Italy's mountains are underrated, or underskied, anyhow. Here's a look at one of its main ski areas and the resorts' main draws. NEW
Breuil-Cervinia, Valtournenche and Zermatt for wide open ski areas and top notch mountain restaurants, Courmayeur nestling at the foot of Monte Bianco for families, international skiing in La Thuile for the variety of pistes, powder paradise Monterosa for its scenery, steeps and snow record, Pila for its views and height, Cogne for a day away from the crowds, and Crevacol for those fair-weather skiers that are more interested in the sunning.
The Aosta Valley has much to offer: high peaks, Italian food, cheaper-than-usual ski prices and a relaxed atmosphere.
The resorts range greatly in style and in skiing but generally it's good to be away from the usual ski resort scene.
The valley also has a new airport transfer service that costs from as little as €15 one-way - see here for further details.
So, what resorts are there and what have they got to offer?
CERVINIA, VALTOURNENCHE AND ZERMATT
The ski area, spanning Italy and Switzerland, links Breuil-Cervinia and Valtournenche to Zermatt, with an infinite carousel of ski lifts and runs for all levels.
At the foot of Monte Cervino you can enjoy six uninterrupted months of skiing with great snow conditions due to the high altitude.
The Cervino ski area, that spans two countries and three valleys, ranges from the 1,500m of Valtournenche to the 3,889m of the Piccolo Cervino.
With peaks of over 4,000m it makes for top freeriding and the silence of the Valtournenche woods, where chamois, alpine ibex, marmots and even eagles are often seen, add to the area's appeal.
There is so much on offer from skiing Chiar di Luna at first light (descending before the ski lifts open) to ice driving, ski safaris and snowshoeing.
Well-known alpine ski competition, the Mezzalama Trophy, takes place here and has done since 1933.
The longest path in the ski area, the Reine Blanche, meaning 'queen of the snow', has 22km of downhill starting from the Piccolo Cervino (3,883m) in Switzerland and running down to Valtournenche at 1,524m.
The 11km Ventina trail owes its fame to the view over the whole Breuil basin and the 4,000m peaks that surround the entire ski area.
The spectacular black runs at the foot of the Cervino are a must for expert skiers, as is the panorama that allows a close-up view of the imposing south face of the Cervino.
Passing through the "city of stone" that stands out for its large stacks of rock that tower out of a white sea of snow will challenge even advanced skiers.
More on PlanetSKI's recent visit to Cervinia.
See more details of the resort here.
Views from the top
The popularity of the resort stands for both its on and off-piste skiing. Its atmospheric and pedestrianised town centre draws many to the resort with lots of them returning.
Its geographical position between Italy, France and Switzerland makes it internationally popular.
It is one of Europe's snowiest resorts and with the new Skyway Monte Bianco cable car leading to easy access off-piste, it makes it very popular with freeriders.
The resort has 100 km of skiing, opening the doors to the top of Europe.
Passing through woods and valleys, its lifts and runs connect the two faces of the Chécrouit and the Val Vény.
Snow is guaranteed thanks to scheduled artificial snowmaking that, with 280 cannons, covers 70% of the ski area.
The Courmayeur cable car is open every evening until midnight, allowing après-ski lovers to remain on the slopes and enjoy the sunset with a high-altitude aperitif or dinner.
See more of the Courmayeur Mont Blanc resort here.
In the vicinity of Mont Blanc and the Ruitor range, the small town sits among the highest peaks in Europe with views of the Ruitor glacier with its perennial snow.
La Thuile's slopes boast an extensive international ski area, Espace San Bernardo, that it shares with the French resort of La Rosière.
The Italian side is north-facing and characterised by more hard-packed snow, with a range of technical runs as well as panoramic ones.
The French side, on the other hand, is south-facing, offering sun and simpler trails.
The resort, that at its highest point of Belvedere reaches an altitude of 2,650m, is good for all skiers with 80 runs of varying difficulty.
There is also the World Cup piste 3 Franco Berthod where female speed champions recently took part in World Cup races.
