Ski resorts Italy
There are nearly 300 recognised ski resorts in Italy with over 200 of them in the Alps. Most are small local ski villages but there are some larger resorts plus also some interlinked ski areas that would rival anything offered by France, Switzerland or Austria.
Although many of the Italian ski resorts are culturally and historically closer to France, Austria and Switzerland than they are to Rome the skiing in Italy is very different to skiing in other alpine countries. The delicious food and outstanding mountain scenery are obvious differences but there is also a completely different attitude to skiing in Italy compared to the rest of the Alps.
The Italians are not so much concerned with thrashing out the miles on piste, or conquering thousands of metres of off-piste descent. Instead they tend to rise late, stop often for morning coffee, enjoy a very long lunch and quite often do not ski in the afternoon at all. You will find therefore that the slopes of Italian ski resorts are remarkably empty and should you come across other skiers they tend to be very laid back – there is no frantic rush for the next lift and the mountains a largely devoid of ‘speed merchants’.
The après ski scene is rather sedate (if not non-existent) with the afternoon’s passegiatta the pastime of choice filling the gap between the end of the ski day and dinner. Italians love to connect back to their roots and feel a sense of community and what better way to ‘see and be seen’ than by slowly strolling through the heart of the resort arm in arm with your partner. There is no dancing on tables (you might be shown the way to Austria if this is what you seek) and nightclubs are few and far between. For Italian skiers it’s all about the long lunch, looking good (both on and off the slopes), afternoons spent shopping and quality family time.
The Italian ski resorts are based in the Southern Alps and therefore they rely on storms coming from the south for their snowfall. Storms from this direction are less prevalent than they are from the west (for the French Alps), the north (for the Swiss Alps) and from the east (for the Austrian Alps) but in poorer snow years temperatures are generally very low which means that impressive quality artificial snow can be made.
Facts about Italian pizzas
Foods similar to pizza have been eaten since the Neolithic age but the first written reference to pizza was made in a 10th century Latin text from the southern Italian town of Gaeta, then still part of the Byzantine Empire. There are three different etymological roots put forward for the word pizza. The most obvious is from the Byzantine Greek word pitta from which we get pitta bread. The Italians alternatively claim pizza is derived from a word in one of their older dialects, pinza, meaning ‘to clamp’. Incidentally this is where we get the words pincer and pliers from. Lastly the Lombardic word ‘bizzo’ or ‘pizzo’ meaning ‘mouthful’ (related to the English words “bit” and “bite”) which was brought to Italy by way of the 6th century invasions from the north.
It is likely that pizza as we know it came from Naples during the late 18th century when it was popular to cover flatbreads with garlic, salt, lard and cheese. It is unknown when tomatoes were added but some say it was created by the Royal Palace of Naples to celebrate the visit of Queen Margherita in 1889. It is said that the Queen loved the pizza swathed in the colours of the Italian flag - red (tomato), green (basil), and white (mozzarella cheese) but this is perhaps more legend than fact.
The traditional ingredients are mozzarella di bufala Campana made from the milk of water buffalo raised in the marshlands of Campania and Lazio and San Marzano tomatoes grown on the volcanic plains south of Mount Vesuvius. The longest pizza ever made was created, fittingly enough, in Naples in 2016 and measured over 1 mile from one end to the other!
Popular ski resorts and ski areas in Italy
In the western Alps the main conglomeration of ski resorts in Italy are based in the Aosta Valley. From chic Courmayeur under the shadow of Mont Blanc to the closest off-piste Mecca that Italy possesses the Monterosa ski area. The central Italian Alps offer gems like the chic Madonna di Campiglio and in the east the beautiful mountains of the Dolomites region give us the best known international resorts such as Selva and Cortina.
This is a chic, stylish and lively ski resort on the southern side of Mont Blanc (Monte Bianco). Like its French neighbour on the other side of the Mont Blanc tunnel, Chamonix, it too is steeped in mountain tradition and with Geneva and Turin both being within striking distance this is a very popular weekend destination. The heart of the resort is the pedestrian Via Roma which has plenty of smart boutiques, excellent restaurants and some lively bars. Steep and narrow cobbled alleyways lead off on either side of this main street and these lend to the charming atmosphere.
The pisted ski area is a little limited but plenty big enough for a weekend. There are some good off-piste opportunities from the top of the local area at nearly 2,500 metres and there any any number of ways down from the top of the new Skyway lift from Entreves which reaches the Helbronner Glacier at a dizzy altitude of 3,466 metres. This new lift (opened in 2015) took 500 men and 110m euros to complete but you will still need the services of a professional mountain guide if you are to ski from the top.
