Travel To Italian Ski Resorts

Travel To Italian Ski Resorts

Travel to Italian Ski Resorts

The country least associated with skiing the Alps is Italy, which is strange because it has the longest frontier with the mountains of any European nation. Italy's extensive mountainous land borders are with Switzerland and Austria to the north, plus France to the west. The Alps run in a long semicircle along Italy’s northern frontier from the coast on the Mediterranean up to the Aosta Valley, before heading east along the high glacial divide all the way to southern Austria & the Dolomites. The regions (states) of Lombardia (Lombardy), Piemonte (Piedmont), Trentino-Alto Adige/Südtirol, Valle d'Aosta, and in the far east Veneto encapsulate the major Italian Alps & Dolomites ski areas, providing an amazing diversity of ski & snowboard destinations. Due to a smaller train network & often crumbling mountain road network, getting to some of the resorts is more difficult than in Switzerland or Austria, but the journey is just as important as the destination .......... isn't it! The most central location to access all the Italian Alps ski resorts is the major city of Milan.

Flights to Italy

Getting to any ski resort in Italy is usually via the major international airports at Milan Malpensa (MXP) (for the Alps in Lombardy, Piedmont & Aosta Valley, France & southern Switzerland) & Venice Marco Polo (VCE) (for Trentino-Alto Adige & Dolomites). Milan Malpensa is central for most overseas visitors, but the smaller Milan airports [Linate (LIN) & Bergamo Orio Al Serio (BGY)], Turin (TRN) & even Verona (VRN) may be better for anyone arriving in Italy from a European or UK origin.

Many of the Italian ski resorts can be conveniently accessed via airports north of the Alps, particularly if intending to rent a car (read car rental section below). Far & away the best airports for skiing in Europe include Innsbruck (INN), Munich (MUC) & Zurich (ZRH). The busy Geneva (GVA) is a useful airport but poorly located for Italian Alps skiing.

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Train Travel in Italy

Despite Italy not having the world class rail network of Switzerland or Austria, there are several Italian ski resorts with world class rail access. It is possible to ski 3 peaks Dolomites, Kronplatz & Madonna di Campiglio by stepping off a train and onto a ski lift. A number of very useful train lines provide access to major ski regions, providing a comfortable, reliable, safe & often cost-effective mode of ski travel. Getting around by train is also a great way to POW (Protect Our Winters).

For rail transport direct from the airport, only Milan Malpensa has a train line. It provides good connections to Aosta, Oulx (Via Lattea), Bardonecchia, the Alta Valtellina (Madesimo et al) & even Bolzano (the gateway to the Dolomites). Trains to Swiss ski resorts depart Milano Centrale station, reached from the airport on the Malpensa Express train. Resorts like Aletsch Arena & Crans Montana are via Brig, with Andermatt Sedrun & Disentis travel via Lugano. Trains to France via Turin depart the Milan Garibaldi station.

The most useful rail lines for skiers & snowboarders travelling in Italy include:

