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
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.