Overnight in Livigno, Italy

Post by WildSnow.com blogger | February 4, 2009      

(Valued readers, we return to our series of European trip reports from my travels several weeks ago. In this installment, WildSnow ends up in Livigno, Italy on the way to Bormio to visit Trab Skis.)

I like to read a novel while traveling solo, so I borrowed a copy of “Farewell to Arms” before leaving Austria. Ernest’s story of wartime love makes me homesick (for love, not war), but it also gives an interesting background for the Italy and Austria of today. This isn’t exactly the land of Hemingway (it’s lacking war, for one thing), but Ernest also appreciated the finer points of Italian culture, especially the food and of course the booze. The tourist complex of Livigno has both, though the resort atmosphere is hectic, and the town doesn’t have much of an older village of the type you get used to enjoying while traveling over here.

Backcountry Skiing

Dinner included with room, would be at least $50 extra in Aspen (with no booze). Euro exchange rate of course makes things more expensive here, but most goods seem to be overall cheaper than in the US so that compensates for the rate. Honestly, this photo is simply my first course built from the salad bar. Actually, two courses, starting with my heavily customized fruit and cheese plate, then moving on to the actual salad and a nice little bowl of freshly baked bread.

Hemingway wrote of Alps that were “green and dark to the snow-line and then white and lovely in the sun. Then, as the road mounted the ridge, I saw a third range of mountains, higher snow mountains, that looked chalky white and furrowed, and then there were mountains far beyond all these that you could hardly tell if you really saw…”

Livigno’s Alps are in Hemingway’s latter category. They gleam white, like freshly laundered and taut sheets stretched over the thousands of beds in the hundreds of hotels lining the Livigno roadsides. Both walls of the valley are webbed with ski lifts and sport vast areas of timber barren piste. The lift skiing is probably delightful on a sunny morning after a powder storm, but not the greatest during a weather event (they probably need to issue GPS units with the lift tickets).

I was thinking of sleeping in my car to save money, but after a tiresome and ultimately fruitless attempt to pirate a wireless signal, I picked lodging at random. Hotel Nevada provides essential web juice along with the room, but you have to sit in the upstairs bar to use their weak radio. Oh well, I shouldn’t bury myself in the room anyway.

Driving here from Garmisch was difficult without a navigator, but the mountain views blew me away. You’ve got to keep your eyes glued to the ever curving and narrow roads lest an oncoming truck tests your insurance policy. But you can’t help but stare bug eyed as 6,000 vertical feet of Alps roll by your window like some kind of tourist promo video. Only you are there.

Backcountry Skiing

The menu.

Breakfast and dinner come with the deal, reasonably priced at 57 Euros total for my smaller room on a lower floor. At first that seemed expensive — then I ate. The dining room is downstairs, with a couple of young Italian looking waiters in long black aprons and white shirts. They bustle around with a flamboyant and somehow comforting posture. You think they really know what they’re doing, that your enjoyment is their mission. Sure, you’re really just another tourist, but you might as well get your money’s worth and dream. The repast reinforces the fantasy.

First, the salad bar. From the regional cheese selection to juicy sun dried tomatoes, over the breads, circle to the fruit and veggies. Oh my gosh, what kind of lettuce shall we build with today? Then the soup, then the roast beef doused with rich dark gravy that made all those days of ski touring so worth it.

Backcountry Skiing

Desert was a fine custard I had no problem cleaning off the plate in thirty seconds.

Backcountry Skiing

In honor of Ernest.

Like a skier’s version of Shangri-La, Livigno is isolated by high mountains and only has a few roads in. My route from the east punches a mountain wall via a one-lane tunnel. A system of stop lights makes drivers take turns going one way. The bore is long, several kilometers, some sections with unlined hewn rock walls inches from your door handles. The tunnel reminds me of the secret routes smugglers must have used under the borders around here (and perhaps still do?). After the tunnel you drive next to a long frozen lake, through an avalanche shed that takes several miles of contour like the perfect track of a bionic alpine guide.

Backcountry Skiing

At the one lane tunnel, you wait for the green light and hope drivers on the other side are not color blind.

