The Andes Are Alive with the Sound of Skiing; How a Von Trapp Is Helping the South American Mountains to Sing

Article excerpt

Byline: NEIL ENGLISH

EASTER marks the end of our ski season, but increasing numbers of British winter sports fans are taking advantage of the new snow season on the other side of the globe.

South America has always had an exotic allure and, as I discovered, skiing in the mighty Andes mountains where peaks soar above 20,000 feet - twice the height of most of the Alps - added a mystical magnificence to the trip of a lifetime.

Given the well publicised economic instabilities of Chile and Argentina, which share this mesmerising mountain range (only beaten for size by the Himalayas), I was braced to rough it a bit in basic accommodation and maybe even use mules for ski lifts. What I discovered was modern hotels, a decent infrastructure of shops and restaurants and networks of ski lifts, sometimes a bit slow and cranky, but also some bang uptodate high-speed chairlifts serving a cache of exciting terrain that would be the envy of many European and North American resorts.

An even bigger surprise was at Portillo, an amazing three-hour drive from Santiago. My ski instructor was labelled by one society magazine as: 'One of the most eligible bachelors in America.' Sam von Trapp - son of Johannes von Trapp, the youngest of the seven children whose escape from occupied Austria during the Second World War was made famous by the musical The Sound Of Music.

Apart from being everything a male ski instructor should be - youthful and fit looking, charming, handsome and devilishly talented at sliding downhill, he does, in fact, sing.

In the elegant dining room of the Forties-built Hotel Portillo, which overlooks a vast outdoor hot tub that in turn looks over the gorgeous, high mountain Laguna del Incas, and is surrounded by 19,000ft peaks, Sam told me: 'I love this place, it makes me sing.' I could instantly see how it would.

THE 29-year-old added: 'Of course not all things in the film were a true reflection of our family, but it's true that all of us sing and sometimes together. I sing in the shower and when I am skiing and yes, it's often songs from the film.

'None of us thought the film would have been as successful as it was. It's incredible, but the unexpected fame and fortune hasn't been all good for either our family or the actors.' For now, Sam is content being a ski instructor in Aspen, Colorado, during the northern hemisphere winter and in Portillo during the southern hemisphere winter. …