Europe’s most spectacular peaks soar to left and right but on a telemarking tour out of Cervinia, Italy, it’s not the scenery that has Kevin Wolff gasping for breath
The run ahead defies every superlative my stunned brain gropes for. With dramatic glacial seracs overhead, a curtain of 4,000m peaks as a backdrop and lurking danger at every turn, the Porta Nera (Black Door) double-ticks all the boxes for the kind of epic alpine descent that only Europe can dish up. Its particular perils? This descent is fissured with more holes than Swiss cheese. Avalanches are not the main danger in this wilderness of steep and deep – it’s keeping clients out of the ice crevasses that is the guides’ biggest concern. Although the run delivers my group of telemarkers close to Zermatt in Switzerland, we had woken that morning in the Italian resort of Cervinia. Zermatt zealots might want me hung, drawn and quartered for preferring to stay on the Latin side of the border – true, the Swiss view of the Matterhorn is unsurpassed, and Cervinia’s architecture, in places more concrete box than chocolate box, is certainly no match for Zermatt’s Heidi-fied gorgeousness – but both access the same backcountry ski area, and the relaxed Italian approach gets my vote every time, especially in the unhurried, traditional Aosta valley.
When it comes to testing the mountains’ limits, the Porta Nera is not for those afraid of a little exercise. Just to access it requires a serious hour’s bout of poling, traversing and sidestepping, before the climbing skins come out for the final ascent to the col. Approaching an altitude of 4,000m, I’m puffing like a very old train.
Our leader is Christian Cesa, Aosta inhabitant, mountain guide extraordinaire and all-round top bloke. After spending the last three days with him touring from Saas Fee, my group knows beyond doubt this man has a secret super-power – the ability to sniff out untracked powder. And from the top of the Breithorn Col he strikes white gold once again. Skins are stripped off and skis pointed downward, but the 20-odd sweet curves which then send clouds of fluff billowing from our edges are merely an appetizer.
After tracing a complex route through, around and at one point inside a crevasse, the full magnificence of the Porta Nera unfolds. Across it, a strip of snow some 100m wide at a flattering angle cuts between the rock ridges and tortured seracs of the Breithorn and Pollux and offers a run down the glacier so straight and smooth it’s hard to believe it hasn’t been prepared. To the right soars the Matterhorn, the Lion of Zermatt; to the left, Monte Rosa owns the skyline. Below lies an invitation to gorge on fabulous powder turns in contact with heaven and earth.
I’ve been indulging the smug fantasy that we are the first here, but the tracked slope offers too much evidence that others have had their slice already. Only the sides of the glacier now afford fresh tracks, but we bounce down the fall line too blissed-out to care. Apart from Christian, that is, who’s never happy skiing a scarred run. In moments his super-sensors kick in and we’re chasing the whiff he’s picked up of freshies over a nearby ridge. With only half the descent in the bag he suggests we skin for a while and hunt down the good stuff. There are no questions or complaints, just the sound of velcro as eight skiers huff and puff to get their skis skinned in record time.
There’s time on the 30-minute trudge uphill to doubt our man – and a lifetime afterward to acknowledge he was so, so right. Wheezing like an asthmatic in a poodle parlour, I finally crest another gargantuan slope, this time pristine. There’s no need to scallop each other’s tracks and plenty of room to carve sweet, fast arcs, feeling the pressure build under-ski before it thrusts you into your next epic, effortless turn. And so it goes on, for three untouched bowls of powder in a row, until we’re cut off by a rock face with no skiable exit and the plug is well and truly pulled on our fun. Even as we rappel down a rock face, pole manically across the end of the Gornerglacier and hike out of the valley on mud while my lungs feel like they’re planning an Alien-style evacuation for the third time today, already I’m grinning like a madman at some brand-new, best-ever memories.
Kevin Wolff was a guest of the Telemark Ski Company (01248 810337, www.telemarkskico.com) which offers courses and tours for telemarkers and alpine tourers.
Cervinia, ITALY, www.cervinia.it
Getting there: There are five airports approximately a two-hour drive from Breuil-Cervinia – Turin Caselle, Milan Malpensa, Bergamo, Geneva , Milan Linate. Flights from London Luton to Turin with Easyjet (www.easyjet.com) Ryanair (www.ryanair.com) flights from Liverpool to Bergamo in Milan. BA (www.ba.com) flies from Gatwick to Turin.
High-end: Elegant Resorts (www.elegantresorts.co.uk)
Mid-range: Crystal Ski (www.crystalski.co.uk)
Season: November to end April
Vertical drop: 1,440m
Mountain munchies: Tuktu has a self-service section offering sandwiches and hot meals, a takeaway option and restaurant. British-run Igloo serves good basic food and Baita Cretaz is good value
Guiding: Cervino offers classes for six days (2hr 45mins per day) for £105. (00 39  166 948744)
Snowpark: Indian Park – Europe’s highest and Italy’s best
Facilities: There’s very little for the non-skier. Village amenities include hotel pools, a fitness centre and a natural ice rink. The walks are disappointing
Eating/drinking: The resort has more than 50 restaurants. The Chamois is excellent, but pricy. Lino’s serves excellent pizzas and good beer. The Maison de Saussurre dishes up very good local specialities. The Copa Pan has live music