Back to the Mountains of Italy

I felt like I had been waiting ages for our snowboarding trip this year. Martyn has been checking the snow forecast for months. To start with the season had a dusting of snow with many runs closed but as we edged closer to March the snow angels got to work and the weekend we arrived nearly all runs were open and the peaks were covered if a fluffy blanket of powder. Thank you snow angels!

Sestrière lies at the heart of the Milky Way which offers almost 400 km of pisted runs. It is an alpine village in Italy, a part of the Province of Turin. It is situated in Val Susa, 17 km from the French border, which means you get the benefit of boarding in Italy and France on your lift pass.

We arrived on Sunday to blue skies, cold air and great food at our hotel the Principi de Piemonte which lies to the side of the Sestriere.

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View from our balcony

Our six day lift pass started on Monday so while Martyn relaxed in the bar I decided to make the most of the spa facilities. I did Pilates followed by a swim, sauna and steam. A great way to start a holiday I think you will agree.

After only 2 hours sleep on Saturday night we got an early night ready for a day of boarding on Monday.

Getting ready for a day on the slopes is like a military operation, first of all you have to play a game of what fits in what pocket!

It is very true about all extreme sports you don’t buy the padding until you hurt yourself. I am now the proud wearer of essential padding including impact shorts, wrist guards, knee pads and elbow pads. For any first timer I would recommend wrist guards, impact shorts and knee pads you will be surprised once you get used to feeling like a medieval knight how they will improve your time on the slopes as confidence grows and nasty purple bruises decline. Sitting on the slopes are chilly and impact shorts also reduce cold impact on the gluteus muscles!

The first day I always feel a nervous anticipation of what’s to come we decided to stay in Sestriere and made our way gradually over to Borgatta which is the next village along one of the lifts was closed and the large queue seems like the ideal excuse for a hot chocolate and beer stop.

The lift to the top chilled us both to the bone, getting off the lift the snow whipped into a frenzy by the wind swirling around making any bear skin painfully cold, we were soon on the move and warming up nicely I followed Martyn trying to match his line to make myself faster. This worked really well and I felt a new confidence and enjoyed chasing him down the mountain, at the bottom we turned and went straight up again, another bitterly cold lift to the top. I hit my top speed at 36.5 miles an hour according to the Ski Tracks app.

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We stopped at Du Casa for lunch which was nice and then decided to make our way back to our hotel to warm up! Arriving back at our hotel I kept my promise to myself and did Pilates and then Martyn and I went to the spa and for a swim.

Dinner was again great with a buffet for starter then a pasta course, then a meat course and then a buffet of puddings, for the second night in a row we rolled back to our room too full!

Montgenerve, France.

On Wednesday we went on a coach trip to Montgenerve in France it’s a pretty, quiet French town with a load of great slopes for everyone. There are a few greens which can be hard for boarders, but most of the runs are long blues and reds.

The best way to start is on the right hand side where the gondola takes you up half way before changing to a chair lift them from the top take the red, blue routes down to the far left of the gondola where you will cross the road and end up at the Tremplin lift, here you can then go up and explore the left hand side of the mountain.

The left hand side has a lot more to offer I terms of runs but the right hand side has some great open off-piste sections perfect for beginners as you can see the runs below and head towards them if you get really stuck.

My top tips for first time off-piste are:

  1. Be ready to fall over rather a lot – even experienced snowboarders spend time tumbling off-piste
  2. When you do fall over pack the snow in and around your bum to help lift yourself up
  3. Keep your weight over your board and put more weight on your back foot
  4. Relax

On the left hand side you can go up to the Crows Nest. This is the place where you can cross over back into Italy and ski back however it involves three lifts one after the other so ideally get a coach or taxi to France so you can enjoy the great runs. From the Crows Nest there are some brilliant long red routes which take you onto blues and then back down to the Tremplin lift these are great fun wide reds with stunning 360 views.

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View from the Crows Nest.

There are less places to eat in France, most people eat in Montgenevre. We ate on the mountain, on the right hand side of the road with a stunning view and reasonable priced good food. It’s worth carrying a bottle of water as with the food places being sparse it’s harder to get a drink too, on hot days your need to replace your fluid.

