“I knew your butt would look great in those pants! There’s a reason those are my Aspen pants,” Kim Reichhelm says in a voice for all to hear as we unload Portillo’s La Laguna chairlift. The pants she’s referring to are a pair of tight neon-orange ski pants that undoubtedly hug Reichhelm’s long legs in all the right ways, but truth be told do nothing to flatter my short lower half. And yet, I gratefully poured myself into these pants this morning so as not to miss out on my first day of skiing Portillo’s slopes. I’m also wearing Reichhelm’s gloves, hat, and ski socks because my checked bags—including a ski bag stuffed with not only skis but all of my outerwear—flew to Miami instead of Chile, leaving me to depend on the kindness of complete strangers for everything from toiletries to ski gear.
Thankfully, the strangers I’ve joined for a week of skiing in the Southern Hemisphere prove to be exceptionally kind—as well as an exceptionally mixed bunch. While our skiing backgrounds, tax brackets, and age groups are diverse to say the least, we’ve all assembled in late August at Ski Portillo, high up in the Chilean Andes, with a common purpose: to spend seven days skiing with professional skier and guide, Kim Reichhelm.
It’s my first time meeting Reichhelm in the flesh, but her reputation precedes her. The former U.S. Ski Team member and two-time World Extreme Skiing Champion is a trail blazer. She was one of the first women to dive head-first into extreme skiing when it was still being pioneered as a sport, and one of the first to pivot professional skiing into a successful life-long career by establishing Ski With Kim, a guiding business that hosts ski trips around the world. But beyond her prowess as a big mountain skier and coach, Reichhelm is known far and wide for her exuberant personality and no-holds-barred approach to life and skiing. This is why I find myself in Chile in August—to experience her signature Portillo camp. Portillo, Reichhelm promises, is an unforgettable experience, where skiing is the priority, sure, but not the only item on the agenda.
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“It’s going to be bulletproof out there,” Reichhelm announces to our group at breakfast. We’re seated at our designated table for the week in Ski Portillo’s dining room, which features big windows in the west wall that usher in a soft blue light from the snow-covered slopes and Portillo’s iconic Laguna del Inca, located just on the other side of the window panes. Looking out at the slopes, I can see they’re all still in the shade, and the steep, un- groomed terrain below Portillo’s main chair bears visible traces of the howling wind that shook the hotel’s windows through the night. But our crew, motivated by the cloudless sky and the fact that we’ve all flown more than 5,000 miles to ski for seven days, is still chomping at the bit to hit the slopes. “Alright, this is your trip. Meet you outside in 30 minutes,” Reichhelm says, dismissing us to our rooms to gear up.
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A half-hour later, our group of six plus Reichhelm and Ski Portillo instructor Andrew Rumpf, who Reichhelm hired as co-guide for the week, is clicking into skis outside the hotel’s ski check. “We’re going to follow the sun and see if we can’t find some soft stuff somewhere,” Reichhelm says. We briefly stop at the bottom of Roca Jack, Portillo’s infamous slingshot poma lift. Reichhelm considers the wide, steep mogul run. “No one’s on it right now, which is always a good indicator of what the conditions are like,” Reichhelm says. And with that, she’s off, linking graceful turns down the wide groomer ahead of us.
We all follow at our own pace, meeting at the bottom to re- group, then head right back up the lift. That’s one thing I really appreciate about this camp: we ski. There’s not a lot of standing around on the side of the hill while Reichhelm goes through lengthy instruction. But then again, this is not a clinic—Reichhelm is very clear about that. Portillo is “guided skiing,” and very different to the Women’s Ski Adventure clinics she also offers at various locations throughout the year. Those are true skills clinics during which Reichhelm breaks down her clients’ skiing.
“If you’re looking for a lesson, Portillo is not about that,” she explains. That’s not to say Reichhelm doesn’t provide instruction. If a client needs pointers to be able to negotiate certain terrain, she delivers those. But that’s why she hires people like Rumpf—the PSIA technicians, as Reichhelm calls them—whose role is to give clients more detailed instruction and technical feedback on their skiing. That leaves Reichhelm free to fulfill her main role as ski hostess with the mostest, a job with a clear mission statement:
When it comes to skiing, that means coaching us on how to get the most out of our day on the hill—how to scout lines, read terrain, judge conditions to locate the softest snow, and discover fresh tracks that may just be a short hike or traverse away. Outside of skiing, that means coaching us on how to enjoy a couple glasses of Chilean wine over lunch at Tio Bob’s; how to book ourselves into a regular massage slot with the hotel’s best masseuse; and how to not only make it to last call at the hotel bar after skiing all day, but then continue on to the in-house disco until the wee hours and still show up for breakfast ready to ski the next morning.
In that way, I agree that Reichhelm’s Portillo camp is unique. It’s not just about learning how to ski better; it’s about learning how to fully embrace the sport—and the culture and the camaraderie it fosters.
As Reichhelm puts it, “Portillo is just magical. There’s no other resort in the world that’s as intimate, socially. You’re constantly surrounded by people who are vibrating on the excitement and stimulation they get from skiing.”
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As hippie-dippie as that may sound, it’s true. At the end of each day, we find ourselves huddled in Ski Portillo’s cozy bar, going over photos Reichhelm took of each of us during the day’s adventures, complimenting each other on form, reliving the day, and talking excitedly about the next day’s plans. Because we know, no matter the conditions, any turns in August are good turns, and any day skiing with Kim Reichhelm is guaranteed to be a good time.
Ski With Kim at Ski Portillo, Chile
- Where: Ski Portillo, Chile
- When: Aug. 3-10 and Aug. 10-17, 2019
- Cost: $7,750. Includes seven nights of lodging, airport transfers, guided skiing, four meals/day, and private dinner parties.
- More info: skiwithkim.com
Originally published in the January/February 2019 Double Issue Print Edition of SKI Magazine. Don't miss an issue and SUBSCRIBE.