Italy's Sestriere offers skiing families a one-of-kind European experience.
Interested in a uniquely European trans-alpino adventure, in skiing or riding ‘without borders’? Over 400 kms/240 mi of groomed trails make up the Via Lattea, Italy’s “Milky Way” of resorts revolving around Sestriere, about an hour from Torino in the Italian Alps.
This, the largest of the Via Lattea resorts, offers the widest range of expert and intermediate terrain, and the most snow-making capacity. Advanced skiers and riders can try Sestriere’s Downhill Medal course selected for the 2006 Torino Winter Olympics, or the sheer drop made famous by World Alpine Ski Champion Alberto Tomba.
When Sestriere was developed by the Agnelli family (of Fiat and Maserati fame) throughout the 1930’s, its streamlined, Moderne-style cylindrical towers gave it instant cache. Royalty, wealthy, even Hollywood stars came to ski.
Today, Sestriere’s village is a low-rise hodgepodge of ski condos and second homes, distinguished by the original Deco Agnelli towers (now part of Club Med). More charming at night — and under a blanket of fresh snow — the village’s few lanes are crowded with chic outdoor wear shops, international newstands and gourmet markets. Its facilties make it the best choice for most families looking for a uniquely Italian ski or snowsports holiday.
Within this large resort’s gravitational pull, a pull which will be strengthened by the concentration of facilites built in preparation for the Winter Olympics, are four smaller but appealing resorts linked by 99 Poma rope tows, chairlifts and a few telecabina (small gondolas).
Via Lattea’s Other Resort Towns
To enhance the snowsports experience, Via Lattea resorts jointly provide ice skating, cross-country skiing, telemark, ice/rock climbing, dogsledding, snowshoeing and even horseback riding. There are several medical facilities in the foothills, and evacuation by ambulance or helicopter to the nearest hospital is offered to skiers and riders free of charge.
Starting on the slopes of Sestriere, families can meander along intermediate trails to the telecabina which transports skiers above the village and over to Sauze d’Oulx (pronounced SOW-ze-doolks; nicknamed Sauze), which makes a popular day outing for its terrific, rustic cuisine cafe/restaurants. These traditional stone-walled places called baita, with their thick, hand-hewn slate roofs are popular at lunch and dinner (accessible at night by snowmobile) and are tucked in amongst the wooded slopes. Families interested in condo or B&B accommodations will find a much smaller village with some friendly nightlife, a bevy of British condo-owners, and steady sun.
For those just flying through the Via Lattea galaxy, confident skiers can connect onwards with a steep Poma lift to the pretty, wooded Sansicario. Sansicario has more limited snowmaking facilities, broad runs and a small base village connected to Claviere‘s small cluster of ski in/ski out chalets and the Stella Alpina Hotel.
It takes all day and you have to watch the lift closing times, but the hardy can traverse the small Monti della Luna (officially called Cesana) to reach France. Cesana has an ice skating rink and beginner terrain radiating from the valley in which it is nestled. If this area is your goal, note that these resorts are about two hours apart from each other, depending on which lifts and runs are open.
Onward to France
From this small ski area, lifts run through the low, snow-dependent foothills to Mont Genevre (Montigenevro). Congratulations for reaching the French Alps. We found it unattractively busy — just a long strip running along a busy two-lane highway lined with motorhomes and a few trailer parks.
We heard this was quite a trek, more fun for the pride of saying you’d done it than for the experience itself. So, many families may prefer the inexpensive shuttle buses which run between the resorts; Via Lattea lift tickets are honored at each. By the way, everywhere, children under 8 ski/ride free.
Ready for Blast-Off
Those interested in a uniquely Italian experience: “sciare senza confini” as Via Lattea’s motto proclaims, will find Sestriere an ideal family ski destination.
Ready? To traverse the Milky Way, you’ll need stamina, skill, a Via Lattea lift pass, some euros for busfare back to Sestriere, several days to contemplate the adventure, and the advice of many locals regarding route feasibility and weather forecasting.
Via Lattea Information: www.vialattea.itis the official Milky Way website.
Skiing in Italy: www.goski.com is a terrific website with very active user boards.
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