A well-planned ski safari can turn a great ski holiday into an extraordinary one.
These days there’s no shortage of interconnected ski areas and many resorts now publish popular ski itineraries around their slopes, usually with a selection suited to different ability levels. The latest way to illustrate the routes is with apps linked to mobile phones that use GPS to tell you where you are and where to go.
If you do embark on a full day’s lift-assisted ski safari it is important to check in advance the weather forecast of course and to be aware of the last lift connections to get you back at the end of the afternoon. You should also be prepared with snacks, a mobile phone and some money in case you do get delayed en route (perhaps by a very good lunch…)
Our selections below are all full-day ski itineraries; you’ll need to be on the first lift out in the morning and you’ll most likely be on the last run back down at night.
Here are three of the best ski safaris:
1. Sella Ronda, Dolomiti Superski, Italy (80km)
Route: Cortina – Val Gardena – Cortina
Highlights: Famous Hidden Valley Run, Horse-drawn lift, cruising through wooded valleys, great mountain food
Where to lunch: Pizarlarra mountain restaurant
Some of the longest and most remarkable ski safaris can be made within the Dolomiti Superski region, with its single lift pass covering more than 1,200km of piste spread between a dozen different valleys.
The vast Dolomiti Superski region is fragmented into many separate areas but over the 40 years since the pass, the first of its kind, was created connections have been made, lifts improved and snowmaking installed, which make it possible to ski from one end of one valley to the far end of another.
The longest runs tend to incorporate the Sella Ronda, a colossal massif surrounded by a loop of lifts and runs about 37km in length altogether (23km runs, 14km lifts). This can be skied clockwise or anti-clockwise and is an enjoyable half-day excursion on its own for a good skier, with mostly blue and red grade terrain.
Valleys like Fassa, Gardena and Badia all radiate off this valley and some estimates calculate that there are in fact 500km, more-or-less, of lift-linked piste, making it second only to the French 3 Valleys for size. So in terms of covering as much piste as possible in one day, this is the big one.
Where to start: For the longest route, begin as early as you can at Cortina’s Cinque Torri ski area and ski across to Lagazuoi and down the famous Hidden Valley run (see 10 best ski runs in Europe). At the base of this take the horse-drawn drag lift (pictured) to link to the Sella Ronda circuit and head clockwise around to Colfosco in Alta Badia (famed for its great mountain food so a good choice for a regrettably quick late morning fuel stop, perhaps at the excellent Pizarlarra. From here the pistes lead you on a glorious cruise down a wooded valley to Passo Gardena then down on black or red runs to Val Gardena itself where you can, time permitting, ski past Selva and reach St Christina.
Unfortunately there aren’t enough hours in the day to take the shuttle bus to Ortisei and ski Alpe di Suisi, so instead head back to the Sella Ronda, linking at Canazei, and back around to the base of the Hidden Valley run. There’s no lift back up, so jump on the shuttle bus back to Cortina for a well-deserved aperitif on Corso Italia.
2. The Milky Way, Italy – France (70km)
Route: Pragelato – Montgenevre – Pragelato
Highlights: Crossing the Italian/French border
Where to lunch: Mavie mountain restaurant
One of the longest possible international ski routes (with lifts) takes you from one end of the vast Milky Way, with its 400km of piste, over to the other – crossing the French/Italian border for a little extra thrill along the way.
Some 25 years ago this trip was very long-haul, relying on elderly drag lifts, and British tour ops would often drive their clients to one end first thing in the morning (passports in their jacket pockets) then let them ski back all day. But when the area won the 2006 Winter Olympics, there was huge investment in fast new chairlifts, and the return day trip became feasible.
Nick Edwards, who works for ski travel agency Snowfinders, decided to make the epic trip from the new Club Med Village at Pragelato at the far end of the Milky Way in Italy and ski across to Montgenevre and back, via Sestriere, Cesana and Claviere.
“You really need to be sure to start early,” advises Nick, “There’s a choice of two routes marked for you on the piste map, follow the orange route to ski from Italy to France then take the green back from France to Italy.”