  • MILAN to PARIS line – Surprisingly, this line gives access to a feast of great ski areas west of Turin & into the Maurienne valley of France. Oulx station is the gateway to the huge Via Lattea. Bardonecchia station is the gateway to ………… Bardonecchia of course. Modane station in France is the gateway to the Haute Maurienne resorts of Aussois, Val Cenis & the Powderhounds gems of La NormaBonneval sur Arc. The TGV provides very quick journeys on this line, much to our approval when we travelled on it.
  • CHIVASSO to AOSTA – A spur line off the main Milan to Turin line starts at Chivasso, just east of Turin. Terminating at Aosta, it provides the genteel method to ski the Valle d’Aosta. From Aosta one can bus it to Pila, Courmayeur, Crevacol, La Thuile & even Chamonix. Before Aosta, two stations are of note. Chatillon St Vincent is a gateway to Cervinia & Pont St Martin is the best place to get a bus up to Gressoney & Stafal in Monterosa. We have travelled this line to return from Aosta to Turin.
  • MILAN to BRIG (Switzerland) – The line to Brig passes through Domodossola & can be used to get to Macugnaga & San Domenico near the Swiss border (but you may have change to a local train at Domodossola). From Brig the Swiss rail & bus system opens a world of possibilities in the magical Valais & beyond. We have done this journey many, many times ....... for good reason.
  • MILAN to GÖSCHENEN (Switzerland) – Once a swifter experience as a direct link to Zurich, the line has now changed to require more connections to get to the Powderhounds' nirvana of Andermatt. From Göschenen the last train journey up to Andermatt brings to a winter wonderland & onto one of the world’s great rail lines – the Matterhorn-Gotthard line. Andermatt can also be reached by train via Brig, Chur or Zurich.
  • MILAN to TIRANO – Anyone who has driven up the Valtellina toward St Moritz or Bormio will know it is a singularly unpleasant journey. By train from Milan however it is a breeze. From Tirano, Aprica is a short bus trip or drive away, Diavolezza-Lagalb & St Moritz in Switzerland can be reached via the spectacular Bernina Express (recommended to every ski traveller) and the Alta Valtellina resorts of Bormio, Santa Caterina, Valdidentro & Livigno can be reached by relatively painless bus journeys. A spur line to Chiavenna makes Madesimo only a short bus ride away too.
  • BOLZANO to INNSBRUCK – A line with unlimited possibilities. Several small ski resorts are directly on the line between Bolzano & Innsbruck (like Monte Cavallo at Vipiteno, & Bergeralm in Austria), but there are also numerous spur lines to Dolomites & Ortler resorts. Val Gardena, Val di Fassa & the entire Dolomites can be accessed by bus from the stations at Bolzano & Ponte Gardena, plus others from Bressanone (Plose). A fantastic line utilised often by the Powderhounds.
  • FORTEZZA to LIENZ (Austria) – One of the world’s most impressive piste skiing mountains, Kronplatz is on this line near Brunico & is numero uno, for train to ski lift access because the ski lift (gondola) gates are only 5m directly across from the train exit with no stairs or elevators involved! From Kronplatz one can get into the Dolomites proper via Alta Badia. Another worthy contender for best train to ski lift is 3 Peaks near Sesto (the station is 200m via an elevated walkway from the lifts). Gitschberg Jochtal can be reached from Rio di Pusteria -Mühlbach. Also, on this line is Dobbiaco station, with bus links to Cortina d’Ampezzo. We have utilised this excellent line on numerous occasions.
  • BOLZANO to MERANO & MALLES – The rail line from Bolzano to Merano & then the next sector to Malles allows comfortable public transport access to a host of interesting ski areas in the Val Venosta (part of the Ortler Ski Arena). From Malles, buses via Glurns head to Solda, Trafoi, Belpiano, Watles & even Nauders in Austria. Along the route are numerous other ski resorts (like Val Senales & Schwemmalm), most of which are best accessed by bus from Merano station.
  • TRENTO to MEZZANA – Trento is on the main line between Innsbruck & Verona. The spur line to Mezzana provides exquisite rail access to the Val di Sole ski resorts including Madonna di Campiglio via two train stations below the Marilleva part of the broader Brenta Dolomites ski region. From the terminus at Mezzana it is possible to take buses to ski Pejo & Tonale. We have ridden this line to Mezzana once and found it took a long, long time, but if time is not of the essence, it is a pleasurably way to travel.

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Private Transfers

The Powderhounds recommend taking the train & bus wherever possible when travelling in Europe but recognise that in a post COVID-19 world, many people will be uncomfortable with the notion of public transport travel. We also know that Italy just isn’t the same as Austria & Switzerland when it comes to public transport (with some notable exceptions as per above!). So, if you cannot abide public transport, are in a larger group of 3+ people or just have the cash to splash, the quickest, easiest & often safest way to many Italian ski resorts from the airports can be a private transfer.

Whilst generally expensive, a useful method to decrease the cost of a private transfer is to take a train to a major nearby railway station & be met by the provider for transfer direct to your ski resort accommodation.

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Renting Cars & Driving in Italy

Renting cars in Italy, particularly from the major airports is cheap & convenient. It provides the best mode of travel to some Italian ski resort locations (other than a private transfer!) & allows for freedom & flexibility on a road trip. However, there are several potential pitfalls, particularly in relation to the appropriateness of most rentals for winter driving. We recommend renting cars for winter driving from Austria or Switzerland, with Austria being the more affordable option. Anyone renting a car in Italy for winter driving MUST consider the following:

