News from the snow
Italy pioneered purpose-building high-altitude resorts in the 1930s and Cervinia, like Sestrière by the country's French border, is one of Europe's originals. The little settlement that did stand there originally was known as 'Breuil', but was changed to Cervinia, apparently because in those nationalistic times the former "Sounded too French". Now the two are officially hyphenated together, although most English speakers still tend to call the place Cervinia. The title Cervinia also brings to mind Monte Cervino, again better known as the Matterhorn to English speakers, which provides a key part of the spectacular backdrop to the resort, nestling on the border with Switzerland. Indeed the huge ski area is linked by lift to one of the most famous Swiss resorts - Zermatt, and old rivalries that meant there was for many decades no joint lift ticket, seem to have finally been forgotten in recent years with the introduction of a full international pass - no more messing about with supplements. You will still be crossing the border too, so make sure you carry a passport. Switzerland is the only major country in Western Europe not to sign up for membership of the EC (European Community) with its commitment to abolish borders between member states within Europe. Cervinia today is, again like the other original Italian purpose-built centres, a hotch potch of architectural styles ranging from the quite acceptable to the unacceptably ugly, but at least the variety makes it impossible to condemn the whole place as you might some of the later French monstrosities. What's special about the place is that, although it catches the sun, its altitude ensures it maintains the best snow record in Italy. Oh, and you also have access to one of the world's longest ski runs, from the Klein Matterhorn above Zermatt down to Cervinia's lift-linked neighbour, Valtournenche, an epic 20km (13 mile) descent.
One of Europe's original purpose-built resorts, its name was changed from Breuil to Cervinia because the former "Sounded too French". Now the two are hyphenated. Lift link to Zermatt for a world-beating vertical and year round skiing.
The area was improved for going up as well as coming down in the 2006-7 season when a major investment, the biggest in the world in new lifts that season, brought in five new high capacity chairlifts, with almost all draglifts decommissioned as a result.
Apart from the descent from the Klein Matterhorn, one of Europe's highest lift-served points, down to Valtournenche, probably the longest on-piste in the world and over a vertical drop in excess of 2359m, there are many other long trails. One of the most popular is the 15km red back down from Plateau Rosà to the resort.
Cervinia is normally a good choice for beginners and near beginners as the wide open slopes above the resort and on one side down from Plan Maison are ideal (they're served by cabin lifts - so no need to worry about getting pulled over by a drag lift or falling off a chair when you try to stand up at the top).
Experts perhaps have the least to shout about, even with the long runs, but there are five shorter black runs - mostly just above the resort, and then the steep runs of Zermatt over the border . There is also a thriving heli-skiing business, taking skiers up to the 4,500 metre (nearly 15,000 feet) high Monte Rosa for long powder runs down to Valtournenche or Champoluc. For cross country skiers there are three high-altitude loops, one at resort level.
Cervinia does score highly for families with its sunny wide open gentle pistes - ideal family terrain now accessed by easy to use modern lifts. A good choice is a slopeside hotel with good facilities, perhaps a pool.
For a bit of Italian sophistication sup on a cocktail at Lino's Ice Rink bar or relax at the Café des Guides. There are a choice of two night clubs to see you through in to the small hours. Trips to the Casino in Saint Vincent are organised.