Sauze d’Oulx is part of the vast Via Lattea – or Milky Way – ski area that straddles the border with France midway between Briancon and Turin. With 400km of runs and 72 lifts in total, it’s an excellent playground for high-mileage intermediates.
Seven resorts share the ski area: Sauze d’Oulx, Sestriere, and Montgenevre (in France) are much the best known. Then there are Sansicario, Cesana, Claviere, Pragelato. They are all linked, but with lots of bottlenecks and annoying dead-ends. Skiing here is a bit like playing snakes and ladders on snow: the ladders vary dramatically from drag-lifts and archaic double-chairs to six-packs and modern gondolas. The snakes are invariably impressive downhill slithers with modern grooming and often with hi-tech artificial snow back-up.
Allow yourself enough time to get around
Big though the region is, links from one part of the ski area to another are tenuous. For example, to get from Sauze to Sestriere, it’s best to download by gondola – at least for the final descent. At the end of the day you have to retrace the same route. You can travel all the way from Sauze to Sansicario, Cesana, Claviere, and on across the French frontier to Montgenevre. It’s a great day out, but at the end of it you must make sure to allow yourself enough time to retrace your steps.
However, there are moderately well-advanced plans in the pipeline to link Sauze via Pragelato into a ski circuit with Sestriere. Building the link lifts will cost Sauze 1.2 million euros and Pragelato 2.4 million euros. Sauze has already re-aligned a couple of chair-lifts on the western side of its ski area in preparation. But, in true Italian style, negotiations seem to be taking forever. Meanwhile the lifts in the sector beneath Moncrons are not operating at present.
For snowboarders, the best resort in this corner of Italy is Bardonecchia, which isn’t linked but houses the half-pipe from the Turin Olympics. Much closer is Sestriere with a snowpark that is well-equipped with rails, boxes, fun-boxes, kickers, wall-rides and twist-jumps. Sauze has a basic terrain park up at Sportinia.
Arguably the best intermediate piste skiing in Italy
For intermediates especially, there’s a vast choice of runs on offer, and you could ski a different part of the area each day. The Women’s Olympic downhill run – number 79 on the map – from Monte Fraiteve to Sansicario is wide, fast, and one of the longest in the Milky Way. Over in Sestriere, the red runs in the Amphiteatro bowl and the blacks at the top of Sises (including the men’s World Cup downhill course) and Motta above Sestriere are all recommended. The area certainly vies with Cervinia to offer the best intermediate piste skiing in Italy.
It is quite possible to learn to ski in Sauze d’Oulx, but there are better places. Much of the skiing is above the treeline, so visibility can be limited at times, although there are treelined pistes in and around Sauze’s ski hub at Sportinia, which offer shelter in poor conditions.
To go off-piste you have to be prepared
There’s a huge choice of off-piste options including Mount Sises, with easy from Valle Ripa and Vallone del Chisonetto slopes. Guides are available through the ski schools, and there is ski mountaineering with local guides. But Piedmont now has stringent rules that have to be obeyed. Cops on skis patrol the slopes, ready to slap an on-the-spot 50€ ticket on anyone perpetrators.
This is Italy. No one, including the police, seem to be absolutely clear on the finer detail. But basically it is illegal to leave a groomed run unless you’re fully geared up – and that includes those enticing stretches of powder between the pistes. To make a single turn in the deep you must be wearing a functioning bleeper and each person in the group must have a probe and shovel.
Oh, and if you’re under 18 and not wearing a helmet – on- or off-piste, the same fine applies. The local Piedmont government has passed a law making this mandatory.
Yes, you can heli-ski here
As well as making panoramic flights by helicopter, there’s some great off-piste skiing in the area, accompanied by mountain guides. Heli-skiing is available in the Upper Susa Valley – one of the few places in the Alps with drops of between 700 and 1600m. Pure Ski is the recommended company to go with and they also offer guiding without the helicopter.