophobic (with a vacuum seal) and easy to wipe clean. Even in a fierce, wet blizzard I did not get any fogging. The yellow lenses are supposed to be for low light and the purple for bright. However, I found that both lenses protected my eyes pretty well from the bright South American winter sunlight, without blocking too much light and brightness. The yellow lens enhances flat light so you can ski with more confidence, but it also did okay in the sun too – important when you get stuck without an opportunity to switch out the lenses quickly.
The coloring on the purple lenses really stands out which is great for photos and finding the wearer in the midst of an epic face shot. I could definitely see more definition with the purple lenses in bright light than I could with other goggles I have worn, especially those with photo-chromatic lenses. The lenses on the Boreas Inversion are pretty easy to change out. It took a little practice, but I had it down to about 30 seconds, which was important as the sky was always changing. My goggle tan was really something else due to the wide lenses (5 o’clock shadow-esque) but my eyes were completely protected and a got some compliments on the 70’s reference styling of the yellow lenses.
By guest writer Reilly O’Brien
At first glance I was really drawn to the styling of this pack because I love flashy stuff – the bright colors are really fun. I usually like skiing with a smaller pack, but the first day I tested the 32 liter PowderKeg, I felt little weight on my back even though it was stuffed with gear. The pivoting hip belt is the shining feature. It rotates with you when you move which is awesome when you are skiing. The hip belt keeps the weight on the hips instead of the shoulders and kept me balanced. It’s tough to ski when you have weight on your shoulders throwing off your center of balance, so the idea of putting a pivoting hip belt on this pack is genius.
The cinches on the sides of the pack allow you to lock the gear in place, and the belt kept the pack from bouncing around. The material is fully waterproof and durable in the right places, especially in the front and side panels that are reinforced with rubbery EPO fabric. I also really liked the orange zippers with the grippy pull tabs that made it easy to grab stuff quickly. The pack is divided up into little pockets for holding odds and ends, an avy gear pocket and has a big pocket in the middle for water, extra layers & lunch (beer…) I really liked the fleece lined goggle pocket as well – key when you want to ditch the goggles hiking on a sunny day. The avy pocket is well-organized and had a place for everything you might need. The versatility of the ski carry is huge as well – you can carry your skis pretty much any way you want and it’s easy to manipulate the pack to do so. On the inside there is no elasticized compartment to hold a Camelbak (but luckily the Camelbak didn’t bounce around with the cinching). The pack does have an opening to feed the tube through and tube holders on arm strap. Overall this is a well-thought-out pack designed by someone who skis a lot and thought hard about what features would really make this pack stand out.
Shop on Outdoor Prolink. Not a member? Apply today!