Italian Lakes (2013)

INSIGHT: ON THE PISTE

Great snow, great scenery and great style make the Italian ski scene seriously cool.

Skiing Italian-style is not just about designer equipment, skiwear and shades, but the combination of atmosphere, great skiing and snowboarding, fabulous food and dramatic scenery. Resorts tend to hug the borders between France, Switzerland and Austria, making it possible to ski in two different countries in one day. Many of the slopes may seem best-suited to beginners and intermediates, yet this is often less to do with gradient and more to do with excellent piste-grooming and snow-making facilities. And in the Dolomites, there is access to 1,220km (760 miles) of pistes – one of the world’s largest ski areas.

West of Lake Maggiore, sharing the border with Switzerland, Monte Rosa is Europe’s second-highest mountain after Mont Blanc. Dominated by the “pink mountain”, Piedmont’s Monterosa ski area is often referred to – in wintersports speak – as “Europe’s best-kept secret”. The three main resorts, Champoluc, Gressoney and Alagna, are charming, traditional villages set amid gorgeous scenery. Alagna has cult status as an off-piste paradise bristling with cornices and cliffs – strictly for the experts in some of the toughest terrain in the Alps. A 100-person cable car from Alagna gives access to a piste to Gressoney: an option for less intrepid souls. Both Champoluc and Gressoney have long, cruising intermediate runs that are usually very quiet and blessed with good snow.

To the east of Monterosa is a sprinkling of small villages, such as the pretty former Walser settlement, Macugnaga, covering 37km (23 miles) of pistes served by 12 lifts. Closest to Lake Maggiore is Monte Mottarone at 1,200m (4,000ft); it has no village, but its ski area of 25km (15 miles) is popular with weekend visitors during the winter season.

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Dolomite peaks make a dramatic backdrop to the pistes.

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In Brescia province, the Adamello ski area covers 100km (62 miles) of pistes spanning the Val Camonica in Lombardy and the Val di Sole in Trentino. Purpose-built and snow-sure, Passo Tonale perches above the treeline at 1,885m (6,200ft). It caters well for beginners and early intermediates and is popular more for its good-value accommodation and boisterous bars than for its charm. However, a new gondola lift and high-speed chairs link Tonale with the pretty, quieter area of Pontedilegno, with attractive tree-lined runs. It is now possible to ski very varied terrain from the Presena glacier (3,000m/9,800ft) to Tonale, Pontedilego and right across to Temù (1,150m/3,800ft).

Nearby, Pejo, in the heart of the Stelvio national park, is a purpose-built ski resort with a cable car. Access to other areas in the Val di Sole (Valley of the Sun) such as Folgarida-Marilleva are also straightforward, thanks to a gondola link. Already linked to these pretty resorts is the larger Madonna di Campiglio ski area. Affluent, exclusive, very Italian and ultra-chic, Madonna’s ski area covers 120km (75 miles) of pistes.

For the best snow-making and piste-grooming in Italy, the Dolomites have an unequalled record. In the northeast of the South Tyrol, this area is a delightful blend of Italian charm and Austrian efficiency. A vast network of 464 state-of-the-art lifts and 745 immaculately groomed, mostly intermediate pistes is on the doorstep – all covered by the single Dolomiti Superski lift pass. At the heart of the Val Gardena, Selva is cradled by Mediterranean-style warmth and the spectacular peaks and pinnacles of the dramatic pink-tinged Dolomite mountains. Selva, with a lively Tyrolean atmosphere, is the best place to stay on the famous Sella Ronda circuit. This is a 22km (14-mile) circular tour around the picturesque Gruppo Sella mountains, passing through the villages of Selva, Colfosco, Corvara, Canazei and steep and deep Arabba.

In the Veneto, über-chic Cortina d’Ampezzo is known as the “Queen of the Dolomites”. Here, it is hard not to be seduced by the most stunningly beautiful mountain scenery in Italy. Cortina has skiing for all abilities, and the runs tend to be quiet during the week and at the sacrosanct lunchtime – with a choice of more than 50 mountain restaurants. As the sun sinks in a fiery glow during the enrosadira and all the Dolomiti peaks turn pink, the evening passeggiata gets under way, when everyone parades up and down in the Corso Italia. This is Italian skiing and après-ski at its most stylish.