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AN AMERICAN ON SKIING IN ITALY - Bert Witsil, from Sun Valley to Cervinia
Friday March 29, 2019 - Email this article to a friend

Europeans, attention! Here are 6 reminders of why our mountains are the bomb. An American's thoughts on skiing in the Aosta Valley: NEW

PlanetSKI's senior news reporter, Katie Bamber, started her Winter 18/19 ski season in Cervinia in the Aosta Valley.

It was early, at the end of November, and the snow was the best in Europe.

It was a last minute trip taken with an American skier to experience the best of Europe.

It's one of Katie's favourite ski regions.

"I learned to ski here in the Aosta when I was young, over in La Thuile."

"Ten years later I learned to snowboard in Courmayeur, in between returning for the atmosphere, the beautiful scenery, the price and, for more than anything, the Italian mountain food."

"It was the perfect opportunity then with the incredible early season snow to show off one our best Alpine ski experiences to a first-timer."

Said American, Bert Witsil, is a telemark skier and a long-time worker in the US ski industry at pioneer ski resort Sun Valley, Idaho.

So here it is.

An alien to the Alps' ideas on what makes this huge range special.

What impresses.

Europe vs America.

How these mountains differ from the Rockies.

A fresh look at mountains we've become accustomed to and something to make us appreciate our beautiful home mountains. 

1. Cultural diversity

Americans ski in America with, mostly, Americans.

In Cervinia it was nice to hear so many different languages.

It was refreshing to hear new languages but more importantly to see another culture.

The Italian culture which Americans are so keen to experience.

Skiing in between countries.

For a big skier, and adventure skier, the novelty of travelling over the border of two European countries is incredible.

It's hilarious, the difference;

Finding a 30CHF burger in a Zermatt canteen then whipping back across into Italy to eat a whole meal with wine for two people for the same price.

Bert and the never ending white peaks of the AostaBert and the never ending white peaks of the Aosta

2. The mountains are different, dramatic.

Dense and sharp, in two words.

The Alps are hugely impressive.

Row after row of high, jagged peaks, disappearing into the horizon.

They're like sets of sharp teeth.

In the US there are big mountains.

But there aren't so many ranges that are as sharp and thick as here in the Alps.

America's are rounded and rolling, rather than pointed and wild, like here in Italy.

Bert on the border of Switzerland and ItalyBert on the border of Switzerland and Italy

3. Skiing on the hill

Because of the mountain faces, the pitch, the Alps themselves, it feels like you're skiing at the base of the mountains versus the top.

Most ski mountains in the US are chosen for their suitability to skiing.

They feel like they were made into ski hills because of their pitch, elevation, access and conditions.

Mountains in Europe are skied because they are there and they are beautiful.

A way has been found to ski round or down a mountain.

It's so impressive skiing here.

Because there are so many mountains, and because above you or across the way there's something higher, looming over you, unskiable.

So it seems to me that in the Aosta Valley skiing is on the lower skirts of the mountains, not on the main peaks because many of the peaks are too steep and too high to ski.

In a nutshell, Americans seem to like to find mountains that are good to ski top to bottom.

Europeans seem to like to find good mountains, then figure out how to ski them.

The MatterhornThe Matterhorn

3. Villages vs purpose built

Many of the alpine villages that feature ski resorts in Europe predate the resorts.

You seem to find many authentic villages with their own personalities, apart from the ski culture.

In the USA there are very few 'authentic' ski towns anymore that have not been commercialized and 'epic-ized'.

PlanetSKI says:

The Aosta Valley is full of authentic farming towns, turned ski resorts.

Much of the area used to once be part of France, hence the names La Thuile, Cormayeur etc. sound French.

After the war, Mussolini wanted to Italian-ise the area, and so Cervinia was born (and with an Italian name).

So, Cervinia is a 'purpose built' resort, even though a good looking one with unique restaurants run by old local families.

We keep Bert's comment about Cervinia not being built for the purpose of skiing to show off its charm, its authentic Italian rural mountain feel and how European ski villages differ from those in the States.

CerviniaCervinia's welcome

4. Prices


A ski pass costs $190 a day (plus tax) in a popular resort in North America.

But here it's around €30.

Europe's skiing is a fraction of what it costs back home.

The cost of food and drink here is awesome, too.

A few euros here for a glass of wine, against the $10-$20 for the cheapest in big name ski resorts.

Perhaps this is the biggest difference.

Skiing is a fifth of the price as in America.
Maybe more Americans will come this way as flying over to ski here is still cheaper for a week away on the slopes.

Cervinia sunsetsCervinia sunsets

5. Restaurants

Again, 'authentic' is the word that comes to mind.

The people working are family, they're welcoming and keen for you to enjoy the food and the dining experience as part of the restaurant.

On-mountain restaurants in America can be quite samey, all run by the company that owns the mountain.

Memorable was the tiny cavern of a restaurant, Jour et Nuit down on the main pedestrian street in Cervinia.

The owner was supplying us with more and more of his homemade limoncello, giving out his recipe for his milk-based special version.

6. Attitudes

Europe: More experiential.

Everyone in Italy is enjoying the flow, taking the day it as it comes - it seems everything but formal.

It didn't seem to be all about reaching goals, skiing the most vertical or the hardest run.

I gather it's also the way that British people like to ski.

Maybe more Brits should come to ski in the USA!

But the Italians were all about whatever looked the best.

There were ski tourers on the up doing their thing, long lunchers, families, chargers...

We were skiing leisurely in the Italian way where it seemed to be all about luxurious pleasure:

Enjoyment and easy times...

CerviniaCervinia April 24th 2019

Cervinia is open until 5th May for skiing and snowboarding.

The ski touring in the area is gorgeous.

It skis early and opens till late.

Who can get there to enjoy the beautiful end of such a fantastic season?

For the Spirit of the Mountains - PlanetSKI: Number One for ski news

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