Getting High on Skis in Piemonte, Italy
I learned that thermal fabrics are best at wicking sweat away from the body so I got good long underwear, thick waterproof skipants, jacket, gloves, wool hat, polarfleece tops, and goggles. Looking the part began to boost my confidence.
The 2006 Winter Olympics were held about 50 miles west of Torino, Italy on the stunning, sunny mountains of the Via Lattea (Milky Way).
Five communities make up this area and include the towns of Sestriere, Sauze d’Oulx, Claviere, San Sicario and Cesana. A reasonable 34 euros gets you a one-day ski pass with access to more than 200 interconnected trails.
Fortunately there are trails for all skill levels as well as snowboarding, cross country, dog sledding, snowshoeing and heli skiing. Children learn to ski quite young; expect to see groups of five- and six-year-olds practicing with instructors even high up on the mountain.
Experienced adults also work with instructors to guide them through the mountains and help perfect style; it’s advisable, especially if you’re here for the first time.
Off we went with our instructor, Riccardo, to practice more snowplowing and basic turns on the wide trails that crisscross the mountains. This area is known to have some of the top snowmaking facilities in the world and the snow is soft and fluffy. Ice is nowhere to be found. On the highest trails the only sound interrupting the silence is the rhythmic swish of advanced skiers passing by.
There are more than 92 ski lifts here, all state of the art. In addition to chairlifts and gondolas, you’ll find numerous poma lifts, a type of drag lift in which a disk shaped seat is suspended from a cable; the key is to remain standing after you’ve slipped the seat in place and allow yourself to be pulled up the slope.
The next day we headed to Bardonecchia, the area’s only town accessible by train from Torino via the Val di Susa (Susa Valley). High-speed rail has been proposed between Torino and Lyon, France but the locals in the valley are vehemently opposed because of the environmental damage it would cause. The pristine nature of the valley would be forever changed by the intense blasting that would widen sections of the valley and carve tunnels through the mountains.
In the name of progress, the remote, small-town feel of the area would be gone forever. Today’s lesson consists of learning to lift the inside ski as we turn, keeping our skis parallel, constantly shifting weight back and forth.
Our instructor, Walter, takes us on several trails and we see and feel the mountain’s natural beauty, stopping periodically to chat and admire the panorama.
We weave down, staying away from the snowboarders and the five-year olds, who look a lot more natural at this than we do. However, I sense the re-awakening of my skills and try to remember how and why I ever stopped skiing.
Have a seat at a weathered, wooden table next to strangers and take your time for a real meal with table service. Today’s offering includes local fare of delicious venison stew, sausages, warm polenta, cheeses, and freshly baked bread, all accompanied by local Barolo or Barbaresco wines. This is Italy, after all!
It was here that I first heard of Occitania, a region of southern France and part of Piemonte that existed during the middle ages. The language of Occitan, also known as Languedoc or Provencal, is still spoken to some degree by a half million people with some of the oldest residents describing it as their native language. The earliest Piemontese language was very similar to Occitan. The locals I met rattled off words or phrases in the foreign tongue.
We take off again for the slopes winding over and around the mountain so that I can practice my turns and speed control. There are many advanced slopes, some with moguls and jumps, but we leave those to the more experienced skiers. Towards the end of the day, with a twinkle in his eye, Riccardo has a special treat for me. About three lifts later I’m questioning his judgment of my Alpine abilities. This is the highest peak I’ve been on.
An enormous blue sky and Alps embrace us, down below Sestriere appears as a fly in a bowl of milk. Below us lies a wide but very steep trail. It’s at this moment that he tells me this slope was the setting for the men’s freestyle downhill event in the 2006 Olympics. My heart skips a beat and I have the sudden urge to sprout wings and fly away, but he’s been a better judge of my abilities than I realize.
That is when and where I happened to ski my best ever run in the Alps. Down we went, stopping frequently to chat and admire the magnificent view. “Brava, Cindy, Brava!”, he said each time and I’m hooked on skiing in Italy.
Ski Travel Specialist/Planner (groups and individuals) Sami Azer
Hotels in Via Lattea Region:
Hotels in Bardonecchia:
Hotel Bucaneve Small family run hotel with the ambiance of a bed & breakfast. Located in the village of Bardonecchia, short walk to slopes.
Piemontese Restaurants Near Via Lattea:
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