Kite skiing is also popular as is heliskiing to otherwise unreachable peaks such as Pointe Lechaud, Monte Miravidi, Mont Ouille, Mont Freudaz, Becca Bianca and Testa del Ruitor.
In 2016, La Thuile took centre stage when it hosted, from 19-21 February, three of the FIS Ladies Ski World Cup races (two downhills and one superG).
The international spotlight was back this year when races in the Telemark World Cup took place in January.
See more on the La Thuile website.
Heliski in La Thuile
The Monterosa Ski Group is a collection of ski areas.
As well as the historic area that connects Champoluc and Gressoney-La-Trinité with Alagna Valsesia, there are also a constellation of small stations that offer a surprising range of winter holidays at reasonable prices.
Monterosa Ski mainly encompasses the Valle d'Aosta area, before linking via the Passo dei Salati with Alagna Valsesia in the Piedmont region.
The area has a rich variety of terrain and includes the International Leonardo David Special piste at the Weissmatten, a legendary black run in the Gressoney-Saint-Jean area that has continuous changes in speed, gradient and snow - and it's lit so you can ski and race by night.
Follow it down here:
Monterosa Ski and Gressoney-La-Trinité are known for being a freeriding paradise in Italy.
Snow Park and Baby Park in Champorcher, at an altitude of 2,000m, are good for skiers and boarders, while children can enjoy Snow Tubing and Miniquad-ing at the Laris Baby Park.
Monterosa also has thermal baths and relaxation.
In Champoluc you can find the new spa, MonterosaTerme, situated in a woodland of Pian Villy with views of the Rosa range.
See here for more.Panoramic of Monterosa at 3,275m
Part of the Gressan municipality, Pila is conveniently accessed by cable car from the town of Aosta.
The views of 4,000m alpine giant mountain peaks, from Mont Blanc to Grand Combin and Cervino to Monte Rosa, right the way to Gran Paradiso.
The resort has 4 black runs, 21 reds and 4 blues that, together with the other skiable paths, make for a total of 70km, along with slalom courses.
It is a more affordable and down to earth resort than its famous neighbour, Courmayeur.
Winter events in Pila include the "Pila lights" charity event, where pink torches light up the night in support of breast cancer research.
Visit the Pila website for more of what's going on during the season.
On piste in Pila
In the heart of the Gran Paradiso National Park, Cogne is a small, relaxed ski area, with two chair lifts and a cable car reaching 2,252 metres.
Being so quiet not only makes it appealing for more of a private day skiing but also a draw for nature.
Alpine ibex, chamois and stoats can be spotted and with the guarantee of quality snow, it being north facing, make it worthwhile for a day trip.
Valnontey, in the National Park
A children's snow park located in the resort centre includes rubber dinghies for sliding sessions.
Check out the website here.
Crévacol is fully south-facing and therefore very sunny.
It makes it the ideal place not just for those who love to ski and relax on panoramic terraces at 2,000m.
The ski area, which overlooks the village of Saint-Rhémy-en-Bosses, covers altitudes of between 1,640m and 2,450m.
Runs totalling 22km are for all levels of skier and snowboarder.
Visit Crévacol's site.
Visit the general Aosta Valley website here.
The Aosta Valley at a glance:
Area: 3,263.25km2 (100km long and 65km wide)
Population: 127,329 inhabitants (Aosta Valley)
Density per km2 : 38.99 (the lowest in Italy)
Driving distance between London and Aosta: 697 miles
Distance from the airports: Turin: 116km - Milan Malpensa: 180km - Geneva: 140km
The Dolomite mountain range over the other side of Italy is another favourite ski spot. Read what PlanetSKI thinks of the area here.
And the Apennines down in the middle of the country has recently been in the news recently for less positive reasons.
It saw a fatal helicopter crash last week and has suffered from a bad avalanche in the Abruzzo region. Read more here.
See here for the main PlanetSKI news page with all the latest stories from the world of snowsports.
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