One of the world’s premier freeski events, the Nine Knights/Nine Queens invitational at Mottolino Fun Mountain, Livigno, has really helped put this large slice of Italian ski paradise on the map in recent years. The Nine’s set ups are just mind blowing, the tricks produced ridiculous (who hasn’t seen Jesper Tjäder’s double backflip over the halfpipe video?) and the coverage totally matching the setting, with choppers, gyros, follow cams and stills crew combining to deliver the spectacle to the world.
Of course not many of us can be among the annointed 9 femmes & 9 guys chosen to compete here, but any of us can head to Livigno for an awesome time to rival anywhere in Europe, as Dave Windsor reports.
Everybody knows Italy is the sunny side of the Alps, but for my week in Livigno if it wasn’t gloriously sunny it was puking white gold.
Conditions were amazing, a couple of deluges during the week kept the punters inside, the roof clearing crews busy, and the runs empty for me and the fearless few to do powder laps in knee, hip and ultimately chest deep pow. When it starts falling in these parts it persists through the night and the day.
Smashing euphoric straight lines down the 2.6km Zuelli black run with snow flowing over my chest, up my nose and slowing me down to a veritable crawl was probably the best skiing I’ve ever done anywhere.. until the next Prosecco powder day with local guides Fabio Conti and Simone Salvatori hogging the 30+ cm of feather light fresh down Centrale and in and out of the woods. Face shots aplenty belting through the goods and cramming in as many runs as possible was the order of the day – no stops for coffee, lunch or even a pee when the mountain turns it on with such a vengeance. Time on my fatties is all that matters.
All the other days were bluebird, with the corduroy fashioned to perfection and plenty of fresh stashes still available off-piste and under the tree lined lift lines.
Mid-week I hooked up with Italian ski legend Giorgio Rocca for a group lesson with some fellow Aussies. Giorgio skis scary fast and slid down his namesake black run “Giorgio Rocca” without raising a sweat. My big takeaway from the lesson – crunch the abs!
Livigno is a tale of two mountains and two lift companies. To the east is Mottolino, with its dominant Mont dala Nef peak at 2,785m and alternate black, red & blue route’s down; to the west is Carosello, a sweeping ridge that runs the length of the north-south village. Fortunately the Livigno ski pass seamlessly covers all 31 lifts servicing 115km of piste, as does the golden sun, beaming rays over the village and making it possible to ski sun runs all day long.
The dual mountain rivalry in Livigno is friendly though competitive, which bodes extremely well for guests who benefit from a constant state of improvement and renewal. Both sides are big, brilliant and distinguishable enough to make it feel like two resorts in one. Slope side there are big air bags to practice aerials; recreational race, slalom and boarder cross courses; parks for both beginners and experts alike; and plenty of refugios to have a cleansing ale, polenta, risotto, pasta or steak while enjoying live music and DJs. Carosello rises out of the middle of town and is extensively lifted, providing countless cruisers to do laps on.
Mottolino has a big park reputation that draws competitors to events like the boarder World Rookie Tour, and the amazing Nine Knights/Nine Queens invitational.
Mottolino can also lay claim to having the snappiest dressed lifties I’ve ever seen, making it Itay’s Alpine fashion capital.
Livigno’s lavish and lively lifestyle makes a dream destination for fun, friends, families and lovers. Perched high in the Alps at 1816m, the vibrant village exudes charm and character, whilst the pristine postcard presentation is simply flawless. From the piazzas to the pedestrian centre, and the hotels to the residences, this is ski-in, lift-out perfection personified. Tucked up at such a high altitude I didn’t feel a sense of being surrounded by grandeur, rather I was part of it.
In town the fashion parade continues as the streets are lined with boutiques bursting with name brands. Livigno’s special status as a duty free zone attracts buyers of apparel, accessories, electronics and fuel (€1.03 compared with €1.66 for diesel). I’ve never seen a queue so long for a petrol station; even the neighbours from Bormio drive over the pass to fill ‘er up.
Given the cheap fuel, it’s not surprising to find an Ice Driving School and circuit just out of town with six professional instructors happily hosting F1 teams, Moto GP riders, vehicle & tyre manufacturers, car clubs and tourists alike.
After a quick physics lesson learning about the ‘pendulum effect’ I jumped into a red Mitsubishi Lancer with ice rally champ Oliviero Bormolini for a spin around the 1.2 km circuit. Oliviero threw the machine around the bends with aplomb – it was the best ice skating I’ve ever done. Behind the wheel it was pretty hard, though the key to a perfect frozen drift was to wait, wait, wait, then hit the gas.
The revs continue in the village with an outdoor go kart circuit on a “neveplast” surface – which is ironic given that the large heart of the village is a pedestrian zone.
The best thing about Italian skiing is Italian hospitality – warm, genuine and welcoming. Tempting as it was to stay in each night at my hotel, the excellent 4 star Camana Veglia, and enjoy their magnificent four courses, vino and splendid service, I ventured out to cure my culinary curiosity. This was well and truly satisfied at the Michelin starred Chalet Ristorante Gourmet Mattias. Stand outs included the “walk in the forest” – venison with raspberry, strawberry, pine nuts, porcini mushrooms and potato with pine essence; a petit lamb burger with tomato in the bun, lettuce purée, olive tapinata and a whiskey mash paired with a cheeky 2007 Cinque Stella Sfursat, finished off with a pine infused creme brûlée with rhubarb confit.
From fine dining to a raucously rocking feast at Camanel di Planon mountain lodge at 2,360 metres. After a Pisten Bully ascent we were welcomed with an open fire, prosecco, prosciutto and local cheeses. The falling snow and falling temperature didn’t dissuade diners venturing out and up for the party. DJ Ale Massessi spun terrific tunes that led to an after dinner conga line. The wine flowed freely, the abundant food begged us to sample seconds and even thirds, and the night finished with layback grappa shots poured down a wooden ski.
Unsurprisingly Livigno’s après seen is sweet as – from the civilised Concordia Bar to the popular Bivio’s, the thumping Stalet to Tea de Vedal, and Alegro, to everyone’s fave Mikey’s Pub. As they say, disco never died, it just moved to Italy.
Back on the hill they milked the glorious conditions last season for all they’re worth: in April 2014 the Carosello 3000 crew, headed by Simone Salvatori & Girgio Cusini constructed a 23 metre kicker aptly named ‘Livigno Wild Side’ on a picturesque north-west side country corner of the resort. Pro film crews and the Swiss Freeski team were invited and their results speak for themselves – check it out at www.snowactiontv.com – and a handful of high altitude lifts kept turning until May 15.
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Getting there: fly to Milan, 4½ hours over the Passo di Foscagno at 2,291m on the Livigno Express ski shuttle.
More info: www.livigno.eu www.carosello3000.com