One of Italy’s best known ski resorts, San Martino boasts some of the most spectacular scenery in Europe, offering a back drop of forested hills backed by 3000m of pink Dolomitic rock. The ski area is a free five minute bus link from the village centre.
If you’ve ticked off your list some of the most stunning ski destination in the world, perhaps Zermatt, Lake Louise, Niseko; and you’ve visited most of the world’s ‘classic’ ski destinations – Cortina, Megeve, Aspen, St Moritz, there may be one resort you’ve missed that ticks both those boxes. It seems to have dropped off the list of destinations from most British tour operators in recent years, but it’s easy enough to get to under your own steam: San Martino di Castrozza in Italy’s famously snowy and sunny Trentino region.
Why so special? Well, firstly, if you’re into spectacular scenery there are few better choices. Located in the heart of a UNESCO Natural World Heritage Site the “Pale di San Martino” is some of the most stunning scenery in the Dolomites.
Next there is the classic feel of San Martino. It’s something that’s hard to put in to words but it’s simply a timeless elegance that a few long-established ski areas have but most don’t. San Martino definitely has it, with lots of characterful shops (you must try Bancher, established in 1924 for everything from traditional mountain clothing to locally made toys, wines and grappas or the five Slalom Shops – one each for ‘sports’, ‘fashion’, ‘man’, ‘woman’ and ‘children’ for the best names in Italian fashion and mountain sports), as well as cafes, restaurants and hotels.
And of course there’s the skiing within the beautiful “Paneveggio Pale di San Martino” Nature Park. It’s not a huge area, perhaps why the tour operators stay away in the modern era obsessed with giant, soulless resorts. There are more than 60km of runs though ranging from 1,404 to 2,357m in altitude, with the Passo Rolle sector known as one of the most snowsure in Italy. Plus it is part of the huge Doplomiti Superski area pass which means you can ski at neighbouring areas without needing another ticket, with 1,200km of runs in more than a dozen valleys included.
There are three snowparks: the Colverde Snowpark, lit up at night, the San Martino Snowpark and the Rolle Railz Park and for families with younger children Kinderland on the Tognola Alp and a special nursery slope for beginners (Prà delle Nasse).
The good news is that San Martino di Castrozza is also one of the ‘greenest’ ski resorts in the world so your hotel stay and days on the slopes all come guilt-free with zero CO2 emissions.
The village has been powered by renewable electricity for over a century (since before most places even had electricity in fact, and long before anyone started worrying about climate change). In fact it now makes 10 times as much green energy as it needs and is a net exporter to the grid. It has increased its green credential still further in recent years replacing old individual oil-powered heating systems in hotels with a communal biomass green energy system and petrol pumps with charging points for electric cars. In fact in a nice marketing move, San Martino and Passo Rolle have so much hydro-electricity to spare they offer the chance to charge up your electric or hybrid car free of charge, wilt you recharge your own mental and spiritual batteries out in their stunning mountain scenery.
“During the long days spent on the slopes, while your spirit and body are regenerated, your car is charging too… for free and without creating pollution,” a resort spokesperson told me.
In keeping with that love for and protection of nature, freeride skiing and boarding come naturally at San Martino. After all that’s what they practiced here before the first lifts were built and the first trail groomers rollewd up the mountainside. Thanks to the different exposures of the slopes in this area there’s a strong reputation for long lasting powdery snow with plenty of natural jumps and chutes to enjoy. Just ensure you tackle it all with a guide who knows the local terrain and the cionditions.
But if you don’t fancy too much exerrtison, the good news is that enjoying life rather than racing around (or, if you like, enjoying life BETWEEN racing around) is very popular in San Martino, as indeed it is in all of Trentino.
There are lots of great mountain restaurants in which to stop and take a break. For example, piste-side, on the slopes immediately above San Martino di Castrozza, Malga Ces (malgaces.it) has views towards one of the most spectacular mountainscapes in the Alps: the western wall of the Pale di San Martino. Home-made pasta with a rich venison sauce is a speciality here.
Or for something a little more modernist the The Tognola Hut up at 2200m has is own high altitude pool hall and the observation platform has a large solarium with no wind blowing through, a VIP area, bar, sandwich shop, a take away pizza, bakery, and an indoor and outdoor self-service restaurant.
Here you can taste the full flavours of the Trentino cooking as the chefs choose from “zero kilometres” food ingredients sourced locally for their traditional dishes.
At the end of the day the après ski scene in San Martino is not to be missed either. You might start of in the Ristobar Campo Base, a modern bar located at the foot of the Tognola ski lifts. Here you can sink a few top-quality local beers and maybe catch a live band or DJ set.
Or in downtown San Martino the Ranch Bar has a grerat reputation with a family atmosphere, great food, and especially excellent beers and a wide selection of wines.
But wherever you end up in San Martino you’re going to feel you are somewhere special. That combination of classic ski area, historic mountain town, strong community and environment friendly ethos; all set against the backdrop of some o the most stunning mountain scenery on earth is definitely a winning combination.