10 Top-Rated Ski Resorts in Italy, 2017
Europe's highest mountain ranges - the Dolomites and the French, Swiss, and Savoy Alps - form Italy's borders on the north and west. On their snow-covered slopes are some of Europe's most famous ski resorts. At these high altitudes - more than a dozen peaks in the Dolomites alone exceed 3,000 meters - snow is almost certain from November through April, and the season is often longer. The most skiable terrain and the broadest range of opportunities are in the Dolomites, where 12 major ski areas total more than 1,200 kilometers of ski trails. Whichever region you choose - the Dolomites, the Val d'Aosta (where Italy borders France and Switzerland), or the Savoy Alps west of Turin - you'll be rewarded by spectacular scenery and single ski runs that can take several hours, dropping from high in the mountains all the way into the resort town at the base. And you'll find plenty of things to do here in your off-slope time, as well.
If you're used to skiing in North America, bear in mind that skiing in Europe is somewhat different. Trail level designations are not always the same; what Europeans call beginner trails may be more like American intermediate, and some may have dangerous drop-offs on one side. Safety fences are not as common, and grooming is often impossible in such vast areas. Allow time to get off the mountain safely at the end of the day and be aware of the closing times for lifts, so you are not stranded. Alpine snow storms can cause serious driving delays, so it's smart to allow plenty of time to make return flights.
1 Cortina d'Ampezzo
The glacier-carved profile of vertical faces and rocky pinnacles won the Dolomites a UNESCO World Heritage Site designation, and the skiing here is world class as well. Best known of the dozen Dolomite ski resorts ever since the 1956 Winter Olympics were held here is Cortina D'Ampezzo. The setting is nothing short of spectacular. Towering over town are the Cinque Torri, five peaks that not only give Cortina a stage-set backdrop, but provide day-long runs from near the top right down into town. More than three dozen lifts carry skiers almost from the door of their hotel to snowfields just below the summits, at the crests of the highest ridges.
Families with beginning and intermediate skiers will find plenty of terrain at Cortina d'Ampezzo, where there are slopes and pistes (trails) for beginners, and about half the skiable terrain is intermediate. Expert skiers won't be bored - the rest of the pistes are for them, as well as the full use of lifts and trails of the 11 other resorts, all covered in the single Dolomiti Superski pass. While Cortina D'Ampezzo has the largest concentration of downhill ski facilities in the Dolomites, it also has plenty of cross-country ski trails through spectacular mountain landscapes; a bobsled run; and the Olympic rink, Stadio del Ghiaccio, for ice skaters. The town is well equipped with hotels in every range, smart shops (this is the most fashionable of the Dolomite resorts by far), restaurants, cafés, and several spas. If jet-set glamour is part of your Italy ski dream, you'll find it here. But you can also find midrange lodgings in Cortina, such as the chalet-style Hotel Natale, with magnificent views from its carved wooden balconies.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Italy
2 Breuil-Cervinia and Valtournenche
Italy's Val D'Aosta region northwest of Milan offers an experience that is on almost every skier's life list: skiing over the ridge-top international border between Italy and Switzerland, just under the peak of the Alps' most iconic mountain - the Matterhorn. The jumbled resort town of Breuil-Cervinia on the Italian side is not nearly as pretty as Zermatt on the Swiss side, but its setting is unmatched, under a sheer south face of the mountain, whose profile is just as distinctive from this angle. Board the lift right from Breuil-Cervinia's center to ski the Matterhorn's 350-kilometer trail system that connects the two countries and three resort towns.
Lifts reach an altitude of more than 3,500 meters at Piccolo Cervino (Little Matterhorn -- the Matterhorn is called Cervino by Italians). The third resort town with trails tied into this network is Valtournenche, with lifts interlinking it with Breuil-Cervinia's for a total of 23 lifts. Terrain on this side is surprisingly gentle, with plenty of beginner and intermediate territory - about half the trails are labeled for beginners. Most expert skiers will want to head over the top for the more challenging pistes on the Swiss side. While the hotels and infrastructure of Breuil-Cervinia and Valtournenche don't have the glamour of Zermatt, they also don't have Swiss prices, and you'll find very comfortable lodgings and good dining here, as well as tourist attractions and activities for non-skiers in the family.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Breuil-Cervinia
For glitz and glamour in the Val D'Aosta, head to Courmayeur, high on the shoulder of Mont Blanc near the French border and the Mont Blanc Tunnel. While the Beautiful People from Milan and Turin have made the pretty little ski village the place to be seen on weekends, there's no denying the quality of the skiing - or the scenery. For views of the top of Europe from its highest mountain, ride up the Funivie Monte Bianco cable car to the ridgeline, where views seem to stretch forever. Expert skiers seeking thrills should hire a guide and hope for the perfect conditions when the unmarked and expert-only pistes from the Arp are open - if they are not, you won't be allowed to bring skis up the lift, but you should go for the views. The area offers plenty of off-piste skiing, for which you will need a guide.
