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The world’s craziest, fastest, most improbable ski lift

Posted by on Aug 31, 2016 in South America | 2 comments

The slingshot lift at Portillo

Jack and Jill went up the hill at Portillo thanks to the slingshot lift. But did they make it back down?

Oh my lord. I managed to get on this thing. Now how the bloody hell do I get off?

After rattling up a 30-odd degree slope probably two or three times faster than a t-bar I at least find myself still attached to Portillo’s infamous Roca Jack slingshot.

I somehow managed to ride straight over a ski left on the middle of the track but myself and four others now must exit this cross between a poma on crack and a swingers’ club’s idea of a water skiing cable.

Gulp.

What the hell is a slingshot lift anyway?

While it looks like something from the set of Lost in Space as it descends from the air, the slingshot lift or Va et Vient (French for come and go) is a multi-person poma that can carry up to five people.

There’s method in what looks like complete madness.

Because the slopes in the Chilean Andes are so steep there was very little point in having lift towers run up them.

So the slingshot is used as a kind of anchor system to drag people up the piste. In Portillo there are four of them – Roca Jack, Condor, Las Vizcachas and El Cara Cara.

I’m on Roca Jack which covers about 300 metres vertical in around two minutes.

While I’ve been skiing for two decades the apprehension of sharing a t-bar with someone (and falling off) and then being forced to queue up again in front of hundreds of punters suddenly comes flooding back.

Check out this video when things go a little awry on the slingshot!

But it actually ain’t that bad

I allow the lift to come to a full stop and we peel off from the outside of the lift. On such steep slopes though, you are already on the move either sideways or downhill quickly as you exit.

While there are no casualties on this occasion if you hang around for long enough you’ll invariably see some mayhem and confusion.

But the good news about the slingshot lift is that it really doesn’t take that long to get used to. Given the terrain it accesses is advanced to expert there is a general assumption that most people riding it will be reasonably experienced so should be able to get their heads around what is required.

For me it certainly wasn’t up there with my first experience on a nutcracker lift in Broken River New Zealand.

Desperate to get it right the first time I did everything correctly save for one thing – holding my poles on the pulley side of the lift.

The result was when I reached the first pulley wheel one of my poles soared to heights that my skiing hadn’t.

Dryly as you like the local behind me surveyed the scene. “I would have picked up your pole eh bro,” he offered. “Except that it’s in two pieces back there.”

Roca Jack slingshot lift

The Austrian racing team didn’t fall off Roca Jack slingshot. Funny that.

Slingshot tips

  • Use the cord to pull it down then get said cord the hell away from your skis
  • Chill out. The lift operator won’t let the slingshot launch to Aconcagua and beyond until you’re all settled
  • Like a t-bar or poma, let gravity do all the work
  • Keep an eye out for people or equipment that has slipped off and remains on the track as it happened a few times we rode
  • Allow the Slingshot to come to a full stop then peel off from the outside and be prepared to ski away quickly!
Ant Sharwood

The destination is more important than the journey – some of the terrain just off the Roca Jack. Skier: Ant Sharwood

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2 Comments

  1. Nice piece Glen. It was great meeting you in Portillo. I hope you return soon.
    Michael Rogan
    Operation Manager
    Hotel Portillo, Chile

    • Thanks Michael. What a great spot! Enjoy the rest of the season. Glenn

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