Now this was supposed to just be a stop on the way to visit Trab Skis in Bormio. I found myself thinking, “how much of that nice white snow up there is still powder, and where do they ski tour?” By the next morning that had evolved to “If I see a skintrack on something mellow and safe, I go.”

Backcountry Skiing

While driving to Bormio I spotted this mountain just after leaving Livigno. It looked low angled enough and skied enough for a safe solo mission. So I parked at a farmhouse that looked like the popular trailhead, and banged out about 500 meters for a nice cardio fix.

Backcountry Skiing

Looking back toward Livigno from my tour. 'And then there were mountains far beyond all these that you could hardly tell if you really saw...' Return visit?

Next, Bormio, Trab, and a World Cup ski mountaineering race.


Please Enjoy A Few Suggested WildSnow Posts


18 Responses to “Overnight in Livigno, Italy”

  1. Clyde February 4th, 2009 1:12 pm

    Next time Lou, go to Hotel Posta and say hello to Luigi and Cathy. They are among the instigators of La Skieda Festival…which everyone really should attend one year! Their 15th is coming this spring. Great touring, great parties.

  2. Wick February 4th, 2009 1:17 pm

    Nice! Looking forward to the Trab visit and a report on there new binding….plus your take on the World Cup rand scene. We’ve got our own (Continental Cup??) here in CB this weekend. Sully will be over taking on challengers at the 24 Hr event… again.

  3. Robie February 4th, 2009 1:29 pm

    For good travel reading or if you are interested in the Tyrol /Sud Tyrol try Paul Hofmann;s ” The Sunny side of the Alps” Informative and funny.

  4. Randonnee February 4th, 2009 1:48 pm

    Ahh, Hemingway, and skiing…there are some Hemingway short stories that mention ski touring, avalanches, even Telemark v. Christy.

    In the short story, “An Alpine Idyll” -” We had been skiing the SIlvretta for a month, and it was good to be down in the valley…We were both tired of the sun.”

    In “Cross Country Snow” Nick Adams cannot telemark because of his wounded leg, so he Christys while George Telemarks- “…he swooped down, hissing in the crystalline powder snow and seeming to float up and drop down…”

    In “There Is Never Any End To Paris” Hemingway recalls skiing and avalanching while he had lived and worked at writing in Schruns, Austria. “The snow was deep and powdery and it was not bound to the earth at all. Conditions for skiing could not be more dangerous…He crossed it and then they followed and the whole hillside came down in a rush, rising over them as a tidal wave rises. Thirteen were dug out and nine of them were dead…We became great students of avalanches, the different types of avalanches, how to avoid them and how to behave if you were caught in one.”

    Schruns was for a period of years in the early 1920s the favorite ski resort of Ernest Hemingway. He wintered there with his first wife, Hadley, and oldest son, who was then just an infant (from Wikepedia).

    “An Alpine Idyll” and “Cross Country Snow” are found in Hemingway’s books “Short Stories of…” and also in my favorite book, “The Nick Adams Stories.” The story “There Is Never Any End To Paris” is found in the book “A Moveable Feast.”

  5. Lou February 4th, 2009 1:51 pm

    Nice job on the synopsis, Rando. Thanks. Appreciate getting more than the usual quotes from “Cross Country Snow.”

  6. Randonnee February 4th, 2009 2:11 pm

    You are welcome. I started reading all of Hemingway that I could find around the same time that I first randonnee skied- 1980. At one time, I tried to obtain everything in print by Hemingway and also have some books about Hemingway. Great writing!

  7. Derik February 4th, 2009 3:50 pm

    Yep, great story. I also have to second Wick’s post ……. can’t wait to see the Trab story and the WC race. Thanks Lou.


  8. Clark February 4th, 2009 6:27 pm

    Interesting history on Schruns Rando – I drove thru there Saturday up to the road closure at Partenen where I toured up to the pass to Galtur. Not much snow down low in Schruns but it was a fine day up high on the pass. Sadly the last day of a two week dumb-and-dumber-fest thru the Alps, but I’m already planning next year’s return.