The Monterosa ski area lies just south of the Matterhorn Mountain (Zermatt and Cervinia) and is the Italian ski resort equivalent of the Three Valleys in France. Chamopluc is the western most resort with Gressoney occupying the central valley and Alagna to the east – together these three resorts/valleys offer 180km of pistes (mainly suited to intermediate skiers) and huge areas of relatively untracked high altitude off-piste terrain which expert skiers will love.
Families and those looking for fantastic value will more than likely stay in one of the chalet hotels run by Inghams, Ski Total or Ski Esprit. These offer easy access to the large ski area and for the money are surprisingly comfortable. The Chalet Hotel Breithorn is our personal favourite.
The resorts are blissfully underdeveloped and untouristy but the downside to this is that resort facilities are a little lacking. However, on the plus side the well groomed slopes are virtually empty which makes this an excellent area for families. The whole area is surrounded by 4,000 metre plus peaks and there are several excellent heli-ski routes that you can take with a mountain guide. One of these takes in a long, long descent to Zermatt and a return via Cervinia – the round trip creates a fabulous day in the mountains.
Cervinia opened in 1936 but its original name of Breuil was soon changed by decree by Mussolini to better reflect the glory of the local mountain, Monte Cervino (better known by its Swiss name, the Matterhorn). At a base altitude of 2,050 metres Cervinia is the most snow sure ski resort in Italy. However, as well as being one of the highest Italian ski resorts it is also one of the ugliest, with a core of pre World War II buildings reflecting the austere imperial style of the era and an incoherent mix of post war hotel and apartment buildings which do nothing to improve the resort’s appearance.
The local slopes are gentle, wide and very long which make them perfect for intermediate and beginner skiers looking to build their confidence. Experts can access the more demanding terrain of Zermatt which shares the same ski area. The ski area is served by some excellent and very good value on-mountain restaurants which make this a great all round resort – if you can get over the rather bleak architecture.
Madonna di Campiglio is the main resort in this reasonably large interlinked area which offers 150km of pistes. Make no mistake, although Madonna may not trip off the tongue in the same easy way that Verbier, Courchevel and Zermatt do, this is an undeniably fashionable ski resort. To blend in with the Italian smart-set you will need to look good both on the mountain and on the streets. No woman’s wardrobe would be complete without designer ski wear by day and a voluminous fur coat for the evening’s main ritual, the passeggiata, but for all its pomp Madonna is a world class resort at an affordable price. Après is enthusiastic, with the pre-dinner aperitivo in full swing in the bars in town, before a long dinner and a longer night in the resort’s pubs and clubs.
The local slopes spread out widely and connect with the secondary resort of Folgarida. The area is further enhanced with the new lift that spectacularly links with Pinzolo and this has greatly added to the attraction of Madonna di Campglio as a serious ski destination. However, the highest peaks are only at 2,500 metres and most of the skiing is below 2,100m which means that the season is a little short – we recommend you stay here in January, February or the first half of March.
The Sellaronda is a long ski route of the South Tyrol region that circumnavigates the massif of the Sella Mountain. This scenic journey gives you 40km of pistes (none of which you ski twice) and is easily completed in a single day by reasonably competent skiers. The tourist guide recommends that you leave before 10 in the morning to be back again before the lifts close and says that the circuit takes six hours.
The resorts in the Sellaronda: Selva, Canezei, Arabba, San Cassiano, Corvara and Colfosco. To ski the whole circuit you will need a Dolomiti Superski lift pass.
The largest of the resorts in the area is Selva which is a proper ski resort town with lots of shops, restaurants and hotels. Arabba is a small, quiet resort but offers the highest and most challenging skiing in the area as well as some good off-piste terrain. Corvara and San Cassiano are pretty resorts with a great collection of luxury hotels and some of the best mountain restaurants in the Alps.
Cortina d’Ampezzo is set just a few kilometres east of the Sellaronda circuit but is not connected – instead it has its own separate ski area which offers 120km of pistes, and arguably the most majestic mountain scenery of the Alps. Each summer the town hosts the Coppa d'Oro delle Dolomiti (the Dolomites Gold Cup) which is a 308km classic car event through the mountains, and also the Dino Ciani music festival which attracts pianists from around the world. The fine shops, hotels, restaurants, après-ski scene and world class events attract a jet-set and aristocratic European crowd.
The Tofane area offers more challenging opportunities from an altitude of 2,500m with the Canalone and Schuss ski runs. The longest and most spectacular ski run, the Armentarola piste in the Lagazuoi-5 Torri area, starts next to the Lagazuoi refuge at a height of 2,752m and can be reached by cable car. However, the ski area is best suited to intermediate skiers and families just wanting an exclusive mountain and resort atmosphere.