We will be spending six days on the slopes of Italy’s Via Lattea (literally, the Milky Way), a huge ski area connecting 6 resorts in Italy and France that hosted the skiing events of the 2006 Winter Olympics. Our base is the purpose-built resort of Sestriere, located at the eastern end of the Milky Way. The Sestriere/Borgata ski area is right above the resort; from the resort itself, you can also take a gondola to the top of the Sauze d’Oulx and Sansicario ski areas.
Continuing west from Sansicario are the Cesana Torinese and Claviere resorts in Italy and finally the Montgenèvre resort in France. This is a huge interconnected ski area, all for a fraction of the cost of skiing at one of the major resorts in western Canada or the U.S.A. Our challenge was to conquer the area and, conditions permitting, complete at least one international ski circuit.
Our first day was spent primarily in the Borgata area. The weather conditions could best be described as “snowy and foggy”: there was lots of powder on the slopes, but it was difficult to see much more than a few feet ahead. Even more difficult was skiing with improperly fitted bindings! I always bring my own ski boots to Europe, to prevent blisters and other discomforts, but I usually rent my skis for the week in the resort. Unfortunately, as my boots kept sliding out of my bindings, I had to return to the rental shop after only a few minutes on the slopes. The owner was very apologetic and recognized his staff’s error immediately. It was a bit of a frustrating start but, on the other hand, skiing was extremely easy once the problem had been fixed!
The visibility was a little better on the lower slopes, where the fog was not quite as heavy, and I enjoyed a hearty lunch of polenta e salsiccia at a mountain restaurant. I find ordinary polenta somewhat bland, but this dish combined polenta with a tasty tomato sauce and some local sausage. The afternoon’s skiing was better, even though (or perhaps because) it continued to snow heavily, and we all looked forward to waking up the next day to deep fields of powder and brilliant Southern Alps sun.
Our second day of skiing took us to the Sauze d’Oulx ski region. Alas, neither the snow nor the fog had lifted: as a result, we struggled with visibility near the top of the resort but enjoyed some epic powder runs (on-piste!) at slightly lower elevations in the morning. This was my kind of skiing: snow flying with every turn but a complete absence of any scraping or skidding. These definitely were not eastern Canadian ski conditions! While we went off-piste a little bit, the conditions really were excellent on the pistes themselves and it wasn’t truly necessary to leave them. As with many resorts, the Via Lattea slopes are less busy on weekdays…especially when the sun isn’t shining.
Well, we did leave the officially open pistes once more in the late afternoon when the sun finally appeared. As we were riding a lift to the top of the Sauze d’Oulx area, an allegedly closed piste emerged from the fog and demanded that we give it a try. Try it we did…and we immediately declared Piste #25 (“Canale Colo”) the current holder of the Traumpiste (“dream run”) title. There was joyous whooping and hollering as we attacked the deep, soft and virtually untracked snow. It was an exhilarating late-day surprise and we resolved to return later in the week. Surely the newly-emergent sun would return the next day, so we could enjoy these fabulous conditions from top to bottom with spectacular views as well?
Stay tuned to find out what happens on our journey to Sansicario…and beyond!