A ‘secret stash’ award for somewhere in the Alps? Yep, when it’s on in Italy it doesn’t get much better than Santa Caterina, and even better, there’s almost no one skiing it when it’s dumping, even though it’s just 20 minutes ski bus ride from Bormio. Dave Windsor got the goods.
To get the most out of the day I hooked up with instructor Alberto Pedranzini, who’s spent two seasons at Thredbo, and immediately expressed his admiration that “You Aussies will ski in any condition”.
Fortunately, I didn’t need to prove his impression of us true — the crisp January morning was heavenly blue skies, fresh snow, and an empty resort ripe to be ripped!
Warming up on the aptly named ‘Panorama’ immediately confirmed that this is an extremely special place. There are plenty of resort runs called ‘Panorama’ around the globe, but this one truly lives up to it’s name, a cruisy 3km red trail skirting the resort’s eastern boundary under the immense Ortler-Cevedale Group highlighted by the pyramid shaped Königspitze at 3,851m, in Italy’s largest national park, the Stelvio.
We scoot across and up to the fabulously fast black run ‘Deborah Compagnoni’, named in honour of Italy’s triple Olympic and triple World Championship gold medallist. The Compagnoniname is synonymous with achievement, as Santa Caterina native Achille Compagnoni, along with Lino Lacedelli, were the first to conquer K2 (the world’s second highest peak) in 1954.
As luck would have it, Alberto and I hook up with alpine guide Jacapo Compagnoni (also a legend) for some free skiing. We hike up from the top of the Vallalpe-Sobretta quad at 2,880m and hoof it across a ridge line to the north west side country and catch our breath whilst soaking in the splendid scene, before we descend down in untracked knee deep fresh pow under the welcoming sun. The side country is so massive and varied that you could spend the entire day here and not ski the same spot twice. We hit one of six couloirs and shoot straight down a bowl to a rolling plateau, slowed down on the runout by the depth of fresh snow. The area is spectacularly scenic, with so much to offer from beginner to expert alike.
For lunch we hook over to the stunning Sunny Valley Lodge for some hospitality with Mr Beppe Bonseri. With a suspended fireplace, grand bar and luxe restaurant this is truly an angelic environ; so chic in fact that even the bathrooms are straight out of a Home Beautiful magazine.
Santa Caterina has a permanent population of only 300, with an ample number of hotels, bars and fine restaurants, including the slope side Hotel Vedig and Albergo Compagnoni on the banks of the Frodolfo River that bisects the village. Accessible from Bormio by the ski bus, it’s a mere 20 minutes down the road – which during spring often features in the Giro d’Italia.
In winter the famous Passo Gavia is closed to wheeled traffic, yet open to skiers. Which I can attest as we headed out to plunder the pow playground off Panorama for a couple of exhausting and varied trails in untracked fresh that are perfect for any intermediate skier looking for some experience in euro off-piste.
Alberto found a nice cliff to pop off, and of-course he stuck the landing; I took the less aerial route. The fluffy white blanket leads to the Passo Gavia – we observe speed signs and warnings of tight bends as we ski down the closed mountain pass. Then it’s skis off to cross over a winter creek and back inbounds.
One day is definitely not enough at Santa Caterina, and so good is this place that next day I had no hesitation in hopping on the bus for another crack. My luck held as I hooked up with local riders Lorenzo Munari and Paolo Marazzi and did it all over again. We ventured further out and away and shredded some amazing ridges and shadowy chutes leading to sun soaked rollers down to the forest above the village.
After a hearty lunch of Polenta con funghi the boys hiked up to the 3,300m Sobretta. I opted for laps with Thredbo native Renee Conner and her pal Silvia Cottini on the groomers, before hitting the bars for a spritz and the drive home in Slivia’s ’99 Pug 105 passing a tight tangle of tiny towns, chapels and steeples towards the pink and orange hued sunset.
Who says Euro pow stashes are crowded and hard to find?