  9. Sky February 5th, 2009 9:55 am

    Slight digression from Lou’s post, but he does discuss value a bit.

    I’m appalled by the difference in value between North America and Europe when it comes to skiing. Why is a ticket for the Aiguille du Midi so much cheaper than a ticket for Jackson Hole, Whistler, or almost any large resort in North America? It’s outrageous!

  10. Lou February 5th, 2009 10:50 am

    Sky, I agree (though you can find expensive tickets in EU). Has to do with skiing in the US being made into something that a lot of investors thought would make them tons of money off upper class and rich Americans. Industrial slope grooming is not cheap, for example, but the idea is it attracts a ton of skiers who will pay pay pay. Did making skiing expensive work as a business model? In some cases yes — at the expense of resorts being more grass roots.

    Worst case in my opinion is Aspen, which started as a community run ski area on the hill outside of town. When it went corporate most locals loved it, as it meant jobs etc., little did they know what the end result would be, that many of their descendants would not be able to live in the town of their ancestry (or would be made dependent on government housing with strange income caps and residency rules), and people with average incomes would be required to navigate a maze of “pass” options, none of which offer near as much value as prices you can find as close as an hour or so drive away.

    Tipping point was way back in the 1970s when they chopped the low priced season pass. I remember it well. Around that time politicians in the Aspen area did some weird thing they call “growth control,” which only succeeded in driving prices up to amazing levels and morphing “growth” into a frantic process of endless remodeling and building of homes that 50 of us could easily live in (along with huge and incredibly expensive government housing projects that classify as “growth” as much as any other type of building). Personally, I think the place would be a LOT better off today without most of the anti growth stuff — because the anti-growth didn’t stop growth, or as far as I can tell, even slow it down.

    I don’t know what the solution is, as the way our economy works we have to let investment and growth happen to some degree, or we kill the goose. Perhaps the failing is in the US Forest Service, that pretty much rubber stamped the whole process of creating expensive skiing. Yeah, come to think of it, I’d blame on the USFS more than anyone. They could have at least mandated that resorts on public land keep some sort of affordable price within their pricing structure.

    All that said, there is affordable skiing in the US, but in the places I know of you have to get the good prices by buying a season pass. Day tickets are almost always expensive.

  11. Sky February 5th, 2009 11:44 am

    Makes sense, Lou. I had suspicions along those lines. I appreciate your first-rate personal perspective from A$pen. For now, I’ll keep buying my lightweight sissy gear and slogging to the goods. And saving for plane tickets.


  12. Randonnee February 5th, 2009 12:54 pm

    In my two trips to Europe it appeared to me that the economies of scale played a large part of the cost of lift skiing, lodging, or ski touring and huts, even the equipment. There is so much skiing in Europe and so many skiers. The prices charged for lift skiing in Europe confirm what I already knew, that some US operators sometimes appear to be greedy speculators interested in quick profits, and often not particularly interested in skiing.

    Sky we are at a particular disadvantage here in Washington state. Here there is such limited opportunity to open and operate a ski area because of USFS ownership of nearly all of the suitable land. As a result of the ski area busts of the early 70s after overbuilding (eg Pilchuck and Yodelin), I understand, USFS became less willing to interfere or place rules on operators. Then with the enviro-mandates and USFS anti-human activity trend that ramped up in the early 90s, development became more difficult. All of this combined to create profitability for the operators because of demand exceeding supply. At the same time the result for the landowner-user public is less service (lift skiing) except in the case of bigger lodges sometimes eg Stevens Pass to get into wallet$. Crystal Mtn has endeavored to create more and better lift skiing, but the others are somewhat static.

    A few years go when I had interest in lift skiing, I found it entertaining to see Stevens Pass ticket pricing close to Whistler pricing! I would consider the snow conditions at Stevens Pass superior to Whistler, but the lifts, terrain, and grooming, the experience at Whistler was in a much higher class. The reality is that WA ski areas could charge what they want to an extent. Stevens Pass, for example, could probably sell enough $100 lift tickets to be profitable and the experience would be enhanced for the customer with less crowding.

    Fortunately, my family skis lifts at Mission Ridge. Mission Ridge is far enough removed from the millions of Puget Sound residents so as not to be affected in regard to pricing compared to the Crest areas. Mission Ridge terrain is also just nice, not extreme, so that also keeps the demand reasonable.

    Also, if we here had more lift skiing, that would reduce directly a lot of accessible ski touring. Since I now ski tour 10 days or more for every one lift day, I am thankful that even the non-Wilderness areas suitable for ski areas have not been developed- they are now my playground.

  13. Sky February 5th, 2009 1:42 pm


    Fair enough to consider Stevens vs Whistler and see the Stevens price as outrageous. But in the same spirit,

    Chamonix: 37 Euros for the day pass
    Whistler: $89 CAD!

    I know the exchange rates fluctuate, but the Euro is well under two Canadian dollars and even if I use two-to-one exchange I get $74 CAD for Cham. And to me, Whistler doesn’t give me close to half of what Cham gives me in terms of access.

    I think you’re on the money about economies of scale, too. Europe has the big population in a small area and a long history and culture of living in the mountains. Between you and Lou I think you’ve both hit the nail on the head. Silverton seems to be a step in the right direction, although I haven’t been there myself.

    Personally, I love the isolation and wilderness available in Washington. But I can’t help but wish we also had one place – not a destination resort! – that began to do the North Cascades some justice while providing some access. Dream on…. Like Phil said to me when we were looking south across the valley on our way to West McMillan spire a few Januaries ago: “Imagine, if you will, a 2000 m tram from Newhalem to the summit of Big Devil Peak.” (Sorry if you don’t like my paraphrase, Phil.)

  14. Lou February 5th, 2009 2:10 pm

    Sky, you’re getting old! One word: snowmobile.

  15. Randonnee February 5th, 2009 3:51 pm

    Sky, I am with you on the Euro ski experience. When I skied the Dolomites in 2002, the ticket was $33/ day for over 400 lifts in 12 valleys- sweet. Except for the hordes of people everywhere. But never more than 1K from a Cappucino…great food in nice places, lots of pistes. Fun. And then there is the lift-served extreme skiing at Chamonix…and the scale, amazing.

    In my locale, we ride my snowmobiles out to certain peaks for randonnee skiing and two out of three days do not see another snowmobile or any other skiers. And I am home for dinner with my family. Like Lou said…

  16. Paul February 5th, 2009 5:04 pm

    This sounds, and looks like a rad trip! If you ever want to check out the conditions in Europe be sure to visit OnTheSnow.

  17. Nick February 6th, 2009 4:04 pm

    It is funny that I am just reading this idea of cost, since I have been thinking about this for the last few days. Maybe I had just not been paying attention to the increases in lift costs for the last few years (it is a rarity for me to go to the resort), but I was totally taken aback at what a lift ticket costs here in Utah. Several of the PC resorts are now in the $80+ range, and the cottonwood resorts are pushing $70+. This seems completely outrageous to me, and it is so upsetting that skiing has been turned into a rich mans/womans sport. Growing up in PC I usually had two or three season passes since as a student they ran about $100, and gear was reasonable (this may just be nostalgia). It is hard to believe that a family ski trip now costs as much as it does, and it would appear that for the same amount you could go and ski in Europe. This is compounded by the extreme costs of lodging locally as well as the outrageous cost of food, etc.

    I have not yet skied in europe (Haute route next spring!), but I am very interested on seeing how the infrastructure compares. In my opinion it may be that at least in part this is due to the american idea of fun- where skiing and the resort needs to be over-the-top glitzy. At least in PC the expansion of the resorts in the last few years is huge, and for the most part targeted to a wealthy audience. Just a few days ago took a resort day and had to pick my chin off the floor when I found that a hamburger (no drink, fries, etc) was $15…wtf?

  18. Nadia October 17th, 2011 5:41 am

    Im busy deciding if we should go to Austria- Saalback, Kitzbuhel, Zell am See or Seefeld, or head to the Italian side – Livigno. We are travelling over Christmas and New year and are on a limited budget. Looking for a nice romantic town with a good atmosphere. Any suggestions?

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