To Have an Early Look at Next Year’s Ski Gear, Head to Portillo, Chile

Beneath the bright skies of a cloudless winter day high in the Chilean Andes, photographer Liam Doran kneels in the snow. Two professional Trainers side-step about 40 yards up the slope, lining up for the shoot. Doran gives the sign. In the chairlift overhead, I see as the experts, one at a time, cut two or three high-speed endings, then stop and climb back up to repeat the sequence. With abundant sunshine and a background of serrated gray cliffs dusted with snow, the shot may be a winner.

Throughout the mid-to-late summertime in North America, the romantic ski region of Portillo, Chile transforms into an ephemeral, almost ethereal, epicenter of the ski world.

I make a mental note to ask Doran what lens he is using ( Sigma 24-70 f/2.8 A ), and the ski package he is on ( Faction Prime 3.0 skis and super-light Tour Classic Brake 105 bindings). I also really have to catch up with these two skiers. Amie Engerbretson is sporting a backpack I Need to learn about ( BCA Float 17 Speed Avalanche Airbag ), and Hadley Hammer has those skis that I’ve been coveting ( Line Soulmate ). Add this to my growing pile of assignments, including finding that man Sven Brunso to inquire about his Fischer boots , then speaking Kastle skis with rock star ski adventurer Chris Davenport . But scheduling all this study is not simple, what with the required apr├Ęs ski pisco sours, followed by a session at the outdoor spa overlooking Laguna del Inca, then supper, then, before long, the live ring.

Deep Tracks

I climbed up nerding out on ski equipment. But lately–as in, since the beginning of the twenty-first century–work and parenthood have sapped most of my energy for such extracurriculars. To undo that bummer fad, last month I met a childhood dream and flew into Portillo, Chile for a few preseason turns along with a sneak peek at the close horizon of ski gear.

The term portillo means “opening,” or “the street between two peaks,” that is apropos because one of the only streets between Chile and Argentina swings right by here, connecting much of the trade between the center section of both nations. Additionally, it is apropos since this place is large, sitting at almost 10,000 feet and surrounded by peaks climbing another 6,000 feet above sea level. Hike only a couple minutes to ski over the Roca Jack elevator and you may see the towering summit of Acongagua (22,838 ft), the highest summit in the world outside Asia.

Liam Doran

During the mid-to-late summertime in North America, this romantic ski area tucked into the Andes transforms into an ephemeral, almost ethereal, epicenter of the ski world. National race teams in the United States, Canada, and Austria will frequently spend a week or two here. And on the slopes and over steaks and bold red wines at the white-tablecothed dining area of the hotel’s beautifully yellow resort, business insiders are deciding what they enjoy, do not like, and would like to tweak around tomorrow’s snow sports equipment. GoPro, by way of instance, has gone to Portillo the past couple of summers to check its hottest cameras and also to take candy promo videos . Ski, boot, and clothes makers often show up too, together with winter sports tastemakers, all equipped with overflowing quivers of gear from their various sponsors.

This week, Engerbretson is test-driving a whole lot of Spyder-brand equipment from the Whyte Spyder line , engineered specifically for backcountry use. “There is a good deal of boot-packing in Portillo,” she tells me later, meaning that to get to a number of the most rewarding terrain, you need to hike. In winter, that means rapid body-temperature increase. She reports that the kit played beautifully, although she intends to recommend to Spyder’s designers that they include another zipper to each pant leg, for much greater ventilation. Hammer, meanwhile, tells me that the Line Soulmate may really be what I am searching for in a do-everything ski, given it is not too wide underfoot. “Unless you are skiing powder all the time, a bit thinner means you are better able to modify the turning radius{}” When I finally catch up with that man Brunso, he informs me Fischer’s recently released TransAlp boot will feature a simplified ski-walk mechanism. After a hike, skiers (myself included) sometimes forget to change boots back into ski mode. The new TransAlp joins that function together with the buckles, which means you can not tighten down without making the change.

Mogul Meeting

At the close of ski one day, I catch up with Doran at the resort living room. Although other guests are already into the pisco sours or playing backgammon, Doran has his notebook open and is clicking pictures. He show me a few shots shot that day beneath the elevator. The Sigma has delivered. “There is some type of happening online of people examining new lenses by taking photos of cats,” Doran says, laughing. “dogs and cats. I enjoy being out in the field.” The new lens had arrived in the Colorado-based photographer’s house the day before he left Chile and, to the best of his (and Sigma’s) understanding, these photos are the first-ever actions ski shots taken with the 24-70 f/2.8 A–a first that is as wonderful as it’s arcane.

In some ways, this location, Portillo, is an odd setting for testing equipment and new gadgets. There’s absolutely not any bustling village or big skier people to ogle the new products and post to their followers. Hotel Portillo itself, where nearly everyone stays, is the opposite of cutting edge: it’s throwback. There are no TVs in the rooms, the dining area has the exact same brass lighting fixtures and leather paneling it had over half a century ago, and a few of the team have been there almost as long.

Nevertheless that simplicity is also the point. Here, the focus is on what is outside, and what is outside is ski to die for. Visitors get to commune with the hills and then some, while equipment aficionados receive a summer fix and a glimpse of the forthcoming winter.

And did I mention that the pisco sours?

Follow David Wolman on Twitter @davidwolman .


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