Tax-free Livigno is well and truly back in ski fashion, hosting Nine Knights air comp


Livigno - Credit: Archant

Emma Bartholomew checks out the quirky 3,000m high Italian resort, which is enjoying a revival of popularity thanks to its ‘snow-sure’ status and bargain prices.

The crowds on the slopes of Livigno went wild as the world’s best snowboarders and skiers went down the ramps taking off 90 foot into the air, and turning not just once or twice but an incredible four times as they went hurtling towards a monolithic fortress made of ice.

The awesome acrobatics the pros were performing in the Nine Knights Big Air contest left my children and I just as speechless as the impossibly sharp angles and magnitude of the castle constructed on the slopes of Mottolino.

The seemingly endless and wide pistes in Livigno lend themselves perfectly to hosting the competition, as does the guaranteed snow in the resort which reaches as high as 3,000m.

Despite it being the end of April with the sun beating down and not a cloud in the sky, the snow was soft and pristine – and not the slush you’d expect to find most places at the end of the season.

We were staying with Ski Livigno in one of their apartments, making the most of the free ski passes they offer at this time of year, which mean ski holidays can be bagged at bargain prices - especially compared to other high altitude resorts.

The company was set up four years ago to help source the best hotels, apartments and bed and breakfasts at competitive prices, on top of arranging ski extras like ski hire and ski schools and transfers from the airport. The ski area in Livigno is vast and ideal for skiers of all levels from absolute beginners to those who love to go off-piste. In fact Livigno has been named the best in Italy for free riders because of its project to make going off piste safer and actually legal – as the practice is banned in many parts of the country.

The resort has been inundated with accolades lately, having been voted the third best European resort by thousands of Ski club of Great Britain members, and it’s easy to see why.

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Livigno boasts 115km of pistes, with 12 black, 37 red and 29 blue slopes, and this season a new six-seater chairlift will expand the area by a third.

There are two snow parks and plenty of snow kindergartens for little ones – my daughter delighted in a series of head-height mounds near L’Americain chairlift, that she insisted on repeating over and over again, both of us laughing in delight as we picked up speed and our stomachs lurched into our mouths.

In the past Livigno was so remote that its impoverished inhabitants were granted tax free status, which high end designer brands take advantage of.

It’s a bit like Bicester village in the mountains, with cut-price boutiques scattered down the pedestrian-only street running through the village centre, and with the current Euro exchange rate the place has never been cheaper.

Livigno is still pretty remote even nowadays, and you have to drive past James Bond style ravines hundreds of metres high, until you reach the strangest tunnel reminiscent of an Enid Blyton Famous Five smuggling story - in fact smuggling was rife in the past.

This is the only way to reach the resort from Switzerland, and you get the feeling you have reached the ‘end of the world’ once you arrive. The place has a feel of the Wild West about it, with its ancient wooden buildings reminiscent of days gone by emanating rustic charm.

The town is long and thin, running the whole way through the valley, with two separate ski areas on the mountains to either side.

The three main Gondolas to get you up the mountain are owned by different farmers, and the first British skiers to stumble on the resort in the 70s would often find themselves stranded with the wrong lift pass to their name.

Thankfully the owners now collaborate, meaning tourists can navigate the ski area without a hitch, and with four bus routes regularly doing the rounds of the town it’s easy to get around even without a car.

The resort had slipped out of fashion in recent years, but now its quirky charm combined with improved infrastructure, on top of the guaranteed snow and bargain prices have put it well and truly back in the spotlight.