Chasing Winter: Skiing the Southern Hemisphere with Michael Rogan

Ski Portillo, the legendary Chilean ski resort sitting high in the Andes above Laguna del Inca, or Lake of the Inca, will celebrate its 75th season when it officially opens to the public on June 20.

More than 30 years of that Southern Hemisphere history includes PSIA Alpine Team Technical Coach Michael Rogan, who flew into Arturo Merino Benítez International Airport, near Santiago, in 1989 to complete his first full term as a year-round ski instructor.

Michael, who is now Portillo’s director of operations, said, “From 1985 to 1989, I really developed and found a love for ski teaching and wanted to make it a career. I didn’t want a summer job. I didn’t want another thing. So I had to travel.”

Pre-Internet days, Michael found what information he could about Australia, New Zealand, and Argentina, before a fellow ski instructor at Pico, in Vermont, told him about Portillo, and introduced him to Jimmy Ackerson, ski school director at nearby Bromley, who spent his summers skiing in Chile.

“I came down here and fell in love with the place,” Michael said. “Unless Canada counts, I had never really been out of the country. I didn’t know Spanish. And I didn’t know who I was going to work with. We all met for the first time at the airport and drove up to the ski area together.”


Portillo Instructors Come From Far and Wide

Michael remembers instructors from as many as 14 other countries teaching at the ski school that season and has worked with teachers from pretty much every country that has snow since then, including Austria, England, Czechoslovakia, France, Germany, Russia, Sweden, and Switzerland. “We even had someone from Scotland teaching here one year,” he added

“It’s fun when you have so many people with interesting backgrounds from different countries,” Michael expressed. “I’ve had really good debates with Slovenian and Austrian instructors about teaching skiing, and you get to see all these different approaches to something like beginner lessons.”

“We look for people who are curious about learning and teaching,” he noted. “We want to find people who like to teach skiing, and if they are not teaching, then they’re outside skiing. You just like to be active and be active with people.”

After all, there’s not much to do outside Portillo. “Everyone who works here, lives here,” Michael said. “The Chilean coast is a couple hours away, but Saturday, which is our changeover day, is usually for going to the gym, or the basketball court, or doing a little laundry, then going for a ski.”

Instructors work six days a week – and can work seven – with three hours of group lessons a day and the opportunity to teach private lessons in the afternoon. Instructors earn a salary and are provided room and board, but are responsible for their own airfare.

“The amount of people getting hired is pretty small,” Michael said. “So you’ve got to be pretty good, and you have to do your research and find someone who is going to recommend you. You can do the ‘cold call,’ but that’s not really how to be successful. You want someone who is going to contact the snowsports school manager and say, ‘This person would be perfect for you.’”

If and when that happens, added Michael, then be prepared to experience a new culture, make friends from different countries, and ski year-round.

As for the 75th anniversary, Michael said that the marketing department has something planned each week, including special races and cocktail parties. “This is a place that has been functioning as a resort for 75 years, and there are generations of families who have continued to come here,” he said. “It’s an iconic place, and with six feet of snow having already fallen this season and another storm on the way, I think it’s going to be very special.”

PC1: Pia Vergara; PC2: Liam Doran