  • WINTER TYRES – Travel by road in the Alps or Dolomites in winter is most safely undertaken in an All-Wheel-Drive (AWD) or 4-Wheel-Drive (4WD) vehicle fitted with winter tyres. Most cars rented in Italy will not come with winter tyres. In Switzerland & Austria, winter tires are mandatory, so all rental cars will come fitted with them. In Italy (& France) that is not the case. Informing the rental company, you intend driving in Switzerland & Austria (even if you don’t actually go there!) will ensure a rental car issued to you is fitted with winter tyres.
  • WINTERISATION – Most rentals from Italy will not come equipped with a scraper or brush (for clearing snow/ice off the car) or winter windscreen washer fluid. You may have to purchase these on the way to the hills.
  • FUEL – Many rental cars from Italy (& indeed, across Europe) are diesel engine vehicles. There have been instances of vehicles rented from Milan & Venice having diesel clogging issues in the low mountain temperatures. Immediately refuel your diesel car at a filling station near your first mountain destination. This will add sub-zero temperature tolerant diesel to your vehicle.
  • SNOW CHAINS - At the very least a car should be front wheel drive & come with snow chains – although we do not recommend such a set up as acceptable for driving extensively in the mountains.
  • INSURANCE – Be wary of car rental companies that add premium insurance to your rental agreement without your knowledge or agreement (Avis & Budget at Milan Malpensa Airport are two to be concerned about). Carefully read the rental agreement prior to taking the car to ensure you are paying only for what you want or have requested.
  • ROAD TOLLS – Be prepared to pay road tolls when using the Italian ‘Autostrade’ (motorways, autobahns). A journey from Milan to the Valfrejus Tunnel on the French border costs around €30 on the autostrade. Cash, coins and credit cards are accepted, but the correct pay lane must be used. Look for the white overhead cash/card payment signs as you enter the toll zones. Note that some toll sections have both manned & unmanned booths. English can be selected as a language on the unmanned payment stations. Different autostrade sections are tolled in varying ways. Some are short sections with fixed tolls, others issue a ticket (biglietti) and the toll will be accrued depending on the distance travelled.
  • SPEEDING – Speed limits are becoming increasingly enforced by speed cameras. Numerous new overhead sped cameras were being installed on the Autostrade between Bolzano and Milan in early 2020. The 130kph speed limit is generous, so try not to emulate the speeding Audi drivers! Tunnels (galleria) also have overhead speed cameras and generally lower speed limits. Some also have enforceable distances between cars for additional safety. Built up area speed limits are either 50 or 30kph depending on the width of the road! 50kph speed limits are electronically enforced with speed cameras in many towns. They are generally housed in large orange roadside boxes. There may be multiple cameras in the one town.
  • CROSS BORDER CONSIDERATIONS – Cars rented in Italy do not come with the motorway vignette required to travel on the main freeways of Switzerland and Austria. They can be purchased at the borders, or you can run the gauntlet. Whilst we have never been pulled up and checked for one whilst in either country, we have been stopped at a motorway border crossing between Italy and Switzerland and made to buy one by the frontier police.
  • CROSS BORDER TUNNELS – Major cross border road tunnels from Italy through the Alps include the Frejus & Mont Blanc into France plus the Grand St Bernard (via Crevacol) & Munt la Schera (via Livigno) into Switzerland. All come with exorbitant tariffs. In January 2020, one way through the Frejus tunnel cost €47. It is possible to avoid some of the expensive tunnels by using alternative crossing points (see below).
  • BORDER CROSSINGS with no tolls (or minor ones) from Italy include the following. For Austria - Reschen Pass (between Bolzano & Landeck is one the easiest & best no-toll crossing points into the heart of the Tyrol); the Drava valley (between San Candido & Sillian in the northern Dolomites); and the major Brenner Pass between Bolzano & Innsbruck (but it does have a separate road toll on the Austrian side). For Switzerland - there are numerous crossing points to Bellinzona in the Como-Lugano lake district; Simplon Pass into Brig (but be mindful of the weather conditions) & the spectacular high passes from Chiavenna & Tirano into St Moritz (but be mindful of weather & road conditions). For France - in the Via Lattea via the pass between Claviere & Montgenèvre is the best alternative to the Frejus tunnel; further south the Colle della Maddalena crosses the southern Alps from Cuneo.
  • ROAD CONDITIONS – Finally, as with much of Europe, regional roads in the mountains and villages can be narrow & bends extremely tight. Add in ice & snow & driving is often high adventure to the uninitiated. Consider oncoming buses & trucks on mountain roads and give them space. They cannot go backwards, you can (usually).

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Drive safe. Enjoy the journey.