Famed for its fairytale setting it ain’t, (if that’s what you’re after, pick another resort) but what it lacks in sparkle, Sestriere more than makes up for with acres of impeccably maintained terrain, excellent off-piste and, actually, as it’s surrounded by mountains, some rather brilliant panoramic views.
The resort, which sits at the centre of the Milky Way circuit, is linked to three main areas: Mount Sises, Mount Motta and Mount Fraiteve making it an ideal station for powderhounds. Mount Fraiteve leads into Sauze d’Oulx, a pretty village known for its wild après, Sansicario and the rest of the Milky Way playground.
The resort also offers nighttime skiing on the same floodlit runs as skied by the pros during the 2006 Winter Olympic Games – what more could you want? Pretty little village? Pah, no thanks. Food and drink is cheaper too than in neighbouring French resorts #icingoncake #winning.
Sestriere has modernized in recent years and it has all of the amenities that you would expect from a sophisticated ski resort. The town itself is compact, although there are often gripes about the layout which was designed and built in the 1930s and lacks a modern convenient arrangement.
Food wise there’s an abundance of charming places to choose from which are easy on the purse strings. Town and mountain restaurants are warm and friendly, staff are engaging and many restaurants cook using traditional Italian ingredients. For a casual bite to eat go for pizza at the famous Pinky Bar Restaurant or for more traditional Italian fare head to the more upmarket and very popular Last Tango but make sure you book in advance.
On the mountain, Riugio Alpette is highly recommended for authentic dishes like deer in civet, polenta, ghenefle and tartiflette. Alpette also arrange evening activities and excursions on the snow so enquire directly with the staff to find out what’s on.
Apres ski is quite laid back during the week and really comes alive at the weekend when the local Italians flock into town. Popular venues include Hotel du Col, cocktails at Mama Lia and Spotties Bar and Irish Igloo Bar which plays great music and is a lot of fun. For lively après head to Pinky bar for warm up drinks and then onto the main club Tabata Disco - with a cool bar upstairs and a disco downstairs it’s where everyone is likely to end up. Or if people singing badly floats your boat go to Dreamers bar for some good clean karaoke. There are also more sophisticated wine bars if you fancy something a little less casual – check out Kandahar Wine Bar and Osteria Barabba. But if you’re craving something a bit wilder, Sauze always has a great party vibe.
Sitting at 2035 metres on north-west facing slopes, the town of Sestriere forms part of one of Europe’s largest ski areas – the 249 miles long Via Lattea or Milky Way. The area comprises 146 skiable pistes which make up a total of 400km of runs - 120 of these are blasted with artificial snow in order to maintain their peak condition hence Sestriere’s reputation for being snow-sure.
The local runs are found in two main sections: Sises, located in front of the village, and Motta, above Borgata. Motta (2,823m) is higher than Sises and provides plenty of vertical including the steepest run in the region. Sises too offers a world class run, the Col de Sises, from where expert skiers can access great off-piste. Mt Fraiteve can be reached by jumping in a gondola from the West side of the town.
The resort hosted the Winter Olympics in 2006 and freeriders have access to some technically difficult and testing runs. The black run from Motta down to Val Chisonetto is one to test your mettle on. Freestylers are less well catered for but there are some decent natural hits to be found. As for snowboarders, they seem undeterred by the large number of drag-lifts, returning year on year to carve up the terrain. A number of the schools at the resort offer snowboarding lessons and the snowpark, which caters to all levels, has a dedicated area where beginners can safely learn the basics of freestyle.
Beginners: Beginners certainly won’t be left wanting however for real newbies there are better resorts. Blue and green runs can feel more challenging here particularly if the slopes are icy due to a lack of snowfall (which despite Sestriere’s elevation isn’t uncommon). The nursery runs are good and there are a number of easy runs located above the ski school meeting point near the centre of the resort. Borgata, a lift ride away, has gentle blue runs which favour more confident beginners. And Sauze also has smoother runs for beginners to get their ski on.
Intermediates: Sestriere comes up trumps for confident intermediates who can take advantage of the vast and varied terrain on offer. Steeps, mogul fields, wooded areas and wide panoramic runs – Sestriere has plenty. It’s easy to ski to neighbouring Montgenevre via intermediate trails which has overclassified its black runs – perfect for intermediates looking to increase their confidence and technical ability. Also, try the narrow chutes from to Claviere from Pian del Sole.
Advanced: Sestriere has hosted several winter championships and advanced skiers have access to some technically difficult and testing runs as well as some excellent off piste. The black run from Motta down to Val Chisonetto is one to try and on the Mongenevre side there is wild terrain around Col Vert at the top of Le Rocher de l'Aigle chair lift which attracts snowboarders. Heli-skiing is also big here and the experience is well worth the expense http://www.pureski-company.com/en.
Other favourite runs for expert skiers include the Women’s Olympic downhill run – number 79 – from Monte Fraiteve and the Men’s World Cup downhill course at the top of Sises. Tree skiing in Sestriere is highly rated by expert skiers – there are lots of wooded areas which are much less dense than those in the French Alps which means that powder can stay untracked for days.
Queues will form at the weekends when Sestriere becomes a playground for local Italians from neighbouring Turin and Milan. Avoid the crowds by taking a day trip to take in some of the culture at Turin which is only an hour away and then return in the evening for some lively après ski!
The resort caters to all levels of ability but to make the most of the resort, buy the Milky Way ski pass to access all areas. Expert skiers should make like the pros and try the Kandahar Banchetta, the main Olympic downhill race course -is a long run with a steep start and a challenging finish. Following that, hop aboard two 4-man chairlifts, Nuova Nube (20) and Chisonetto Banchetta (21) back up to the top, and plan your next descent!
For nighttime skiing, the run is open to the public on Wednesday night from 18.00 to 22.00 (other than those nights when special events are taking place on it). The ski pass fare is 10 Euros.
Sestriere offers spectacular view of the mountains, you’ve just got to know where to look. The Shackleton Mountain Resort, comprised of mainly steel and glass, is a luxurious spot with a slightly futuristic feel. The food is fantastic too, with a menu that changes daily, and an impressive wine list. Go and visit and drink in the views!