The ski slopes of Italy’s Madonna di Campiglio are tough enough to test the best and perfect for fanning the flames of your Olympic dreams, says AMY ADAMS.
There’s nothing like seeing the Winter Olympic torch breezing by to get you in the mood for some frenzied slope action. No sooner had the crowds cheering the white-tracksuited athlete at Madonna di Campiglio dispersed than we were straight up the mountain for our own interpretation of downhill racing. We might even have revved ourselves up for a shot on the world famous Canalone Miramonti slalom run had the route not been blocked by the construction of a huge kicker in preparation for a Freestyle FIS World Cup competition.
Madonna’s role in the 2006 Games might have been little more than a fleeting glimpse of the flame as it wound 11,000km through Italy before arriving in Turin, but on the average winter sports calendar the resort is rarely sidelined. A month before we were there, Italy’s Giorgio Rocca stormed to victory in the 3-Tre World Cup slalom race and greeting our arrival was a freestyle snowboard comp, part of the Nokia Leave No Trace tour, which chose the centre as its only stop in Italy.
Alongside Cortina d’Ampezzo, Madonna in the Brenta Dolomites is one of the most upmarket resorts in the country, posh by association since the Hapsburgs started holidaying here in the late 1800s. But despite the odd floor length fur coat and over-zealous hotel-worker (who had a small fit when I carried my freshly unpacked snowboard through the lobby) there’s nothing snobby about Madonna. Everything from the lift-pass to equipment hire, lunch on the piste and a round of Nastros is cheaper than most Alpine resorts and any pretensions are overshadowed by the mountains – skiing and snowboarding come first.
An attractive, functioning town sandwiched in the cleft of a valley in Trentino, Madonna’s 60km ski area is divided into two halves, each with its own personality. West of the centre lies Cinque Laghi, with its snaking intermediate tree runs leading back to the village or the fearsome Canalone Miramonti if you’d prefer. Soon, new lifts will connect this area to Pinzolo, with its snow park and 30km of deserted pistes, but at the moment it’s a 25-minute bus ride. North is the adjoining Pradalago, with a sequence of criss-crossing reds and blues that will lead you into sister resorts Marilleva and Folgarida before you can so much as say, shit, our ski passes don’t work here”.
To the east is beginner’s area Campo Carlo Magno and, above, the very different terrain of Monte Spinale and the Passo Grostè. Here, the pistes lie above the tree line at 2450m, leaving you exposed to both the elements and intimate views of the Dolomites’ Vienetta slice formations. It’s literally like skiing in a freezer.
Below the Grostè are a series of wide, sweeping runs which are good for beginners (you’ll find Madonna’s main snowboarding school here), though run-of-the-mill for the more advanced. The potential for off-piste is huge in better snow conditions, but otherwise you may need to liven things up by hitting the pipe in the Ursus Snowpark or, equally as treacherous, Ristorante Boch. Early on, there’s only Guido and his complimentary shots of apple Grappa to tempt you into drinking and diving. Come 4pm, there’s a blaring sound system, a fleet of dancing Boch girls and fast-flowing bombardinos (a potent mix of coffee, whisky, advocaat and cream).
Over towards Monte Spinale, you’ll need no extra excitement. Here you’ll find the famous Spinale Direttissima, otherwise known as the Schumacher run after the Formula One driver (who has a house here) and his tendency to shoot down the 70-degree piste at 55mph. Starting off gently, the black lulls you into a false sense of security until you round a corner and see a line of hesitant skiers peering over the edge of a precipice – the way down.
Whether you rag-doll it or not, you’re certain to need something to calm your nerves afterwards. Unlike Sauze d’Oulx or Livigno, Madonna isn’t labelled a party town, but this needn’t mean it’s beers in your bedroom or nothing. La Stube di Franz Josef is a popular starting point, with tasty platters of cheese and salami to snack on. Later, the cavernous La Cantina del Suisse reverberates with live power ballads and the odd soap star (be warned, the mojitos pack a hefty punch) and Zangola club is the biggest in northern Italy.
Madonna’s other link with the 2006 Games was, as part of Trentino, providing Ghanaian skier and Winter Olympic hopeful Kwame Nkrumah-Acheampong with the equipment, terrain and training he needed to qualify for the downhill race. Unfortunately, the tale didn’t go the way of Cool Runnings and the ‘snow leopard’ didn’t make the grade. Perhaps he got a bit carried away at Boch or Zangola. Whatever the reason, it’s no reflection on the resort. With vertical blacks, legendary slalom courses and two comprehensive snowparks, Madonna di Campiglio has everything you might need to train for the next Winter Olympics.