News from the snow
The Vialattea is an international skiing area consisting of five Piedmontese resorts, Sestriere, Sauze d'Oulx, Sansicario, Cesana, Claviere and Montgenevre in France. It is one of the world's largest ski-lift linked areas with more than 200 connected runs, for a total of 400km. The 90 lifts range from an altitude of 1350m in Cesana to 2800m at Mount Motta, a peak that gives a magnificent view of the surrounding mountains allowing skiers to appreciate the vastness and beauty of the area. The resort has staged the Alpine Ski World Championships in 1997, many World Cup Events and the XX Winter Olympic Games Torino 2006, the greatest recognition of how much potential. Vialattea is famed for its huge sunny, snowy expanses, panoramic runs that connect ancient and traditional villages with modern towns that provide all comforts and entertainment. The vastness and variety of the area will satisfy the most demanding skiers, thanks to long and difficult runs, as well as those that are approaching this world of skiing for the first time. The major resorts on the circuit include the only French resort, and indeed a pioneer of skiing in France, Montgenèvre, which could be described as one of the original altitude ski resorts. The area, a few hundred metres from the Italian border, has been inhabited since prehistoric times and has seen trans-European travellers passing through for millennia, including famous names like Julius Ceasar, and Hannibal with his herd of elephants and, later on, Napoleon. On the Italian side of the border is Claviere, Italy's oldest resort, which has a border post at one end of the village and is a ten minute walk from Montgènevre if you don't go by ski. The resort is very relaxed, with friendly and hospitable residents and some lovely hotel bars. The circuit dips to its lowest point at the small traditional village of Cesana before climbing up to the rapidly expanding Sansicario, a modern, low-level and tasteful purpose-built complex. This hosted the biathlon events in the Olympics. One of the world's pioneering ski areas, Sestrière was built by the Fiat car company in 1934. The mountain-top Possetto hotel first opened through the winter a decade earlier and more lifts and hotels opened before 1934. It was one of the earliest and still one of the highest purpose built ski stations. Sitting on a sunny plateau, snow cover is guaranteed thanks to both altitude and one of the world's most extensive snow making operations. At the time of its creation it was one of the first resorts in the world with modern hotels and a ski lift system where it was possible to take a family on a relatively economic ski trip - the model copied by the French purpose built centres of thirty years later. Although a very hi tec and modern ski centre, Sestrière is located in an area of great history and culture, dating back to neolithic sites, but rich in Roman and later remains. The resort has a long history of ski racing from the first Kandahar contests of the 1930s through to the world Championships, nearly 100 international world contests have been staged. The list of great racers who have won here over the decades is astonishing and includes Jean-Claude Killy, Ingemar Stenmark, Pirmin Zurbriggen to name but a few. Alberto Tomba won his first ever World Cup race at Sestrière. The World Championship race runs on the Kandahar Slalom and Kandahar Banchetta are open for good recreational downhillers to enjoy. During the Winter Olympics Torino 2006, Sestrière hosted some of the Alpine ski competitions. Sauze d'Oulx is located on a high sunny 'balcony' in the Susa Valley, the resort is surrounded by larch forest above. The trails cut down through this natural amphitheatre have an excellent snow record. Although Sauze still has a delightful ancient heart of stone buildings, narrow streets and a cobbled square with water fountain, as well as locals prepared to dress in traditional attire for ancient festivals, these are all somewhat swamped by the newer developments all around. Sauze d'Oulx has matured to some extent in recent years, and although the resort is still one of the liveliest ski centres in the world, the occasionally unpleasant 'rowdy' element has moved on. The resort hosted freestyle events at the 2006 Olympics. Of course the Vialattea is also one of the few ski areas in the world where you can ski across an international border. Until recently it was necessary to ensure you had a passport on you when you crossed the border by ski lift, but the border guards at the top of Clavière's chairlifts appear to have moved on, thanks to the ending of travel restrictions within European Community countries in mainland Europe.
Italy's oldest resort has a border post at one end of the village and is a ten minute walk from Montgènevre, France. The resort is very relaxed, with friendly and hospitable residents and some lovely hotel bars. It is on the long and interesting Milky Way circuit.
Sestrière's skiing has been well designed from the start. The vast snowy bowl, largely above the tree line, gave the planners a blank sheet to play with.
Beginners runs fan out above the ski school meeting point in the resort' centre. and a special lift tickets given relevant limited lift access for beginners only is also available. Experts have fewer trails just for them but heli-skiing is popular in the area. Runs in the Amphitaeatro bowl and the blacks at the top of Sises and Motta are also highly regarded.
