There’s a knack to choosing a perfect ski resort, especially one where you’re hoping to find your snow legs. The best beginner resorts have wide, gentle pistes that are easily accessible from the main village or lifts. They also have plenty of variety. Just because you’re skiing with L-plates, doesn’t mean you want to be restricted to a small number of inevitably packed nursery slopes.
Which is where Italy comes in. Its resorts have some of the best value skiing and boarding anywhere in Europe, with gentle skiing above and below the tree line. Here are some of my favourite spots for first-timers.
Donald’s guide to skiing in the Italian Alps
Budgeting. There’s no getting away from it: skiing and snowboarding can make for expensive holidays. As well as flights, accommodation and transfers by bus, rail or rental car, you’ll need to budget for lift passes and, if you’re a first-timer, renting your equipment, including a helmet. Italy’s supermarkets can help you make savings elsewhere. Bread and salami form a good basic packed lunch; pasta and pre-prepared sauces (or the raw materials for making your own) are cheap too. A hearty lunch on the slopes—and you’ll need it with all that carb-burning—should come in around €10 a head if you choose frugally.
Insurance. Chances are, your holiday will pass without so much as a sprained toe. But don’t skimp on insurance: A&E treatment in Italy is free for EU citizens carrying an EHIC, but getting from the mountain to the hospital is not, and nor are private clinic consultations. Make sure your travel insurance policy covers winter sports.
Top places in Italy for first-time skiers
This small, purpose-built resort is where my kids learned to ski, and has a perfect set-up for first-timers. There’s an excellent ski school, with bilingual instructors available for private lessons. Above the nursery area there are vast, open bowls, perfect terrain for someone finding their feet. There’s also a gondola lift connecting the resort with the Alpine city of Aosta, in the valley below. You can stay in slope-side accommodation, without being stuck with the limitations of a resort for dining and evening entertainment. If you have the energy to leave your apartment, that is…Stay in Aosta
The resorts of the Val di Susa, west of Turin, have some of the shortest transfer times in the Alps. It’s under an hour-and-a-half from the arrivals hall to your front door. There’s also a mainline train station right in the resort (one hour and 24 minutes from Torino Porta Nuova station); doing Bardonecchia without a hire car is realistic. The Val di Susa has a well-earned rep for partying, though Bardonecchia is more laid-back than nearby Sauze d’Oulx. The snow record is good, plus there are snow cannons if you catch a bad weather week. Once you’re a bit steadier on your feet, there’s pretty tree skiing on the hill directly above, including several blue runs. This is also also an ideal resort to combine with a daytrip or overnight stay in Turin.Stay in Val di Susa
Livigno is friendly on the pocket, thanks to its unique tax-free status. It’s also a good place to learn to ski or board, with gentle, wide-open pistes, respected ski schools and generous piste gradings—many of the 37 red runs here would be graded blue in Italy’s tougher resorts (and there are 29 blues here, too). There’s also lots to do in-resort if you discover skiing “isn’t your thing”—including skidoo trips and dog-sledding, plus a menu of spa treatments, steam baths and heated indoor and outdoor pools at Aquagranda.Stay in Livigno
This small-ish resort north of the Italian Lakes region is surrounded by some of Italy’s most spectacular mountain scenery: the Adamello-Brenta and Stelvio national parks are both on the horizon. It’s high (1,883 metres to 3,100 metres), with a long season, and so ideally suited to an early- or late-season trip to the mountains. Nursery slopes are right by the resort, sunny and wide, plus there’s a special kindergarten area where you can leave little ones to take their first slides on snow with a qualified instructor. In a mixed ability group, better skiers can head up to the Presena Glacier or the adjacent village of Ponte di Legno.Ski rentals in the Italian Lakes
You can ski almost all year on the glacier at Cervinia—this is one of Italy’s best summer ski spots. With the resort base at over 2,000 metres and a top station at 3,883 metres, snow is pretty much guaranteed all winter and into spring. The best of the 72 runs here is long and sweeping, with views of the pyramid of rock that Italians call Monte Cervino, but most of us know as the Matterhorn. The long piste from the Plateau Rosa back to the resort makes a great target for the end of your first week. There are three dedicated children’s ski areas, too.Ski rentals in Cervina
Donald Strachan is a travel journalist who’s written for National Geographic Traveller and Sunday Times Travel Magazine. Check out his latest adventures on his website. He is also co-author of Frommer’s Italy 2015.
First time skiing in Italy
Skiing in Italy
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