Europe’s highest mountain ranges – the Dolomites and the French, Swiss, and Savoy Alps – form Italy’s borders on the north and west. On their snow-covered slopes are some of Europe’s most famous ski resorts. At these high altitudes – more than a dozen peaks in the Dolomites alone exceed 3,000 meters – snow is almost certain from November through April, and the season is often longer. The most skiable terrain and the broadest range of opportunities are in the Dolomites, where 12 major ski areas total more than 1,200 kilometers of ski trails. Whichever region you choose – the Dolomites, the Val d’Aosta (where Italy borders France and Switzerland), or the Savoy Alps west of Turin – you’ll be rewarded by spectacular scenery and single ski runs that can take several hours, dropping from high in the mountains all the way into the resort town at the base. And you’ll find plenty of things to do here in your off-slope time, as well.
Like much else in Italy, skiing takes on a different pace from its northern neighbors, a relaxed atmosphere where the point is having fun, not breaking records. This makes Italy a very attractive place for families to take a ski vacation. If you’re used to skiing in North America, bear in mind that skiing in Europe is somewhat different. Trail level designations are not always the same; what Europeans call beginner trails may be more like American intermediate, and safety fences are not as common. Alpine snow storms can cause serious driving delays, so it’s smart to allow plenty of time to make return flights.
The glacier-carved profile of vertical faces and rocky pinnacles won the Dolomites a UNESCO World Heritage Site designation, and the skiing here is world class as well. Best known of the dozen Dolomite ski resorts ever since the 1956 Winter Olympics were held here is Cortina D’Ampezzo. The setting is nothing short of spectacular. Towering over town are the Cinque Torri, five peaks that not only give Cortina a stage-set backdrop, but provide day-long runs from near the top right down into town. More than three dozen lifts carry skiers almost from the door of their hotel to snowfields just below the summits, at the crests of the highest ridges.
Families with beginning and intermediate skiers will find plenty of terrain at Cortina d’Ampezzo, where there are slopes and pistes (trails) for beginners, and about half the skiable terrain is intermediate. Expert skiers won’t be bored – the rest of the pistes are for them, as well as the full use of lifts and trails of the 11 other resorts, all covered in the single Dolomiti Superski pass. While Cortina D’Ampezzo has the largest concentration of downhill ski facilities in the Dolomites, it also has plenty of cross-country ski trails through spectacular mountain landscapes; a bobsled run; and the Olympic rink, Stadio del Ghiaccio, for ice skaters. The town is well equipped with hotels in every range, smart shops (this is the most fashionable of the Dolomite resorts by far), restaurants, cafés, and several spas. If jet-set glamour is part of your Italy ski dream, you’ll find it here. But you can also find midrange lodgings in Cortina, such as the chalet-style Hotel Natale, with magnificent views from its carved wooden balconies.