Skiing Europe: A Baker's Dozen
With the Matterhorn looming above, you'll think you're in Switzerland, but Cerviniaoffering both something more and something less than you'll get elsewhere in the Alpsis definately Italy. Most of Cervinia's slopes are broad, wide open, and not too steepideal conditions for lower intermediates. Grooming is excellent. The lift system is interconnected with Val Tournache, giving skiers a choice of 65 miles of marked trails serviced by six cable cars, a gondola, and 36 smaller lifts. The big thrill on the hill is the descent from Plateau Rosa to Val Tournache. Where else can you cruise for 12 miles, enjoying a 5,000-foot vertical drop on a single run? Those looking for greater challenges can ski the Zermatt side of the mountain, which offers steeper verticals and narrower runs.
To get to Cervinia, it's best to fly to Milan and then drive a rental car (the local bus connections to Cervinia are unreliable). A week's lift ticket at Cervinia also buys you a day's skiing at Courmayeur.
Despite its remote locationa three-hour drive from Venice via steep and winding mountain roadsCortina d' Ampezzo is Italy's most fashionable luxury resort. The ski area itself is spread over three mountains with more than 50 lifts. The town of Cortina sits in a valley at less than 4,000 feet in elevation, but the bulk of the runs are located above 6,000 feet. Consequently, skiers must take long lifts or gondolas to access the lift network. There are some gentle cruising runs in the Pocol area, but the best runs lie in the outlying areas, reachable by shuttle bus. Intermediate skiers can enjoy the staggering views of Cortina while attacking the Passo Falzarego area, while the experts seek out the narrow, steep chutes between the rocky crags that crown the mountain tops.
Accommodations to suite all budgets are available throughout the area, including a number of reasonably priced two- and three-star hotels near the town center. Weekly rates start as low as $550. A one-week ski pass is a reasonable $180.
On the Italian side of Mont Blanc, is Italy's premier resort. With lifts running as high as 11,000 feet, one can always find skiable snow, and there is a wide choice of runs, although most are best suited for strong intermediates. Courmayeur is split into two major sections, the biggest stretches across the Val Veny from Mont Blanc. There, skiers take cable cars up to high bowls served by chairlifts. Beginners won't find much to their liking here, but the terrain inspires confidence in intermediates who can rest on a number of plateaus separating the steeper sections. The 8,500-foot Cresta Youla is the highest an intermediate will want to go, allowing a solid 3,600-foot vertical drop to Zerotta. Experts with guides can take the cable car all the way up to 9,000-foot Crest Arp.
The least expensive accommodations in Courmayeur are large apartment complexes such as the Residence les Jumeaux and the Residence Universo. the best rooms in town are at the Hotel Pavilion and the four-star Royal Hotel le Jumeaux, ideally situated near the lifts. Courmayeur is served by a private tourist agency, VV Tours (Paiz-zale Monte Bianco 13, 11013, Courtmayeur, Italy. 01139-01658-42060. www.courmayeaurinitaly.com/regions/valsta).
Madonna Di Campiglio
While Cervinia and Courmayeur are big, and getting bigger every season, Madonna Di Campiglio, situated on the shores of a scenic lake, has managed to retain the charm of a small alpine ski village. Four local ski resorts encircle the town, and it's quite possible to circumnavigate the entire area via the 49 lifts and 90 miles of trails. The biggest ski area is Groste, famous for the world's longest gondola ride (three miles) and correspondingly long cruising runs from a high point of 7,500 feet. You'll find tougher trails in nearby Spinale, among them rugged World Cup runs. If you've exhausted the central ski basin, ride the linked lifts to the Folgarida and Marilleva resorts for another 20 lifts and more than 30 miles of prepared trails.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication