There’s nothing revelatory in what I’m about to say: Italians sure know how to live. But I said it anyway because they really, really do! They capitalize on the summer sunshine by passing the weekends (and August!) along Italy’s 4,720 miles of azure coastline, and I’m proud to say that I’ve started to follow suit when I can. I usually choose to beach bum in Levanto, but who am I kidding? I’ll kick back on any shore on which I may work towards my gambe abbronzate aspiration.
Given that Alpine terrain is part of Italy’s landscape, Italians unsurprisingly head to the mountains to hit the slopes once winter rolls around, and after four years, I finally followed suit and had my first Italian ski weekend. I’m loathe to admit that it took me as long as it did, but that doesn’t matter…I did it, damn it, and that’s all that matters!
So, what took me so long? To start, I have always had an unrequited crush of sorts on skiing for pretty much my entire life. It’s something that I’ve obsessed about and always wanted to do more of, but, for a number of reasons that I won’t get into, skiing wasn’t in the cards for me as much as I would have liked. Therefore, I never had the chance to hone my “talent”. I have skied in Colorado, however after each amazing ski trip, I had to begrudgingly let skiing fall to the wayside. Life would get in the way and the last thing I’d have time for was regular weekends at Hunter Mountain. But I still dreamed of skiing! Yes, I’m still a beginner after years of on-and-off “practice”, but I have always imagined myself swooshing and swooping my way down the mountains like a pro. Sadly, I’ve never skied enough to reach that level (yet!), so my ski strides always transition from French fries to pizza and back again instead of parallel. In fact, they still do. And I still really, really, really want to be a parallel skier.
So, a bunch of work colleagues planned a ski weekend and I decided quasi last minute to join, and it was one of the best decisions I have ever made! I was hesitant at first because I thought of every reason why I shouldn’t (I haven’t skied in ages, I don’t have ski gear, I’m not a good skier and everyone else is, I haven’t budgeted for this, blah blah blah blah blah), instead of why I should: I really, really, really wanted to go. So I made it happen.
To start, I desperately needed ski gear. I went to Decalthon and opted for whatever I could find on sale in my size. All that was left a neon blue ski suit with off-white and neon yellow/green touches on the jacket that honestly looked like something from the early 90s. My heart really pined for one of those all white ski suits (I imagined my inner snow bunny rocking one of them), but didn’t want to splurge because I wasn’t sure how the weekend would go. To keep positive, I even bought white goggles so they would perfectly match the potential white ski suit of my future!).
So, how did the weekend go? Let me just say this: I so should have treated myself to a white snowsuit. It went so well, in fact, that I decided to forego the Sunday excursion to Courmayeur (a town I’ve been dying to visit) for a second day of skiing!
We skied in Pila in Valle d’Aosta, the gorgeous rugged region in Northwest Italy that borders France and Switzerland. We left the snowless ground via gondola to arrive at the slopes, and as the snow-capped peaks drew nearer, the terrain below us slowly but surely transformed into a white blanket. These weren’t like the amateur mountains that comprised the ski trips of my childhood…Pila was the Real McCoy, a veritable Italian ski resort. I was about to ski in the Alps! However, I couldn’t blindly jump back into skiing, and I really wanted a ski instructor’s undivided attention, so I enrolled in an hour-long private lesson at Pila Ski School. I got back into the swing of it easier than I thought, and even managed to get some parallel turn action happening on the easy slope. I was so motivated to get better that I enrolled in another private lesson for that afternoon.
Ski lift after ski lift reaches the top of the mountain, and it was a long, and at times nerve-wracking, way down. Obviously the further up I went, the more challenging the slope, however the blue beginner hills were way more challenging than the green US beginner slopes. When I caught sight of some of the inclines, I couldn’t believe I was about to descend them. However, once I got going, it honestly wasn’t so bad! And when I glanced behind me to see what I had just accomplished, I couldn’t help but feel like a badass. We’re nothing if we’re not fearless.
And the best part: I only fell once! Well, technically it was twice, but the second fall was part of the first fall, so I only counted it as one. Yes, I fell after I got myself back up. In the moment, it was super stressful. The angle wasn’t ideal and it was on a part of the slope where no one really goes, and—since I have no patience—part of me just wanted to stop right then and there, because it was physically (not mentally!) challenging to get back up…a lot of slipping and sliding that I had seemingly zero control over. But I pushed on!
So, the private lessons were the best way to go. The first one made me comfortable enough to take on the mountain, and the second one was awesome. A colleague’s friend joined me and the instructor took us all the way up to the mountain where it was less crowded and we took our sweet time coming down. Well, I took my sweet time coming down. In fact, we (because of my slowness) closed the mountain. Yes, a man tailed me in a snowmobile for pretty much my entire way down. At first it made me anxious, but then I knew there was no other way so I just thought positive thoughts and made it down the hill unscathed. If I hadn’t signed up for the private lesson, I would have never done that slope, so needless to say, I was tickled pink that I did.
instead of the Courmayeur excursion on Sunday, I skied a second day with some of the previous day’s skiers. No private lessons this time! My colleagues were all super advanced, so I did the easy hill over and over to practice my turns and try to sharpen my parallel “skills”, and we all noshed on the lunch of champions at La Baraka once again. (Think polenta…lots of polenta!!)
My boss Fabio took me down the mountain after lunch so I didn’t have to go da sola…and I have the videos to prove it, which I’ve only shared with a select few. If my ski suit wasn’t so horrendous, I’d post them, so you’ll just have to wait until I’m in the white ski suit. Of course, all I wanted to do after the weekend was ski, ski and ski some more, but alas, I wasn’t able to get in another trip before the season ended. And as much as I intend to enjoy every last second of summer, I’m actually looking forward to winter now for a reason that’s not Christmas. (By the way, I should add that Fabio rules, and no ski trip of mine will ever be the same without him!!) Also, since I’m spreading the love, I would like to give a shout-out to my colleague Pier because he’s the best driver ever!! Just as no slope will ever be the same without Fabio, no drive to the mountains will ever be the same without Pier.
If you’re planning to ski in Pila, here are some tips based on what we did that weekend. Regardless, you must, must, must visit Valle d’Aosta. I’m such a summer person and can’t wait to bum out on the beach, but I’m already looking forward to next winter to get more skiing on! I see myself in my white ski suit sporting Atomics! I’ll get there. I know I will. I know Atomics are still a ways away, but I could easily rock a white ski suit next winter.
Skiing Rates: You can check them out here. I’m certain I paid 42 euro for a two-day lift pass, but that price isn’t on here. Hmmm…..
Pila Ski School: I took two private lessons here and they were well worth it. In fact, next time, I’d sign up for a few consecutive hours.
Le Vigneron in Arvier: What a pleasant surprise! Was so not what we expected when we walked in. Typical Valle d’Aosta fare but with a slightly refined touch. In an effort to eat as much polenta as possible, I opted for the braised beef cheek that came accompanied by that hearty, velvety starch.
La Baraka: This is perched on the top of the mountain and it’s just glorious! I enjoyed sausage and polenta for two consecutive lunches, but there’s much more like burgers, You’ll find typical salume and cheese. My favorite starter: The black bread with Lardo d’Arnad DOP (a local specialty) and honey!
Cantina du Clou: One of the most popular restaurants in Arvier. We were 18 people for dinner and as can be the case with a group that large, I don’t think the dinner accurately reflected the restaurant at its best. We had a fixed menu, and I don’t understand why they gave us pasta pomodoro; it’s not a local specialty nor was it tomato season. I would give it a second chance, but with a smaller group of people.