Ski France & Italy 2013-14 Part 2

Leave the magificent Chamonix valley by the Mont Blanc road tunnel and suddenly you are in Italy, at the gateway to the Valle de Aosta. The ski resort of Courmayeur sits nestled on the other side of the tunnel - you can visit it on a Mont-Blanc Unlimited ski pass and get a different feel for Monte Bianco.

At Aosta, a wonderful provincial town full of Roman ruins, you can look up to the ski resort of Pila. But we weren't to visit either Courmayeur or Pila as we had a long drive out of the valley and back into Lombardia, not far from where we started this trip at Milano.

29 December 2013 - 4 January 2014

Near Milan we headed back north towards the snowy Alps, through rainy Como and then to Lecco, a town at the southern tip of Lake Como. The massive, deep glacial lake was surrounded by snow-capped peaks and dramatic mountain landscapes, landscapes that were to be our home for the new year's week.

Piani di Bobbio 29.12.13
The Christmas snows had continued for two days in northern Italy as the cold fronts had swooped up across southern Europe. Places like Monte Rosa in Aosta and Madonna Di Campiglio further east scored around one metre of snow from the dump over two days.

Madesimo and Piani di Bobbio in Lombardy got a whopping two metres!

Piani di Bobbio
Altitude - 1,350 - 2,000m
Lifts - 10
Runs - 35kms
Snow Depth - 130/160cms (01.01.2014)

Piani di Bobbio is only twenty minutes or so from Lecco or about an hour from the suburbs of Milan. A small but pretty ski resort, and quite far south, it can suffer in lean snow seasons. But this year was no lean one!

You reach the piani, the upper mountains, by gondola from the big car park. There's no snow at the bottom, but it comes into sight once the lift rises above the sharp, rocky escarpments.

The peak at Piani di Bobbio 29.12.13
At the top station you take another chairlfit across a wide, protected bowl which opens out onto downhill and cross-country runs.

At one side of the bowl, a series of nice, fast tree-lined pistes snake down into another valley, Valtorta.

But the best skiing was right at the top of the resort serviced by a simple, one-seater chairlift!

The untracked powder off the peak was lots of fun as the clouds began to clear and the sun peeped out again. This was the place to do laps and take in the views across the Valsassina to Lake Como.

The great thing about this part of Italy is the stunning scenery where the deep blue lakes are contrasted with the snow-capped mountains. You could spend a morning skiing, and the afternoon walking by the lakes through olive groves and eating gelati!

Altitude - 1,870 - 3,303m
Lifts - 15
Runs - 120kms
Snow Depth - 86/132cms (01.01.2014)

Corvatsch St Moritz 30.12.13
If you have a bit more time one day you can even make it to Switzerland from Lecco! A fast road takes you through numerous tunnels along the shore of Lake Como, then up the Valchiavenna.

Follow the signs to St Moritz from the town of Chiavenna and in another 40 minutes you are at Corvatsch.

There is no snow on the shores of Lake Como, but once you climb up into Switzerland the temperature drops and the snow begins to build up until there is more than a metre in the valley floors.

From -1c when we set out from Lecco, it had dropped to -13c in the car park when we arrived at the Furtschellas gondola station!

It certainly feels like the central Alps up at St Moritz, but on the day it was so cold it was hard to focus on the skiing! Corvatsch has great views over the frozen lakes Silvaplanersee and Silsersee, as well as to the town and the main St Moritz ski area.

The Motta area of Valchiavenna 03.01.14
On the way home you can fill up with petrol with your remaining Swiss francs as its significantly cheaper in Switzerland!

Madesimo Valchiavenna
Altitude - 1,550 - 2,948m
Lifts - 13
Runs - 60kms
Snow Depth - 210/290cms (01.01.2014)

Back in Italy again, the Valchiavenna is also reached from Lake Como, but you continue driving north rather than turning off to go to St Moritz. The resort is almost at the Spluga Pass into Switzerland, which is closed at this time of year.

Valchiavenna is a big ski area and had an incredible season with the snow depths peaking at around 5 metres in February.

Day trippers from Milan and around Lombardy park their cars at the little mountain town of Campodolcino (1,066m) and then take the funicular up to Motta (1,720m).

Powder beneath Our Lady of Europe
Motta has a number of short lifts and open runs, while the resort town Madesimo is home to the most lifts and the main ski area. There are great, long, tree-lined runs above Madesimo, with some higher open areas.

From Cima Sole at 2,150m you can get the cable car up to a peak, Pizzo Groppera, at almost 3,000m altitude. A tunnel through the rock takes you through the mountain itself to the lifts above the Val Di Lei, or you can ski straight back down to Madesimo (1,550m) on two ungroomed advanced trails. Unfortunately the conditions didn't suit either of these options on the day we were there!

However, back at Motta there was a great area of off-piste powder above the funicular station and below Our Lady of Europe, a 4-tonne, 13m-high gold statue right in the middle of the ski resort!

5-10 January 2014

Leaving Lombardy for the east we kept the mountains to the left of us as we passed the cities of Bergamo and Brescia. At Verona we were past all the lakes and so we headed north again on the Brenner Motorway, the road that links Northern Italy to the Tyrol, Austria and Germany.

