Spoilt for choice on the sunny side

Italy is home to more than 300 ski ar­eas and of­fers ex­cel­lent value for money, his­toric re­sorts, great food and wine, and there are min­i­mal queues for lifts travel2013

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - TRAVEL 2013 - PA­TRICK THORNE

ITALY is per­haps the least well­known of the “big four” Alpine ski­ing na­tions. Like France, Aus­tria and Switzer­land, it is home to more than 300 ski ar­eas. Re­sorts in­clude Bormio, Cortina d’Am­pezzo, Cour­mayeur, Madonna di Campiglio, Sestriere and Val Gar­dena. How­ever, its ski ar­eas are more widely dis­trib­uted and more di­verse.

“Italy of­fers ex­cel­lent value for money, his­toric re­sorts, fam­ily-run ho­tels and great food and wine,” says Ian Davis, the en­thu­si­as­tic prod­uct and dis­tri­bu­tion di­rec­tor of Crys­tal Ski, which op­er­ates in 18 Ital­ian re­sorts.

“The snow-mak­ing and groom­ing are out­stand­ing, there are min­i­mal lift queues and rel­a­tively short trans­fers.”

The main tour op­er­a­tors of­fer hol­i­days to larger Ital­ian re­sorts in the north-east and the north-west of the coun­try – to the Dolomites and the Alps, re­spec­tively. In the Alps, Italy shares Mont Blanc – or Monte Bianco – with the Cha­monix Val­ley in France and the Mat­ter­horn – or Monte Cervino – with Zer­matt in Switzer­land.

Yet, there are dozens smaller ski ar­eas spread along Italy’s spine, in­clud­ing weekend re­sorts for Ro­mans and Neapoli­tans in the south of the coun­try.

There are two ski ar­eas on the vol­canic Mount Etna in Si­cily and even a few drag lifts on Sar­dinia (www.brun­cus­pina.it).

How­ever, it is wrong to think that all Ital­ian re­sorts are small-scale, tra­di­tional cen­tres. Al­though the French have cre­ated more pur­pose­built re­sorts and big­ger ski re­gions over the past 50 years, the Fiat car com­pany was re­spon­si­ble for the first spe­cially built cen­tre: Sestriere (vialat­tea.it) in 1934. This now sits at the heart of one of the world’s largest ski ar­eas, the Milky Way, with 400km of pistes spilling over the bor­der into France. It was also the main host of the 2006 Torino Win­ter Olympics – the last Win­ter Games staged in Europe.

On the other side of north­ern Italy, the Dolomites are seen by many as Italy’s great­est as­set for skiers. The moun­tains are among the most spec­tac­u­lar any­where in the ski­ing world: mighty precipices of pink gran­ite stretch­ing up for thou­sands of me­tres, to cre­ate a spec­tac­u­lar back­drop to ev­ery snap­shot.

The Fassa Val­ley, a train­ing ground for Ital­ian Olympians, is one of the best in the re­gion.

Use­ful sta­ples such as pizza and pasta make Ital­ian re­sorts a good choice for fam­i­lies with fussy younger din­ers. How­ever, that stereo­type ends at Alta Ba­dia (altabadia. org), which has built a rep­u­ta­tion as a gourmet heaven un­der the ban­ner “A Taste for Ski­ing”.

The area is home to sev­eral Miche­lin-starred chefs. But rather than hide away in their gourmet restau­rants, there is a vast ar­ray of culi­nary-themed on-snow op­tions to con­sider. They range from high-cal­i­bre “pow­der break­fasts” through to dine-around gourmet lunch passes for mul­ti­ple moun­tain huts, as well as lo­cal wine-tast­ings and culi­nary sa­faris.

With its long bor­der, you can ski into (or out of) Italy at half a dozen places. Along with the Milky Way link, there’s a sec­ond route to France with La Rosière linked to La Thuile (lath­uile.net) in the Aosta Val­ley.

It is a pop­u­lar op­tion for peo­ple in search of heli- ski­ing ( which is banned in France) and for kite-ski­ing on the windy bor­der plateau. Or, from Cervinia (cervinia.it) you can take a lift up to Zer­matt (zer­matt.ch) in Switzer­land, ac­cess­ing some of the world’s big­gest lift-served ver­ti­cals. The lift pass for the joint area also costs sub­stan­tially less when bought in eu­ros rather than Swiss francs.

Livi­gno (livi­gno.eu) built a rep­u­ta­tion as Italy’s al­ter­na­tive to An­dorra, thanks to its duty-free sta­tus. More re­cently, it has rein­vented it­self as a fam­ily-friendly choice with three “Fam­ily Weeks” and the prom­ise “Kids Go Free” this sea­son.

Livi­gno is also cap­i­tal­is­ing on its long sea­son and re­li­able snow to at­tract free-rid­ers.

There are half a dozen ski ar­eas within 160km of Rome, in the Apen- nine moun­tains. One of the largest and best-equipped, Campo Felice (cam­pofe­lice.it), is 120km from the Ital­ian cap­i­tal and has 30km of runs linked by a dozen lifts.

While snow­fall can be prob­lem­atic in a warm year, it av­er­ages 80cm each win­ter and has ro­bust snow­mak­ing.

Ski­ing on Si­cily’s Mount Etna is prob­lem­atic be­cause of vol­canic ac­tiv­ity and light­ning strikes.

How­ever, two ski cen­tres have bat­tled through the nat­u­ral dis­ad­van­tages to run lifts on Europe’s most ac­tive vol­cano. Etna Sud (fu­ni­vi­aetna.com) has a big­ger lift-served ver­ti­cal than Etna Nord (www .pro­lo­col­in­gua­glossa.it).

An el­e­ment of time­less­ness makes Cortina d’Am­pezzo (cortina. dolomiti. org) one of the world’s great un­spoilt ski re­sorts. The main pedes­trian street, Corso Italia, is lined with de­signer shops and en­tic­ing restau­rants. There are three main ski ar­eas of­fer­ing a wide range of ter­rain, in­clud­ing Olympic down­hill race cour­ses dat­ing back to the town’s host­ing of the Win­ter Games in 1956, and the mar­vel­lous 8km­long Hid­den Val­ley run.

You can stay at the five- star Cristallo (cristallo.it), first opened in 1901 and loved by Frank Si­na­tra and Peter Sell­ers. – The In­de­pen­dent

LIFT-OFF: For an adrenalin-pump­ing ad­ven­ture try heli-ski­ing.

FAM­ILY-FRIENDLY CHOICE: Livi­gno and moun­tain-ski­ing routes in the Ital­ian Alps.

BLAZE OF GLORY: Monte Civetta in the Dolomites, a re­gion that of­fers skiers an end­less amount of ski run amid spec­tac­u­lar lime­stone scenery.

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