This guide to the best Italian ski resorts for beginners is a must-read for any budding winter sportsters with the home of pizza and pasta on their mind. It will hop from the jagged Dolomites to the high Aosta Alps on the hunt for places that we think suit the learners best, whether for their soft green and blue runs or for provision of ski tuition.
The good news is that there’s a wide variety of places on the menu. Some are linked to soaring glaciers to allow for a long season of skiing, others are joined at the hip to other resorts in France or Switzerland, meaning you can mix things up by whizzing across borders on your skis if you’re up for it.
Remember that even the best Italian ski resorts for beginners are in thrall to the calendar. The winter season tends to begin around mid-December here and lasts until the start of April. For the most reliable snow, try to come between mid-January and the end of February.
Madonna di Campiglio
The resort of Madonna di Campiglio has risen and risen in recent years to become one of the favored ski escapes in Italy for low-budget holidaymakers who want to avoid the soaring rates of Cortina and Cervinia. That’s one of the reasons we think it deserves a place among the best Italian ski resorts for beginners – you can get the full Alpine experience for less in these parts.
But cheaper rates don’t mean compromising on quality. Madonna di Campiglio sits in a tight valley in the heart of the Brenta group of mountains. That means it has one foot in the western Alps and one foot in the Dolomites. The upshot? You can sample quite different sorts of skiing on both sides of the town, with long, snaking blue runs on the flanks of Mount Adamello to the west and steeper, straighter descents on Cima Tosa to the east.
The other reason that we love Madonna as a pick for starter skiers is just how accessible the place is. There’s no need for long, arduous transfers into the depths of the Aosta Valley here. The town is well linked to the SS42 highway that cuts through the peaks to the north and to the top of Lake Garda, which sits about 1.5 hours’ drive to the south.
The center is relatively compact and small, but it’s got a good range of hotel options. You can get ski-in, ski-out choices like the Ambiez Residencehotel ($$-$$$), and lovely spa hotels at base level, like the well-rated Hotel Spinale ($$)
Despite being draped over the rugged high Dolomites, the Val Gardena ski field is a doozy for first-time riders. The jagged peaks of this famous range tend to loom up above the slopes. There aren’t many runs that actually cross them. Most roll and flow slightly lower down, through long Alpine valleys and across big tabletop mountains like the Piz Boe.
There’s no doubt that the finest learner area here is on the plateau of the Alpe di Siusi above the gorgeous town of Ortisei. It’s actually the largest high-altitude meadow in all of Europe; an undulating expanse of grassy fields that get doused in two-meter snowdrifts come December. The slopes there tend to be long, wide, and with soft gradients. Oh, and the views of the jagged Sassolungo to the east are nothing short of breathtaking.
Val Gardena also happens to be the home of the uber-famous Sella Ronda ski circuit. Crossing a quintet of gorgeous valleys, from Alta Badia to Fodom, it’s a 42-kilometer loop that can be done in both directions. For newbie skiers, it’s a true challenge, but the perfect thing to aim for as you emerge from the beginner slopes.
It’s possible to stay in a range of villages within the resort of Val Gardena. Our favorites are probably aforementioned Ortisei, with its moody medieval churches that gaze at the central Dolomites, and the quaint village of Canazei, where you’ll find a couple of lively wine bars waiting at the base of the peaks.
The first of our ski resorts to take us over to the muscular peaks of the Aosta Valley in northwestern Italy is La Thuile. Butting right up to the French border, the town started life as an anthracite mining center during WWII. It’s come a long way since then, largely thanks to the skiable terrain that runs down the haunches of the Monte Belvedere and the Becca dei Rousses peaks that rise above.
Much of it is suited to more advanced riders. In fact, we’d almost completely skip the clutch of slopes that come down to meet the tiny hamlet of Col du petit saint Bernard (the first village on the Italian side of the border). Much better is the group of blue runs that filters off from the ski lift known as Chalets Express. They are wide and accessible, but also high enough to get decent snow coverage early on in the winter.
La Thuile has firmly established itself as one of the top family resorts in the Aosta Valley by funding a huge new snow park aimed at the little ones. It’s called Fantaski and it has mini jumps, fun runs, and nursery slopes, along with adjoining ski schools that have tuition packages specifically for groups with the kids in tow.
The other thing we love about this resort? Did we mention that it’s close to France? Well…if you have your own wheels, you can easily scoot across the border to spice up your ski trip with sessions in some of the most iconic destinations in the legendary Savoie. They include Les Arcs – with its 452km of pistes! – and La Plagne – gateway to the Paradiski region.
Calling all beginner skiers with the gear and no idea, Courmayeur is one of the places to see and be seen. Just look at where it is: Smack dab at the entrance to the long N205 tunnel that links Italy with France, or – more to the point – the Aosta Valey with the chic resorts of Chamonix. Courmayeur also happens to be one of the playgrounds for the well-to-do folks of Milan and Turin, so expect plenty in the way of Gucci apres wear.
As far as the skiing goes, this one’s very heavily weighted towards the intermediate category. It’s largely made up of red-rated slopes that provide access to some of the most sought-after off-piste in the Italian Alps – where else can you free ski in the shadow of Mont Blanc? All that means we’d recommend Courmayeur for upper-beginner skiers who are ready to switch the greens and blues for something a little more challenging.
There are designated nursery slope areas right at the base of the main lifts. And there’s decent ski tutoring provision, although it’s probably a touch on the pricy side. As are the hotels, which run the gamut from charming family-run B&Bs like Hotel Stella Del Nord ($$) to elegant spa resorts with fine-dining eateries on site – check out Grand Hotel Courmayeur Mont Blanc ($$$) for that.
A trip through the tunnel to the Chamonix Valley is a great idea if you don’t mind a long bus trip or a short drive. That can open up the beginner ski areas of Les Houches in France, which we’d say has some of the greatest side-on views of Mont Blanc of anywhere in Europe.
It’s hard not to be stunned by the views at Breuil-Cervinia. Deep at the end of a snow-doused valley some 1,500 meters above sea level, this iconic resort sits on the south side of arguably the most recognizable mountain on Earth: The Matterhorn. Zermatt, the more famous Swiss gateway to the pistes there, is just to the north. Thankfully, the prices on the Italy side are much, much lower and the skiing is generally more chilled and accessible.
There are two main parts of the resort that we think starter skiers and improvers will like the most. The first is the area accessed by the duo of the Pancheon lift and the Fornet station. That’s a web of five or six doable blue runs that come off the shark-fin tops of Furggen mountain. The other area is to the south at Valtournenche. The slopes there are mellow and wide, with smaller crowds because they aren’t plagued by people moving back and forth from the Swiss side.
The downside with choosing Breuil-Cervinia is that you don’t really get those iconic broadsides of the Matterhorn that the calendars show. You’ll need to ski all the way over to the distant eastern half of Zermatt to get those. That’s possible but you’ll need to be able to cover lots of terrain in a single day to make it there and back.
Best Italian ski resorts for beginners – our conclusion
There are plenty of options out there when it comes to the best Italian ski resorts for beginners – this country is one of the winter sports meccas of Europe, after all. We especially like the vast terrain of the Val Gardena, which is one of the largest interlinked resorts in the Dolomites, and the family-friendly runs and snow parks of La Thuile in the western Alps. But that’s really just scratching the surface.