The mountainous area of Trentino is an autonomous province of Italy whose capital is Trento, a beautiful little city that sits nestled between craggy mountains at the gateway to the Italian Tyrol. While Trento isn't a resort town, it is in range of four little ski areas with only a 30-40 minutes drive.

Near the summit at Paganella 06.01.14
A follow-up storm on the 4th and 5th January 2014 had brought more snow across the region. The smaller areas in Northern Italy received 20-40cms, but only above 1,300m. Lower down there was some rain, and later in the week the snow had mostly disappeared below 1,000m - in Northern Italy at least - during the unusually mild spell.

Altitude - 1,040 - 2,125m
Lifts - 18
Runs - 60kms
Snow Depth - 25/120cms (06.01.2014)

Paganella is a popular local ski area on the Trento side of the Brenta Dolomiti mountain group. After driving from the city through all the  vineyards on the verdant valley floor, a steep road winds its way up to the village of Fai della Paganella. Fai and Andalo are the two towns at the base of the ski area.

The ski villages are at 1,000-1,100m altitude and the snow cover was a little thin down low, but there are mid-stations for the lifts and there was lots of fresh show above about 1,500m.

Off-piste area at Paganella 06.01.14
I think the best runs are down from the Cima Paganella summit. There are also incredible panoramic views from here over the glacial Trentino valleys and the surrounding Dolomiti.

Runs are long and mainly undulating tree-lined pistes. But a great area for those who like to venture off-piste is between the two top lifts. The traverse that leads to it is actually marked on the piste map.

The off-piste area is dotted with conifers and dips steeply on some sides with rocky drop-offs. All in all, Paganella is a fun place with some variety and splendid scenery!

Altitude - 1,200 - 1,900m
Lifts - 22
Runs - 74kms
Snow Depth - 20/90cms (09.01.2014)

Folgaria 07.01.14
To the southeast of Trento near to the border with the Veneto region is a series of valleys that are predominantly agricultural for much of the year. But the main town in the valley, Folgaria, is also a family winter sports destination.

The Folgraia ski area put in some new lifts recently that link a number of disparate areas to create one bigger one with 22 lifts and 31 pistes. Its a gentle but surprisingly extensive area.

Although the snow wasn't great due to Folgaria's relatively low elevation, there was nobody around when we visited in midweek so every piste was perfectly groomed. The runs at Fiorentini are very pretty and the rolling hills and countryside are picture perfect.

Monte Bondone
Altitude - 1,184 - 2,090m
Lifts - 4
Runs - 20kms
Snow Depth - 30/100cms (09.01.2014)

Monte Bondone 09.01.14
The sunny days continued through the week in Trentino and elsewhere in northern Italy. Trento's closest ski resort looks over the city. It's known locally as Trento's own Alp, and is only 30 minutes from the centre of town.

The views are superb at the top of Monte Bondone. The top lift station has a great bar/restaurant perched on the rock face so you can look straight down on Trento. The craggy drop is sheer on the city side, but the mountain is more gentle to the west and this is where the slopes are.

Its a surprising little place with a superb long run called Gran Pista with a vertical drop of around 900m (feel your ears go pop!).

From the top, I spied the other ski areas at Paganella and Folgaria, as well as the mountain ranges of the Dolomiti.

Passo Groste at Madonna di Campiglio 10.01.14
Madonna di Campiglio
Altitude - 1,550 - 2,500m
Lifts - 62
Runs - 150kms

Madonna Di Campiglio, one of Italy's biggest ski areas, is just an hour's drive away from Trento, and provided some incredible skiing during the 2014 season. Madonna had reported a metre of snow in the previous storm and we arrived there to get a taste of the fantastic conditions.

The main resort town is a full-on ski village with restaurants, shops and nightlife and sits at an altitude of 1,550 metres at the top of a stunning valley in the Brenta Dolomites. Madonna has now linked with all its neighbours - Folgarida, Marilleva and Pinzolo - making the variety of terrain massive.

A clever place to start for those on a day trip is past the town at the Groste car park, as you can get straight on to lifts to both sides of the resort from there.

View from Passo Groste at Madonna di Campiglio 10.01.14
We started at the highest part of the resort as it was in the sunshine. A gondola takes you all the way to Passo Groste at 2,500m in one go. The runs up here are open and gentle and the snow quality is excellent. The scenery is wonderful.

Lower down on this side are fast and steeper tree-lined pistes that take you back down to the village. The other side of Madonna di Campiglio has more of the same at Pradalago and Cinque Laghi, two areas of lifts and a variety of red and blue runs. The latter is the more challenging area of the two with some very steep pistes up on the upper part of the mountain.

Pradalago gives you access to Monte Vigo and, from there, two other ski areas - Folgarida and Marilleva. The runs from the peak take you down to each of the ski villages which are resorts in their own right at 1,400m altitude. There are some great, long runs over here as well but the snow quality wasn't as good and it was a lot busier when we were there.

Cloud rolls in at Madonna di Campiglio 10.01.14
You could definitely spend a week in Madonna di Campiglio and, if the ski area here wasn't enough, a short drive would get you to the high-altitude ski areas of Passo Tonale and Peio up the road, or back to Paganella. The Brenta Dolomiti make a great alternative to their more internally renowned cousins to the east.

As a great day's skiing came to an end, low cloud drifted into the valley below us. This was to be our last day in Trentino, a fantastic part of Italy with skiing galore plus a great little city in Trento.

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