Skiing the Super C Couloir in Portillo, Chile
Every time I go to Chile, I make an attempt to ski the world famous Super C Couloir. The Super C is a super easy access, massive couloir located near Portillo Ski Area in the Andes of Chile. It is visible from the International Highway. It’s an aesthetic line and a classic couloir. With lift access you only have to bootpack about 700 meters and you get to ski 1400 meters. What could be better than that?
Opie Jahn, Aaron Diamond, and I left Arpa in the early morning hours of July 25 to head to Portillo. We packed up our gear the night before, woke around 5am, loaded the Toyota Hilux, and headed down the rocky road. We ditched our unreliable vehicle and caught a ride from San Esteban to Portillo. After about 10 minutes in our new ride, Opie realized he forgot his boots. A real bummer, but we were forced to push on. We were down one for the Super C.
Due to some heart pumping driving, we were able to drive on the wrong side of the road passing countless 18-wheelers. Eventually we arrived at Portillo about 830am. In 2006, I worked in the Portillo Ski School and I was quickly surprised to recognize lots of friendly faces. Portillo is an incredible place with jaw dropping views. In my mind, it’s what the Andes should look like (although for this season, I wish they had more snow).
According to many Portillo legends, Super C was bit sketchy right now. Supposedly one eager skier went up, fell on the traverse, and took a 700 meter tumble a few days prior. Many “knowledgeable” guests recommended not going unless we had a rope. We didn’t have a rope and weren’t too worried. You can always turn around at the traverse.
We did our best to catch first chair. Riding your first chairlift of the season is always exciting. Aaron and I left Opie to enjoy the pleasures of Hotel Portillo. We hit the La Laguna chair that takes you to Roca Jack. Roca Jack is a five-man poma slingshot chair. It’s a thrilling ride up with plenty of rocks to jump over. I think Aaron even got a core shot on the ride. At the top of Roca Jack, we put our skis on our packs and started the boot pack.
The bootpack goes up a steep East Face. In warm conditions or sunny days, rocks consistently tumble down the face. July 25 was cloudy and kept the snow cold and made for a safer hike. The bootpack was sort of in, but there was plenty of breakable crust to negotiate. In the right conditions, it would be easiest to skin up this face. The boot pack is there because most people don’t carry skins to Chile. Strange.
From the top of Roca Jack to the Traverse, it’s approximately 480 meters. When you take a booter-break, you get stunning views looking down on Portillo.
After all the firm warnings, we finally got to the traverse. There is no doubt about it, the traverse is the crux of this line. Countless people have taken a tumble there (or in the actually couloir). I have seen the traverse in bad conditions, but today it was nothing to worry about. There was about 4 feet of downclimb to the snowpacked traverse. Then it was steady cruising.
After the traverse, there is approximately 220 meters more bootpack to the top of the Super C. This section is a bit steeper and more protected. Luckily the blue skies start to peek out a bit during this last section.
The last 20 meters we encountered a steep “jardin de facetas” below the breakable crust. We wallowed on and reached the col.
At the top, you receive jaw dropping views of Ojos de Agua – the next canyon over from Portillo. This is also the easiest approach to La Parva del Inca. Standing at the top, my Suunto Core watch read 3973 meters. Aaron and I soaked in the views, checked out the couloir, and got ready to ski. After 700 meters of uphill travel, I was excited to click in and go skiing.
I always find the first couple of turns at the top of Super C to be the most intimidating. Maybe it’s becauseyou can see the International Highway 1500+ meters below or maybe it’s because it’s steep or maybe it’s because there are rumors about a Ski With Superstar Camp member that made one turn and tumbled 1000+ meters to the bottom of the couloir. Either way, it’s not as bad as it looks.
Super C has steep walls and is a very committing line. That also means that it is very protected and holds good snow. I’d say it was the best snow I had skied in Chile in 2014. Soft surface with a nice edgeable surface below. No breakable crusts to negotiate today.
Every time I have skied Super C, it has skied cleanly through to the bottom. There may be a few rocks here or there, but it was clean. Not so today. Nearing the bottom of the couloir, we had to negotiate a 4 to 5 meter ice/rock band. As a wise man once told me, “Sometimes you have to walk on rocks.” So we did and were able to navigate through this unexpected hazard.
After 1400 meters of skiing we arrived at the Juncalillo chair – our ride back to the Portillo base area. In the photo below you can see that we literally ride over the International Highway. The exit of the Super C is visible to the right of Aaron’s pole.
Upon returning to the big Yellow Hotel, we checked in with the jefe de Portillo to let him know we had returned safely. Then we found out glum companion, Opie. We described our adventure. He described his – reading Lord of the Rings and letting Chilean children crawl on him at the hotel. We convinced him to rent some skis and boots and head to Tio Bob’s for lunch.
Tio Bob’s is a great way to finish off a day skiing Super C. The views of the lake, La Parva Del Inca, and our boot pack up the Roca Jack face are all nice additions to outdoor atmosphere of picnic tables and red Coca-Cola chairs. In the photo below you can see the Roca Jack face covered in snirt (snow+dirt). It tapers left in the photo into the traverse, which is hidden by a rock band. You can see the col at the top where the Super C begins. Then you can see the rocky ridge line cutting to the bottom left of the photo that hides the actual couloir.
Below you can see La Parva Del Inca. It looks a bit intimidating and very icy. Don’t think we’ll try to ski that until next time it snows in Chile!
To finish off the day, we caught a ride back down to San Esteban. On the way we ran into a bunch of asses. You never know what you’ll see on the Chilean roads!
When we finally returned to Arpa in the dark, Opie’s boots were sitting right where he left them. Unfortunately, forgetting boots has happened to all of us at some point.
Super C is serious terrain. Like any backcountry adventure, be sure you have the ability to safely hike up and ski this terrain before you attempt it. Always ask the Portillo Instructor crew for the latest beta as the conditions are constantly changing.
If you’d like to read another blog post about Super C check out Send Productions Blog. I was lucky enough to ski Super C with these guys in 2011 during the filming of Vaya A La Cumbre. They are way better photographers than I will ever be!
Add the Super C Couloir to your skiing bucket list. It’s an all time classic line.
The Super C Couloir was skied on July 25, 2014.