Silverton Mountain, USA
Convoluted as they are, the Alps shelter all manner of peaks, slopes, and valleys running in every direction — essentially a mountain labyrinth. If you’re an itinerant skier poking around this maze for the best slopes in varying conditions, it can lead to many questions. Say you’re staying in La Grave, but the sole-access téléphérique is closed due to stormy conditions — where can you go to take advantage of the weather? Or, you’re in Briançon but want to avoid the crush at sprawling Serre Chevalier, the largest resort in the southern Alps — where to find fewer crowds? Maybe you heard it’s snowing along the French-Italian border — where’s the best microclimate for freshies? The answer to all is: Claviere, Italy.
When we first visited Claviere years ago, the question we posed was twofold: after a week of pinballing around Italy and France in a couple of RVs, where could we find snow a week after the last storm without having to park in some dismal lot outside of town? We quickly found out. Driving through the always reliable Vialattea (Italian for Milky Way) resort region straddling the French-Italian border some 70 kilometres west of Turin, we parked unencumbered on the main street outside Sandy Bar Café in Claviere, Italy. With breakfast just steps away, it would be our base for the next few days. We discovered we’d made the right choice when heading up the mountain for an afternoon reconnaissance — shin-deep snow lingered on ramps and in gullies, on benches and beneath the area’s ubiquitous larch forests. Pleased with the prospects, we walked the streets searching for a dinner location, eventually tumbling down some stairs to the legendary Ristorante Kilt. The owner greeted us at the door, and the wood-fired pizza was everything we’d heard about. (You might also want to try the excellent golf course clubhouse for lunch, where you could find yourself in a 1960s-style Euro fashion show.)
In the morning, with a bluebird day on tap, we ascended to the alpine, taking note of the battery atop Mont Chaberton — at 3,130 metres, the highest fort in Europe. Built by the Italians at the turn of the 20th century, it was used only once, at the start of WWII, when the French bombarded it for five days, stranding Italian soldiers there before an armistice was signed — a peace that virtually defines the Vialattea conglomerate today: Sansicario, Sauze d’Oulx, Pragelato, Sestriere, and Claviere in Italy, plus the French resort of Montgenèvre (not even a kilometre apart from Claviere). Together these offer over 400 kilometres of pistes (~260 runs) and 70 lifts. The 2006 Turin Winter Olympics held alpine ski events on the slopes of Sestriere, Sansicario and other nearby resorts. Claviere and Montgenèvre are the most interconnected by lifts and terrain draped across the celestial-themed Monti Della Luna (Mountains of the Moon).
Claviere is also quiet, which we enjoy while ripping empty pistes centred on 2,300-metre Colle Bercia. A series of long intermediate trails roll down through light larch forest to either Sagna Longa or back toward Claviere; the Col Boeuf chair serves only 300 metres of vertical but includes the link to Montgenèvre. Compared to La Grave and Serre Chevalier, there’s not a ton of off-piste, but the backside of Colle Bercia works well with a skin-out. The marquee stuff is accessed from the top of Montgenevre’s Rocher de l’Aigle chairlift, where you re-enter Claviere on steep-pitched, seldom-tracked lines off a ridge running north toward Monte La Plane. And if you feel ready to step it up a notch, try some of the lines French superstar, Candide Thovex has filmed in Montgenèvre over the years.
The following day, the sky is gray as ash, and it’s snowing. We linger over breakfast at Sandy Bar, then hit the snowy slopes. Below Sagna Longa, we find sensational steep tree skiing in deep snow. We’re not the only ones. On the way out of town, we drop into Kilt for a late lunch to find it packed with guides and their guests, visiting from nearby La Grave, whose téléphérique is, in fact, closed. Even worse, the high pass (between Briançon and La Grave), Col du Lautaret, is also shut, and they’re stuck on this side. But no one is unhappy: like us, they got what they came for.
→ The quietest resort in Vialattea (odd but true).
→ Great larch forests (maybe the best ever?).
→ Ski in two countries (multiple times a day).
→ Limited accommodation (but lots in other nearby villages).
→ Long trails connecting sectors (not great for snowboarders).
→ You might get stuck (which is not so bad …).