Intermediates will enjoy Sestrières skiing the most, using the two main local areas of Banchetta and Sises. There are runs of all kinds from short steep moguls to long wide motorway cruisers. It's easy to get over to the pleasant wooded trails above neighbouring Sauze d'Oulx. The trails over to Montgenèvre can be tackled by intermediate skiers via blues and reds. It is an exciting trip as you have the feeling of travelling from village to village. A full day should be allowed and some sectors, notably around the village of Cesana may not have adequate snow cover except at the height of the season.
A run good skiers should not miss in Sestriere is Mount Sises (which also gives access to excellent off piste from the slopes of Valle Ripa and Vallone del Chisonetto). This is the World Cup and World Championships giant slalom run. You reach the top (2600m) with the four passenger chair-lift Cit Roc and then a ski-lift. The run is steep but wide in the highest part then flatter around the Mount Alpette and becoming once again quite "vertical" under the chair lift where the old ski lift once passed.
Sauze d'Oulx's ski area can be accessed from four different points around the village, all served by chair lifts and linked at resort level by a ski bus. As the resort is built on quite a steep hillside and all the lifts leave from the upper outskirts of the village, this bus is invaluable for many guests.
Beginners have a village level nursery slope at the base of the Clotes chair, but most teaching takes place at Sportina, a plateau area half way up the mountain from which many lifts radiate out and there are a number of short beginner drags. Sportina can be reached quickly by a quad chairlift.
Intermediates will get the most out of this great varied terrain and enjoy the feeling of travel over to the neighbouring areas. Reasonable intermediates can make the Milky Way link in reasonable snow conditions by skiing over to Sansicario, taking the (unskiable) chairlift link across the top of Cesana and then skiing on above Clavière, over the border to Montgenèvre in France. Remember to check ahead for piste conditions all the way over and leave early to be on the safe side.
Expert skiers in Sauze will find some fun off-piste amongst the larch woods of the lower slopes or up in the higher powder bowls. There are a variety of off piste routes which a guide can show you that descend 1300m from the top of Fratieve to the valley.
Montgenèvre's skiing marks the Western end of the Milky Way circuit; it's the only French resort on it. Skiing takes place on both sides of the main road that runs through the resort and over the pass into Italy. The area is most fun for intermediates who will enjoy the endless variety of trails above the treeline and then plunging down through the forest. Popular routes include the wide runs down from Les Angles at the top of the resort and the long red from Le Chavlet across the Valley.
Beginners have wide sunny slopes by the village and, because of the altitude, backed up with snowmaking, the convenience of village level nursery slopes is ensured throughout the season - unlike at many other famous but lower altitude resorts. The altitude also means that Montgenèvre can genuinely maintain a sunshine record that is the envy of many, but doesn't melt too much of the snow.
Intermediates have the whole Milky Way ahead of them. Experts may have to travel about to find a huge amount of challenging terrain, or venture off piste with a guide. Nonetheless there are seven marked black pistes at Montgenèvre alone. These are dotted all around the mountain, but the 'off the beaten track' Col de l'Alpet area on the 'back route' to Clavière 2430 metres is a favourite area for bumps. Heliskiing from Montgenèvre: 2 drop off points on the Italian peaks over 3000 metres.
In Sestriere its possibile to ski at night on the floodlit run where many ski champions have battled it out in World Cup competitions
Sauze is one of the best centres for childcare in Italy, the Dumbo non-skiing daycare accepts children as young as newborn up to six years of age. The ski school has special classes for children aged five to ten.
In Montgenevre daycare is offered in the Halte Garderie by the tourist office. The ski school runs a snow garden with its own baby lift. Children aged three to five can join the ski kindergarten.
For the best in gourmet food Il Gran Bouc is the place to be seen. Gallo Cedrone is another good choice and there are several pizzerias offering the first true Italian pizzas after you cross the border from France at high value prices.
Other eateries worthy of note include Da Sandro, Del Golf, Bes, Murphy's and the Kilt.
It has stepped up tempo in recent years however with the Disco Pub Murphy's Igloo one of four dedicated bar-nightspots. You can also visit Ski Legends or brave the Gallo Cedrone's karaoke bar and check out The Gran Bouc's usually popular bar.
Other evening activities include the amusement arcade and, if it's cold enough, a natural ice rink.
There are four snowparks - one at each end of the circuit in Montgenevre, in Sestriere, in Sauze D'Oulx and Cesana San Sicario. Montgenèvre's dedicated snowboard park above the resort, fenced off from the main terrain and designed for maximum air and to enable the best acrobatics. The local terrain offers good and varied free riding.