Like many before me, I went on a pretty awful school ski trip when I was 12 years old to a place called Passo Tonale, and until a month ago I hadn’t been back to ski in Italy since – call it a case of ‘once bitten twice shy’. I have skied all over the world in the last 13 years and have ticked many resorts off the bucket list but after my first experience, the thought of returning to ski in Italy had never really appealed. This season, though, I overcame my aversions to skiing in Italy and after hearing such good things from other people in the office about certain Italian resorts I decided to give skiing in Italy another go. So which are the best ski resorts in Italy?
At Alpine Answers we often get hotels and chalet operators in to the office so that they can explain their properties and describe the sort of food and service which they offer to our clients. This gives us a much better understanding of the different accommodation options out there and allows us to recommend suitable options to our clients. One day last summer the Hotel Nira Montana, La Thuile, came in to visit and to talk to us about their new hotel in a little ski town in Italy. I already new the hotel was going to be good because the sister hotel, the Nira Alpina in St Moritz, had received glowing reports from previous clients and had also recently won numerous awards, including best new ski hotel 2015, and luxury design hotel of the year. Due to the praise the Nira Montana group was getting and the reports I had read of a ‘little Siberia’ in the shadow of Mont Blanc I thought the Nira Montana and the town of La Thuile would be a great alternative to the Three Valleys ski area where my family had been skiing for years.
After Christmas my family and I packed our bags and flew to Milan Malpensa airport; hopped in a taxi and after an hour and a half of driving down the beautiful Aosta valley we arrived in La Thuile. I was a little surprised by how small the centre of the resort actually was, it’s about 500m of local shops and then it is just residential properties but that only added to the charm of the place. The Nira Montana in La Thuile is located just outside the centre, sitting rather unassumingly on the side of the road. However, once inside it is a different matter. The hotel effortlessly combines modern design furniture with discrete functional luxury. It really is finished to a very high standard and we all instantly felt relaxed and at home, the friendly staff only adding to this welcoming atmosphere. At the hotel you can find an excellent spa with a large indoor spa pool, sauna, steam room and numerous relaxation areas but what we really enjoyed was the food. Every night we were treated to four to five courses of truly exceptional Italian cuisine. The homemade pasta was addictive (I just couldn’t get enough.) and on numerous nights we would insist on having three pasta courses in a row.
The skiing and why it makes La Thuile one of the best ski resorts in Italy
We were in resort for the New Year week and sadly the level of snow cover was pretty poor, as indeed it was for the rest of the Alps. However, although the off-piste conditions were not good the piste skiing was in fact perfectly OK. La Thuile boasts an extensive ski area, with 150km of slopes reaching across the border into France, and down to La Rossiere – there is definitely enough piste skiing for a week and plenty of lovely little Italian restaurants to enjoy long into the afternoon such as La Riondet. The lift system isn’t particularly modern or quick in La Thuile but it does the job, over in La Rosiere it is a different matter with plenty of new six man chairs, it’s a joy to do quick piste laps here.
The off piste potential looked so good and so tempting that I managed to persuade two friends to join me on a second visit to La Thuile a couple of weeks later. Wow – what a difference those three weeks made. The snow in late January was sensational and the off-piste tree skiing terrain and conditions were some of the best I have experienced anywhere in the world. The real beauty of it was that as La Thuile is such a sleepy resort we were skiing fresh snow with empty slopes for our entire stay. Widely spaced conifers, perfect for tree skiing, cover the entire bottom half of the mountain in La Thuile so that you can ski for hours without seeing another person. Up top there are large open bowls and plenty of lift accessed off-piste terrain. My own theory for the lack of hardcore skiers in La Thuile is that they will generally head to the free ride Mecca of the Monterose ski area (Alagna, Champoluc and Gressoney) which is just down the road. This is fine by me as it leaves La Thuile empty of skiers tracking out the fresh stuff.
La Thuile is a great resort and certainly one of the best ski resorts in Italy but it’s not for everyone. It is very quiet; the majority of slopes coming down to resort are relatively steep and it can be windy at the top. However, if you are looking for a good value and authentic Italian experience then I couldn’t recommend it more! Time it right with great snow conditions and you will be in ski nirvana!