Passo Tonale is one of those places that oozes family friendliness. The place is part of the Pontedilegno-Tonale ski resort, on the border of Trentino and Lombardy in Italy. On our recent trip there with Crystal Ski, I did run into a few couples and singles brushing up their snowboarding skills, or heading off-piste. But on the whole, the skiers there were families, with children from babies through to older teenagers. Ours was a multi-generational group of ten. We ranged in age from five years old up to seventy-five – and we weren’t the only ones that travelled in a big family group.
Skiing for beginners
Passo Tonale’s pistes leap into life early in the morning, with the first skiers heading out just after dawn. At 9am the ski schools gather up their charges, from eight year-old black run afficionadoes to fifty year-old first-timers. The meeting point is Fantaski, an outdoor playground in the snow, where young children leap around on a bouncy castle while their parents head off to the slopes.
With loudspeakers and loud fanfares, the cheery teachers divided us up into groups based on our ability. Beginners were ushered to the resort’s wide, open pistes. Two schools run in the area: Pontedilegno-Tonale and Tonale-Presena, but the slopes never felt crowded when we were there, even on those rare moments when there was a bit of a queue for the lift.
One of the longest pistes in Europe
The sheer volume of pistes probably had something to do with the feeling of space compared with some other Alpine resorts. Pontedilegno-Tonale has 100 km of slopes, including one of the longest pistes in Europe: 11km down from the 3,000m Presena Glacier to Ponte di Legno.
Bucket-list ski experiences
Skiing the Presena Glacier really was a bucket list experience. It’s handily divided up into black, red and blue runs, with gondolas to transport you to each stage. This meant that even relative newbies like me could try out the blue. And what an afternoon it was. The bright sunlight threw up aquamarine hues from the dazzlingly white snow, and the altitude gave me a bit of a giddy headrush as I skied along, with the Adamello-Presanella mountain range as a backdrop.
Even people who don’t ski at all can enjoy the stunning views. A mountain hut right at the top of Presena serves snacks, sandwiches and bollicine, the local sparkling drink, so you can look across to the Pian di neve (the largest glacier in the Italian Alps) while enjoying a glass of fizz, and then travel back down on a 12-minute gondola ride, without ever laying hands on a set of skis. If you wanted a luxurious pit-stop, Capanna Presena, a new mountain restaurant at 2,724 m, offers saunas and hydromassage. There’s no need for a plunge pool afterwards – a friend I made in ski school told me the top of his soft drink froze while he was relaxing in the sunshine on the restaurant terrace.
Snow, snow snow
Passo Tonale is one of Italy’s highest ski resorts, standing at over 1800m above sea level. It’s incredibly snow-sure, but on those occasions when nature needs some help, the resort uses innovative snowmaking technology. You can ski on the glacier well into the spring. Most of Passo Tonale’s slopes are so high they’re above tree level, but Ponte di Legno’s red and black pistes are tree-lined. So skiers can experience it all in one day: breathtaking mountain views, a sauna on the glacier, down on the reds, blues and blacks, depending on your ski level – and a finale through James Bond-esque tree-lined runs. All 42 pistes are connected by a system of 28 chairlifts, drag lifts and gondolas.
You can see some of the ski action in this little video I put together:
From my local ski instructor Tiziano, to the regulars who come on weekend trips from Milan, Bergamo and Trento, everyone I spoke to was bursting with pride about Pontedilegno-Tonale. It’s a hub for the kind of celebratory events that make skiing so special. Ski instructors kick off the season in style with a torchlit procession down Temù ski slope. Passo Tonale also offers late-night skiing, till 11pm. And the Adamello Ski Raid, an international ski mountaineering challenge with 300 competitors, begins at Ponte di Legno.
Stuff if you don’t want to ski downhill
Although Passo Tonale is a purpose-built ski resort, there are activities for people who don’t want to ski. The first sleddog school to open in Italy runs three-day courses in mushing. If you look down from the gondola linking Ponte di Legno to the top of blue run 18, you can see the huskies cavorting around, outside their kennels. At dusk the snowmobiles begin buzzing around the pistes. Families who want to swim can try out the pool at Ponte di Legno. It’s a pretty, historic town with a pedestrianised shopping area.
If cross-country skiing’s more your thing, you can follow Ponte di Legno’s 10km of tracks, or the 22km at Vermiglio, where lessons and equipment hire are available.
The Tonale Pass marks the scene of disputed territory. The area was under Austrian rule until 1918. Under the snow on the glacier you can still find a series of trenches where battles were fought. When its entrance isn’t covered by snow, visitors can explore a tunnel made by soliders during WWI. The bones of some of those soldiers are held in a monument in Passo Tonale’s centre.
Passo Tonale is widely touted as one of Europe’s most reasonable ski resorts. It’s doubly so when you compare it with neighbouring resorts in the Alps. We mainly ate at the Grand Hotel Paradiso, where we had half-board accommodation with Crystal Ski. On the occasions where we did relax over a hot chocolate in Bar Ombrello, at the foot of Passo Tonale’s slopes, we paid around €5 for two drinks. A bottle of Prosecco in the local supermarket cost €4, and a delicious – very large – Margherita pizza in the homely pizzeria Alpi came in at €5.
There are six airports within three hours’ drive of Passo Tonale, including Bolzano, Brescia, Innsbruck Airport, Milan Linate, Milan Malpensa and Verona, which we flew to from London Gatwick.
Passo Tonale was an all-round good-value resort, which didn’t skimp on quality. You can read more about it in our blog posts here and here. The cost of our trip was covered by Crystal Ski and our lift passes were given by the Consorzio Adamello Ski Pontedilegno-Tonale, but all views are my own.
Check out my other posts on Passo Tonale:
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