It's not all for experts: beginners will find gentler slopes in Courmayeur's "suburb" of Dolonne, but most of the terrain is best suited to advanced and intermediate skiers. A 20-kilometer network of ultra-scenic cross-country trails begins in Val Ferret, just outside Courmayeur. Expect high-end dining, smart shops, and luxury hotels and a lively après-ski scene in Courmayeur.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Courmayeur
4 Val Gardena
Smaller resorts like Val Gardena offer more intimate ski terrain than their larger glamorous neighbor in the Dolomites, Cortina D'Ampezzo. One of the several adjacent valleys between the peaks known as the Gruppo del Sella, Val Gardena's 160 kilometers of trails and lifts connect with the others forming nearly 400 kilometers of interconnected skiing. From here, you can ski the Marmolada Glacier. Although Val Gardena does have facilities for beginners and intermediate skiers - they won't be bored here - about 65 percent of the terrain reached from here is for advanced and expert skiers, one of the highest in the Dolomites. Skiers don't come to Val Gardena for the evening entertainment or to be seen; they come to ski and relax afterward in the easygoing, friendly atmosphere of the authentic Alpine villages of Ortisei, Santa Cristina, and Selva Val Gardena. Several challenging circuits begin at any of these. One offers the chance to ski four runs used for the men's and women's downhill and giant slalom races in the 1970 World Championship, with average gradients of more than 25 percent.
Val Gardena's big news for the winter of 2017 is the installation of Italy's first 8-seater chairlift with heated seats. It replaces the long steep Gran Paradiso on the Piz Sella, and is longer than the previous one, offering a direct connection to the Sellaronda route.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Val Gardena
5 Alpe di Siusi
In the heart of the Dolomites near Val Gardena, Alpe di Siusi's 60 kilometers of slopes have something rare - almost guaranteed snow, even if nature doesn't cooperate. With 100 percent of its slopes equipped with snowmaking, and an efficient grooming system, they can assure good skiing from December through March. Although 86 percent of the terrain at the combined resorts of Alpe di Siusi and Seiser Alm is for advanced skiers, by far the highest in the Dolomites, its own 60 kilometers and the 175 kilometers of slopes and trails it shares with Val Gardena have plenty to keep intermediate and even beginning skiers busy.
It's known as one of the most family-friendly resorts in the Dolomites, featuring a ski kindergarten, ski school, kids' fun parks, children's tours, and state-of-the-art child-safety features on its mountain lifts. It also has some of the best snow parks for boarders, fitted with boxes, steps, and kickers. In the spring, expert ski-mountaineers await the best conditions to challenge the Sassopiatto, a plateau above the Alpe di Siusi that can only be skied when the snowpack is just right. Don't even consider it without a local ski guide.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Alpe di Siusi
Most skiers go right through the tiny village of Arabba on their way to larger ski centers over the passes, but from a base here at 1,600 meters, you can easily reach several ski areas. Set among the Gruppo del Sella peaks, Arabba-Marmolada is among the smaller of the Dolomiti Superski resorts. It's popular for families with beginning skiers, and about half its pistes are rated intermediate. But these resorts are not just for novice skiers. They provide access to skiing on the Marmolada Glacier. From the top of Passo Pordoi, you can take lifts for descents into the resort of Canazei, the Passo Pordon links the Marmolada ski areas, and the Passo Campolongo leads to the Alta Badia. The traditional Italian mountain village of wooden chalets is small enough that lift access is convenient to the lodgings. Many, such as the chalet-style Hotel Alpenrose, are ski-in-ski-out accommodations. One of the most popular ski excursions in the whole region leads from Arabba through to the Marmolada, a day-long circuit for expert skiers that includes skiing at altitudes of nearly 3,300 meters.
