(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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
Next, Bormio, Trab, and a World Cup ski mountaineering race.
WildSnow.com publisher emeritus and founder Lou (Louis Dawson) has a 50+ years career in climbing, backcountry skiing and ski mountaineering. He was the first person in history to ski down all 54 Colorado 14,000-foot peaks, has authored numerous books about about backcountry skiing, and has skied from the summit of Denali in Alaska, North America’s highest mountain.