Expert guide to Passo Tonale
Snow-sure beginner favourite
Passo Tonale is set on a high pass, which separates the region of Trentino from neighbouring Lombardy. It developed as a ski resort because of its high, snow-sure setting. It is also in the Val di Sole (Sun Valley), which lives up to its name with lots of sunny days.
The resort’s high local slopes include a glacier and are entirely above the tree line. They are mainly gentle and suit beginners and intermediates best. The village is strung out along the main road with no real centre, apart from some of the lift bases.
Inside the resort . . .
The village of Passo Tonale spreads for around 1km along the main road and the summit of the Tonale pass. While the majority of the resort’s hotels are on this road, built in chalet style, there are also some mainly low-rise apartment buildings on a parallel road, with a few high-rises.
The ski area is called Ponte di Legno-Tonale, since Passo Tonale’s own runs are linked to those of Ponte di Legno, a resort that is around 12km away by road closer by piste down or gondola lift back. Ponte di Legno is a traditional small mountain town with a very different ambience to Passo Tonale.
Most of the lifts go up from the northern side of the road, leading to gentle south-facing slopes, ideal for beginners and gentle cruising. At the western end of the village on the opposite side of the valley, lifts go up to 3,000m and the snow-sure slopes of the Presana glacier. The other choice from the western end is taking a gentle blue piste towards the Ponte di Legno side of the ski area, followed by a red. A long gondola with a mid station comes back up from Ponte di Legno to Passo Tonale.
Ponte di Legno itself is a small town with just under 2,000 year-round inhabitants and a church dating from the 17th century. The main road bypasses the car-free centre and the ponte di legno (wooden bridge) that the town takes its name from.
Ponte di Legno’s local ski area is a big contrast to Passo Tonale’s. It is much lower and the pistes are steeper and mainly tree lined – it’s a good place to be if it’s snowing and for intermediates.
Passo Tonale has a natural ice rink and there’s snowmobiling, dog sledding and snowshoeing to try. There’s a public swimming pool and separate children’s pool in Ponte di Legno.
On the slopes . . .
Navigate Passo Tonale’s ski area with our insider’s knowledge of the local slopes and beyond, on and off piste, ski schools and terrain parks.
Passo Tonale’s south-facing slopes, accessed by several chairlifts and a few draglifts from beside the road, are where most people staying here spend most of their time. The runs are almost all easy – even those graded red – and suit beginners and early intermediates best.
For beginners, there’s a moving carpet on the nursery slopes and two lovely long easy blue runs to move on to – Valbiolo, served by a fast chairlift, on the far right of the ski area as you look at the slopes and Tonalina down to the mid-station of the gondola back from Passo Tonale’s linked resort of Ponte di Legno.
Early and timid intermediates will love the easy cruising red runs but most of them are quite short. The longest reds are on the left as you look at the mountain, served by the Bleis chair and are a bit steeper than the other reds.
Confident intermediates will want to explore further afield – the easy south-facing slopes are very limited in extent. At the western end of the village on the opposite side of the valley, a 15-person gondola followed by a two-stage eight-person gondola go up to 3,000m and the Presana glacier. The red run from the top of the glacier is an easy cruise, there’s a blue option part way down and the final section is an easy black. Good snow can be expected all the way because of the north-facing aspect.
It’s also possible to divert from the black to a red run that leads all the way to the Ponte di Legno sector – making a very long run of around 10km and a vertical of 1,700m. The other option for getting to Ponte di Legno is to take a gentle blue piste at the western end of the village, which goes to the mid-station of the almost 5km gondola that comes back up from Ponte di Legno to Passo Tonale, then join the red run down to Ponte di Legno’s ski area. The other option is to descend on the gondola after the blue run.
Ponte di Legno’s slopes are lower and more tree lined than Passo Tonale’s, entirely red and easy black pistes, and great fun. This is especially true during a snowfall when the open slopes elsewhere might have poor visibility or white-out conditions.
But between them, all sectors of the ski area have only 100km of pistes. Keen piste-bashers might want to catch the free bus for the 45-minute journey to the resort of Marilleva during the week, to access its more extensive (150km) and varied slopes, which link to Madonna di Campiglio. A day here is included if you with Passo Tonale’s slightly more expensive Combi 1 lift pass, rather than the local one.
For experts, there’s not much on-piste challenge. But there is plenty of off-piste and ski touring in the area. Three popular off-piste routes are shown on the piste map – but they are not marked on the mountain, not avalanche controlled and not covered by resort ski patrol.
Most of the key lifts in the Passo Tonale sectors are fast chairlifts or gondolas but there are still a few slow chairs. And the Ponte di Legno sector has several slow chairs. Snow is usually good in Passo Tonale, because of its altitude, and Ponte di Legno’s slopes are mainly shady, so keep their snow well – both sectors are extensively covered by snowmaking and grooming is good.
The ski schools in Passo Tonale have good reputations and have a lot of experience of teaching British beginners and intermediates.
Passo Tonale’s terrain park runs the length of the fast Valena chairlift (700m) in the south-facing sector and has features for experienced and novice freestylers plus a snowcross run.
Who should go?
Snow hunters will be pleased to know that Passo Tonale is one of the few Italian resorts to be snow sure from late October to mid-June, thanks to the Presena glacier at 3,000m, which is why Italian national ski teams train there. That said, the slopes are best suited to beginners. The gentle open slopes that form a near-perfect nursery area for learning first turns and gaining confidence are a treat, without the threat of more accomplished slope users whizzing scarily by.
Know before you go . . .
British Embassy/Consulate: Via 20 Settembre, 80a, 00187 Roma; 0039 06 4220 0001; gov.uk
Police: dial 113
Fire: dial 118
Emergency services from mobile phone: dial 112
Tourist office: See courmayeurmontblanc.it, the website for the Courmayeur Mont Blanc Tourist Board, for piste maps, weather reports, lift status, webcams, traffic details and local event listings. Pick up maps, leaflets and other information from the office on the main roundabout in the centre of Courmayeur.
Telephone code: from abroad, dial 00 39, then leave off the zero at the start of the 10-figure number.
Time difference: +1 hour
Local laws & etiquette
- A simple ‘buon giorno’ in the morning or ‘buona sera’ in the afternoon or evening goes a long way. ‘Ciao’ is for friends, family or young people. If somebody thanks you by saying ‘grazie’, it’s polite to say ‘prego’ (you’re welcome) in return.
- Italians tip very little; 5% is ample, and it’s often enough just to round the bill up to the nearest 5 or 10 euros