Skiing the Milky Way is a great day out skiing through spectacular scenery. But it's more than that: you'll pass through almost all of the venue resorts of the 2006 Torino Winter Olympics, then Italy’s oldest ski area (little Claviere on the French border was the first to see Italians try skiing back in 1905) and you’ll be following in the very large foot prints of some illustrious predecessors on the route, as you ski through the same pass used, reputedly, by Hannibal and his elephants, although none were on skis.
The Mavie mountain restaurant (+39 0393 9166318), as you reach Sansicario, is a great spot to stop for an early lunch en route to Montgenevre or a mid-afternoon snack en route back. The wooden building seats 40 and serves traditional mountain cuisine in a modern, all wooden dining room, with a lunch menu priced at €15 with freshly-prepared, locally sourced, home made meals changing daily.
The Cesana link below Sestriere remains the weak point of the ski safari as it was back in the drag lift days. The slow old drag lifts down at Cesana’s comparatively low altitude are long gone but they’ve been replaced by rather slow chairlifts, of which you need to take three in succession (45 mins).
Cross the Italian-Franco border on a Milky Way ski safari
Copyright: Montgenevre Tourism
3. Crossing the Evasion Mont Blanc, Megeve, France (40km)
Route: Megeve – St. Nicholas – La Giettaz – Megeve
Highlights: Epic views of Mont Blanc, frozen waterfalls, pretty villages
Where to lunch: Bonjournal mountain restaurant
The Evasion Mont Blanc Pass that centres round the historic village of Megeve covers 445km of piste, much of it interconnected. The extent of Megeve’s ski area is often overshadowed by the many other giant areas in France, but it makes for much prettier skiing than the ‘moon base’ purpose-built resorts high above the treeline; around Megeve you are skiing on pretty tree-lined runs with spectacular views of Mont Blanc.
One excellent ski safari starts at the Mont d'Arbois gondola from which it’s an easy blue down to the Mont Joux chair lift. From the top of this lift, take the double chair lift, and you reach the shoulder of Epaule Mont Joli, the highest mountain in Megeve, which offers the best Mont Blanc views. Follow the red Grande Epaule and then Marmottes run and you’ll pass the rustic Refuge de Porcheray restaurant, great for a coffee stop. Then continue on down blue runs to the neighbouring village of St. Nicholas with its distinctive church tower.
From the top of the chair lift from St. Nicholas descend into the Croix de Christ bowl by black or blue pistes then take the fast new six-man chair back up to the top of Mont Joux to enjoy a fast run down the face of Mont Joux and on to the bottom of Mont d'Arbois.
Next pick up the itneraire route de Calvaire and ski all the way into Megeve village itself where you get to use the horse-drawn caleche ski lift which takes you directly to the resort’s third (and least skied) area, Jaillet. Hop on the gondola and head off to your left through the trees to the Christomet chair then ski down the Bonjournal and look out for the restaurant on your left, also called the Bonjournal where you can stop for a well-earned late lunch! There are fantastic views towards Val d'Isere and inside there’s a log fire and great food.
After lunch, take ‘Le Treffleannaise’ link to the pretty village of La Giettaz, which is a marvellous 6km run passing frozen waterfalls. At the bottom take the new chair lifts to the top of Le Torraz from where there are great off-piste options in Le Torraz bowl or head back along the ridge via the blue Controverse run to the top of Christomet and choose the red, black or blue runs down, depending on how your legs are feeling. Save a bit of energy though as after you've got to the top of the link chair lift (Le Pres) there's a long red run all the way down the face of Jaillet back to Megeve village.
“A long day but great fun and just think, you haven't covered Rochebrune, Cote 2000, Bettex, Communailles and the rest of Jaillet yet! There's plenty to ski in Megeve!” says Elizabeth Cahir of Megeve specialists, Stanford Skiing.
Megeve ski safari "epic views and pretty villages"
Copyright: Megeve Tourism