When it comes to ski resorts, does bigger always mean better?
I’ve never been convinced of the fact, and the Aosta Valley resort of Pila is one of the many reasons why. This friendly ski area, perched above the ancient Roman town of Aosta offers 70km of pistes served by 17 lifts. It’s modest by anoyone’s standards.
But you’d be hard pressed to find a better spot for skiing. Set in a high, north-facing bowl, it holds holds its snow well, and offers a wide variety of pistes and powder in a compact and comprehensible package. It’s all there right in front of you as ascend the lifts: the pistes numbered 1-28 as you look across the mountain from east to west; and the powder above the treeline off a couple of ridges (there are some tree runs to be skied lower down when the snow’s in good nick, too). There’s a decent terrain park here too. No doubt it’s fed by a steady stream of teenagers and twentysomethings from the town of Aosta below.
Pick your spot quickly and get stuck in
Now, my home resort this season is the vast Three Valleys in France – where you’ll find ski resorts such as Val Thorens, Courchevel and Meribel. It offers 600km of pistes and oodles of off-piste in between – and of course, it’s a privilege to ski there. But sometimes the sense of choice is overwhelming. I’m forever wondering if I’m in the right i.e. best place, especially on a powder day. Here, there are no such worries. You can see it all as you ride the lifts. You pick your spot quickly and get stuck in.
The quality’s good too. Because the skiing’s all in one place, there aren’t any dull traverses of the kind you find in bigger areas which are necessary to knit all the different bowls or valleys together. And best of all it’s quiet. At the weekend, there’s a fair amount of local traffic, up from Aosta. In late February the local schools are out which. But for the rest of the time – especially on a Wednesday in January – it’s all but deserted. Because everyone wants big ski areas these days, little places like Plia get overlooked. Every run feels good as a result.
I teamed up with local guide Guiseppe Abruzzini for a whirlwind tour and we skied wide, rolling reds and blacks all day. Reds 1, 2 and 3 in particular were a treat. You can hammer down them as fast as you like, and they’re just long enough to get the heart going and remind the quads about their true role in life: but not so long that you’re grimacing from excesses of lactic acid at the end. Smiling from sheer delight more like.
I saw a couple of reassuring blues too. But as you’ll see from the Pila piste map below, this is a place of wide open and under-used reds and blacks. They’re the kind you dream about on a ski holiday – but rarely find except first thing in the morning before eveyone else gets out of bed.
There are good restaurants too – and a new hotel, La Chance, which sits at the bottom of the slopes and must be one of the friendliest and hippest three-stars in the Alps (although it should have four). It comes complete with a lovely spa and half-Scottish owners who are both laid back and helpful, and would make a perfect base for a long weekend or a stop-off on a week’s Aosta Valley ski safari, just like the one I’m doing!