France is well worth a visit the runs are fantastic, the off-piste is vast and for those more experienced boarders there is wide open spaces to explore. For those who love gliding down the mountain there are plenty of long green and blue runs which including breathtaking views.

I find France slightly harder to navigate Montgenevre has a few runs packed tightly together and then the rest is spread out so it’s easy to accidentally take a wrong turn, where as in Sestriere most of the runs have clear starts and finishes.

Sauze D’Oulx

On Thursday we went over to Sauze D’oulx the runs over this side are longer and quite wide which is confidence boosting for beginners.

A lot of the runs lead to a massive bowl where there are loads of restaurants. The bottom run into Sauze was a bit slushy as this resort is lower than Sestriere.

We made our way back to Sestriere for the afternoon and played off-piste next to our hotel, my off-piste ability is improving, although I still spend a lot of time digging myself out of the snow – part of the fun!

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Off-Piste

We were woken by the sound of a helicopter taking people heli ski-ing, a good indication of another great weather day. We took the gondola up into Sauze but this time went down to San Cicaro on the way to France. I felt really confident and enjoyed the black, red combination.

Around this area there is also some long red runs through the trees, which are a bit skinny in places and for a boarder you need to carry speed to get up some of the inclines.

As with Sauze the sun made the bottom parts of the runs a bit slushy so after a burger stop we made our way back over to Sestriere. From this side you have two choices either a toggle lift to the top gondola or a red/ blue run to the mid station. From the mid station you can either get the gondola or there is a flat long blue run through the trees which takes you back to Borgata. We went for the blue option and then went off-piste, it was hard work at the top through lots of pine trees but soon it opened out into untouched snow we headed down to the back of Sestriere and then walked through town which was exhausting but the off-piste made it well worth it!

After a hot chocolate and beer stop we got on the lift in Sestriere back to the top of the blue and went off-piste all the way your hotel, I found it easier this time twisting through trees and only getting stuck once or twice!

Off-Piste Adventures

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what a view!

Our last day came too quick! We decided to spend the whole day off- piste, as I was improving, this turned into the best day of the holiday by far. We took the gondola up to the top of Sauze, as we got higher I felt the butterflies in my stomach rising in anticipation for what was to come. We walked around the lift and literally slid off the edge it was quite steep and the snow crunched under my board where the top layer had frozen. This off-piste was quite well worn but it was still amazing to be the only two on the slope, we made our way onto the long blue descent and then again popped over the edge into the trees, the conifers were tightly packed and I did my best to follow Martyn’s expert line through them, my skill level is not quite as good and I found myself sitting amongst the branches on more than one occasion!

We found a great little cake and drink stop overlooking Sestriere and the mountains beyond, from there we made our way into the clearing a vast space of pure white snow where no one had been I loved the feeling of making my own tracks and the complete freedom of being able to go where ever I wanted. We headed down to the back of the hotels using our boards as sledges, before walking the rest of the way.

After picking up some lunch supplies we headed back up on the gondola, Martyn casually said “let’s stop on those rocks for lunch” I wasn’t so keen on the idea of lunch on the edge of a rock but once we got to our lunch spot I changed my mind. 360 mountain views, peace and quiet, our own spot on the top of the world. Bliss.

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After lunch we slid off the other side of our rocky outcrop carving our own trail into the mountain side back into Sestriere.

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Stopping at the bottom for a well-earned hot chocolate and beer we planned our next descent. The plan was to go off-piste from the Sestriere to find a place to build a little jump, I had never done any jumps before so was excited about trying something new.

Once off-piste we looked for a spot where we could build a jump, Martyn found the ideal area with a good run off and a nice soft landing. Once we had built the jump (which was hard work) Martyn showed me how it was done and then we took it in turns. My biggest issue seemed to be staying pointing down the hill! The landing was soft and I was soon making a little progress getting air even if I did land on my bum most of the time!

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As the sun started to dip in the sky and the last lift of the day had stopped behind us, we decided sadly, we better leave our snowy paradise and made our way back through the trees to our hotel.

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The mountains are an incredible place and I feel truly blessed every time I get to visit them. They are mysterious and majestic and I love being able to make the most of nature’s playground.

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