Italy is home to some of the most recognisable resorts in the Alps: Courmayeur, Cervinia, Selva, Arabba and Sauze d’Oulx to name but a few. There are three main ski areas each with their own character and feel; the Domomites Superski circuit, The Mont Blanc Massif and Aosta Valley, and the Milky Way. The mountain scenery in Italy is absolutely breathtaking, most notably in the Dolomites and Courmayeur with its amazing views of Mont Blanc.
Italy is generally held to be the least expensive of the 4 major ski countries in the Alps and is also, in many ways, the best for beginners. The piste grooming there is absolutely first class and, in contrast to France
, the piste classification tends to overstate the difficulty of the runs rather than the other way round.
Italian resorts tend to get very busy at weekends as so many major Italian cities are within only a couple of hours of the slopes. That said, the pistes are generally very quiet during the week and you’ll find many locals only really ski from around 11am to 3pm, so if you’re an early riser you can often have the pistes to yourself. Do bear in mind that the Italian resorts have a slightly erratic snow record - they don’t benefit from the north westerly storms off the Atlantic the way other European countries do. Instead Italy relies more on the snow storms coming up from the south, which are a little less frequent. If the rest of Europe is suffering from a shortage it is always worth checking out the conditions in Italy though, as you do often find spectacularly good conditions!
The Dolomites ski circuit sits over in the east of the country so you generally fly into Innsbruck before taking the 1.75 - 2.5 hour airport transfer, (depending on which specific resort you opt for.) The most popular resorts in the Dolomites are Canazei
, Selva/Val Gardena and Arabba, with the whole ‘Superski Circuit’ offering over 1200kms of piste split between 12 linked resorts!
The Mont Blanc Massif is home to the traditional resort of Courmayeur. One of the smaller resorts in Italy with only around 100kms of piste, Courmayeur boasts wonderful heli-skiing as well as some spectacular off piste. Hardened skiers and boarders can also take the Mont Blanc Tunnel over to Chamonix
and enjoy a truly European ski holiday!
The Milky Way a great mid-altitude region close to Turin (around 45kms) which links the five resorts of Claviere
, Sauze d’Oulx, Sestriere, Pregaleto and the French resort of Montgenevre
. All of the resorts are between 1500m and 2000m so they offer great early and late season skiing, and with around 400kms of pistes to explore you won’t be bored! Other very popular resorts in Italy include Cervinia, linked with the Swiss resort of Zermatt
, and the beautiful town of Aosta which boasts 2000 year old Roman ruins and breathtaking mountain scenery.
One of the top Italian resorts for families is the snow sure resort of Cervinia, sitting at an impressive 2000 metres above sea level. Cervinia boasts high altitude slopes up to almost 3900m with access to a huge ski area, linked with Zermatt
. This is the perfect resort for children to learn in and offers a great variety of tougher slopes as well.
Italy is also a lot cheaper to spend a week in than France or Switzerland too. You can get week long lift passes for under £200 per person and lunch on the mountain, that priciest of meals on a ski holiday, costs up to fifty or sixty percent less in Italy than it does in Switzerland or France. Weather wise, the temperatures skiers experience in Italy tend to be a few degrees warmer than the more northerly French resorts. When you’re taking young children to the mountains it’s important to ensure they’re protected against the elements, and it Italy things are just a little easier on that front.
Generally speaking, Italy hasn’t seen the same levels of infrastructure investment that many Swiss, French and Austrian resorts have seen over the last decade, and as a result you are more likely to find t-bars and drag lifts here than in any other part of Europe. This does, however, mean that the pistes tend to be quite a bit quieter in Italy in comparison to many of the European mega resorts.
One really good Italian resort that has benefitted from a good deal of investment in the lift system is Sestriere. Home to the 2006 Winter Olympics, Sestriere has a wonderful, modern and fast lift system with a brilliant mix of runs and access to the whole Milky Way ski circuit. It’s a Mecca for intermediate boarders who want to clock up some serious mileage.
If freestyle and snow park riding is more your thing then look no further than Val di Fassa in the Dolomites. There are no fewer than five snow parks and 86 lifts to choose from, offering a magnificent range of terrain to ride. Livigno is another great resort worth considering for snowboarders, with 2 snow parks to choose from. The Mottolino park is often rated as one of the best in Europe, boasting 15 kickers, 8 rails, 2 jibs and 2 half pipes!
Intermediate skiers wanting to cover as many kilometres as possible need look no further than the Dolomites range. The Superski circuit has even more pistes to explore than the Three Valleys and a day trip around the Sella Ronda Circuit (a small loop within the Superski area) is a wonderful experience for any keen skier. If you are interested in back country and off piste skiing you will find plenty to do in Italy. You’ll also be able to indulge in heli-skiing, an activity which is not legal in France.
The Monterosa region is perhaps the most famous in Italy for serious powder – it’s linked with Campolac, Fressoney and Alagna to give you just under 200kms of piste and some spectacular heli-skiing routes, many of them well over 10kms in length! Serious off-piste skiers can ski through to Zermatt and back as well as taking on some Italian classics such as the Malfetta and Balma runs. Italy caters extremely well for advanced skiers. Ski touring is a very popular pursuit and if you’re keen to strap the skins on and head up the mountain then a local guide will be on hand to show you some of Europe’s most jaw droppingly beautiful mountain scenery for a very reasonable price. 5 days of guiding will cost a party of 5 or 6 people around £150 each.
The food in Italy is, as you may well expect, generally superb... a million miles from the lukewarm spag bol served up in resorts across France for €20 a plate. The pasta dishes are generally nice and light, so after lunch you feel like heading back to the slopes for more skiing, not back to the chalet for a nap. The local meat dishes are delicious and can be enjoyed for the same price as a starter in Switzerland!
As so many of the Italian resorts are linked with Swiss or French resorts there is a strong crossover of cuisines, and you’ll still find fondue specialities and sausage dishes as well as local pasta and cured meat cuisine. If you’re after something really special then Cortina, the Alta Badia region and the villages surrounding Courmayeur have a good number of Michelin starred restaurants!
If you’re looking for a good value ski trip then Italy is the perfect choice as the linked resort circuits are so large there really is something for everyone. The chalet market isn’t quite as developed in Italy as it is in countries like France and Austria
, so most resorts will only have a handful of chalets available with most of these being booked early by repeat guests. Hotels, often family
run, are far more prevalent in Italy and you can often pick up a fantastic half board or B&B deal for a larger group.
The après ski scene is quite different to Austria and France. You won’t find too many places pumping out European dance/pop music like you do in other ski areas, but Livigno, Cervinia and Selva are definitely the pick of the bunch if you are looking for something a little bit lively. Most other resorts have a more relaxed atmosphere, with the cafe culture perfect for enjoying some lovely Italian sunshine.