The second largest region in Italy and 43% mountainous, Piedmont has borders with France, Switzerland and the Italian regions of Lombardy, Liguria and the Aosta Valley. Its most famous resorts are Alagna, Bardoneccia, Macugnaga, and the half dozen ski resorts that comprise the Via Lattea or “Milky Way” ski area.
There are over 50 ski areas in Piedmont but many are tiny. This is fine if you are a resident of Turin and are looking for something to do on a Saturday afternoon. But, if you’re looking for a ski holiday as a visitor to the region, there are really only half a dozen ski “resorts” to note. Given the variety on offer, it’s hard to make firm generalisations, but more often than not, ski resorts in Piedmont offer less crowded pistes with smaller or non-existent lift queues and lower prices than equivalent ski areas elsewhere. Food is also excellent, particularly the local meat dishes, and again it tends to be less expensive than in Switzerland and served in more civilised surroundings (less motorway café, more cosy restaurant) than across the border in France.
Alagna Valsesia (Monterosa)
Alagna in the Valesia valley is part of the Monterosa ski area, along with the Aosta Valley ski resorts of Gressoney and Champuloc. All three valleys are linked and the top lift, which starts above the mountain pass between Alagna and Gressoney, rises to 3275m. Monterosa in total has 135km of pistes and 26 lifts, and Alagna is recognised as one of the best off-piste ski areas in the Alps. Unlike most other ski resorts with a claim to this title, Alagna is an unspoilt pretty village that only fills up at weekends and hence the freeriding terrain tends to remain untracked for longer. The Monterosa region also offers excellent heliskiing opportunities – and at Italian rather than Swiss prices. Skiers and boarders who prefer staying on the piste, however, may be better off choosing to stay in Gressoney or Champoluc, where there are more groomed runs.
Bardonecchia has 100 km of pistes and 23 lifts, spanning three different areas, two of which are linked and can be accessed from the town. You have to take a free ski bus to reach the third area, Jafferau, which has the highest lift, reaching 2694m. From there, experts can hike up to the summit at 2800m to explore the off-piste opportunities, but mostly Bardonecchia is a resort for families and intermediates, who are well served by the gentle slopes running above and through the trees. This is only a moderately sized area with few tough pistes and quiet nightlife but the runs tend to be uncrowded and the prices, on and off the slopes, are lower for an Alpine resort. Skiers wanting more can use Bardonecchia’s good transport links to get to the Via Lattea (Milky Way) resorts by train and to Valfrejus in France by bus. Travelling by car is easier still and opens up the possibility of day trips to more French resorts in the Maurienne valley, including Orelle (the back door into The Three Valleys).
Limone Piemonte (Riserva Bianca)
Situated in the Maritime Alps South of Turin, Riserva Bianca’s slopes stretch out from the town of Limone to its satellite resorts Limone 1400 and Limonetto 1300. Geographically it’s quite a broad areawith 80 km of pistes and 16 lifts. But the mountains here are not so high as the ones to the North so the highest lift only reaches 2060m. Snow reliability can be a problem
Macugnaga is situated amid stunning scenery beneath the Monte Rosa range in the North East of Piedmont. Perhaps more famous for its summer climbing than it is for its winter skiing, its official statistics of 38km of pistes and 11 lifts don’t really describe what is on offer here, at least for experts with touring skis and bindings. For them, Macugnaga is really the Italian equivalent of La Grave in France, although much less developed. The skiing is split into two unconnected and very different areas. The first, Belvedere, is East facing, with lifts ascending to 2000m and red runs at the top and blues at the bottom, most snaking through trees. The base station at Alpe Burki is at a respectable 1650m but there is artificial snowmaking if required. The second area, Passo Moro, is all above the tree line and predominantly faces South. This has a lift going up to nearly 3000m. There are some blue pistes at the top but the runs down to the base station at Alpe Bill are all red and black, with several off-piste variants. You can also ski off-piste down to Saas Fee in Switzerland, although there is no connecting lift back and the return by coach takes over three hours. There are plenty of heliski and ski-touring possibilities too. Although Macugnaga sometimes brands itself as Macugnaga Monte Rosa, there is no link to the Monterosa ski area resorts. This means its modest network of pistes is simply too small to keep keen intermediates busy for a week. But as a wintersports destination, it has a lot to offer for both beginners who want to learn to ski in a remote, quiet, beautiful mountain village, and advanced skiers who are prepared to invest time and money (hiring a guide is strongly recommended) to make the most of its raw freeriding potential.
The largest of the ski areas South of Turin in the Maritime Alps, Mondole Ski has 130 km of pistes and 23 lifts running between Frabosa Soprana, Artesina and Prato Nervoso and beneath Mont Mondole. The highest lift reaches 2082m. There are plenty of red runs and a few blacks, both above and in the trees, but experts and confident intermediates staying for a full week would benefit from having a car and being able to visit other resorts.
Via Lattea (“Milky Way”)
Sestriere, Sauze d’Oulx, Sansicario, Pragelato, Cesana and Claviere are all in Pedmont, and together with Montgenevre across the border in France, they form the vast Via Lattea or Milky Way ski area. The links between the resorts were upgraded for the Olympics in 2006 and the area now claims 400 km of slopes (including the runs used for the Men and Women’s Downhill events). This is almost certainly an exaggeration, but it’s still a large area with skiing above and below the treeline, and accommodation and nightlife to fit almost all budgets and tastes. The Italian parts of the Via Lattea don’t get a lot of natural snow, but the combination of high lifts (particularly above Sestriere) and plentiful artificial snowmaking means there is usually something to ski on from Christmas through to Easter. Via Lattea particularly appeals to intermediates seeking value for money. Compared to other European mega ski areas, it tends to be cheaper than the Three Valleys, larger than the Espace Killy, higher than the Portes du Soleil, and has a greater variety of skiing than the resorts around the Sella Ronda, so it has a lot going for it.
Getting to Piedmont
Most of the resorts are within a couple of hours drive of either Turin’s or Milan’s international airports. On and around weekends during the ski season, flights to these cities on low cost airlines tend to be slightly cheaper than flights to Geneva. Bardonecchia and the Via Lattea resorts are also easy to reach from the UK and Northern France by car via the Frejus tunnel.