7 Alta Badia
One of the ski areas of the Gruppo del Sella peaks, Alta Badia is popular for families with beginning and intermediate skiers. Not only does it have good gentle beginner terrain, about 50 percent is rated as intermediate pistes. But it's not just for beginners: Each December, La Villa hosts the Alpine Ski World Cup, held here because its Gran Risa slope is one of the most technically difficult in all of the Alps.
Another challenge for experienced skiers with the stamina to try it begins at La Villa. Known as the Gardena Ronda Express, this ski tour route links a series of lifts and pistes into a day-long circuit that leads to Selva di Val Gardena and a run down the World Cup downhill slope into S. Cristina. From here, lifts ascend again for a 10-kilometer downhill run to Ortisei, then back up for the return runs to Alta Badia. The circuit includes 24 lifts and 35 kilometers of downhill skiing. Like its sister valleys, Alta Badia is relaxed and uncrowded, and its main village of La Villa has a good range of facilities and lodging.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Alta Badia
8 Val di Fassa
One of the valleys formed by the Gruppo del Sella peaks, Val di Fassa is a good choice for serious skiers. It's not for beginners, nor is there much lower intermediate terrain here, although all the Dolomiti Superski resorts have at least 20 percent of intermediate. Canazei is the largest and best known of its resort towns, with a mix of modern and traditional buildings and facilities that include spas and more après-ski buzz than the surrounding smaller towns. Campitello is older - in fact it was the first ski resort in the region - and more traditionally Alpine, with charming wooden barns and narrow lanes. Cable cars from either town make it easy to reach the popular circuit of the four mountain passes, the Sellaronda, covering 40 kilometers, 26 of them on skis. Although there are some expert alternatives, the entire circuit can be done in about six hours by upper-intermediate skiers in good condition.
One of the world's largest ski networks, Monterosa includes the resort towns of Alagna, Champoluc, and Gressoney, linked by lifts to create 180 kilometers (115 miles) of ski terrain in Italy's Aosta Valley. It is a wonderland for off-piste skiers, who can access miles of untouched powder fields, with skiable terrain reaching to almost 3,000 meters. The views across to Mont Blanc, the Matterhorn, and Monte Rosa - Europe's three tallest mountain peaks - are as breathtaking as the skiing.
From the charming Alpine village of Alagna, you can climb about 850 meters by cable car, then take a second cable car the same distance to Col d'Olen, at 2,881 meters. This links to the other two villages and more pistes and powder fields. In all, it comprises one of the world's biggest lift-served verticals. While this terrain is suitable only for experts, the separate area of Wold, close to Alagna, is designed for beginners and low intermediates, complete with snowmaking. This area is part of the Aosta Valley Pass system, covering a total of 800 kilometers of ski terrain, about 200 lifts, and more than 10 ski areas.
10 Sestriere and Val Chisone
The ski resort town of Sestriere, in the Savoy Alps west of Turin, is the legacy of Fiat founder Giovanni Agnelli, who built a couple of hotels and four cable cars for skiers in the 1930s. That makes it one of Italy's oldest ski resorts and the world's first purpose-built ski resort. It was a favorite of the rich and famous for a time, and the training ground for some well-known winter athletes, but Sestriere was known mostly to ski enthusiasts from Turin until it took on new life during the 2006 Winter Olympics. Downhill, free-style, combined downhill, men's and women's slalom, and giant slalom competitions were held here, and the facilities were improved and updated, all of which focused world attention on the Val Chisone and skiing in the Piemonte.
The Val Chisone is part of the Via Lattea - Milky Way - which includes about 163 connected trails. More than half are intermediate, about 40 are for beginners, and 30 for experts. Altitudes reach to 2,800 meters. Although it has ski history, Sestriere itself has little character or visual appeal, at least until you get away from the buildings and see the beautiful mountain peaks that form the backdrop for the ski trails. In addition to skiing, you'll find bobsledding, ice skating, and dog sledding. The Chisone valley also includes the smaller ski resort of Pragelato, where you can ski the trails used in the Olympic cross-country events and perhaps catch competitions at the Olympic ski jump.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Sestriere
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