Expert guide to Sauze d’Oulx
Good value good times in Italy
Sauze d’Oulx built a reputation in the 1980s as big party town, popular with the Club 18-30 crowd and famed for its organised pub crawls. Things have calmed down a lot now but there are still several lively bars.
The village has a beautiful old central area with narrow, cobbled streets and attractive houses, bars and restaurants.
The local Sauze slopes are at one end of the huge cross-border Via Lattea (Milky Way) ski area, which extends from Italy to Montgenèvre in France and has over 400km of pistes. The whole area is excellent for intermediates and the local Sauze slopes are some of the best for varied intermediate cruising. The resort hosted four of the freestyle events in the Turin 2006 Winter Olympics.
Inside the resort . . .
Sauze d’Oulx, at 1,509m, is nicknamed ‘The Balcony of the Alps’ because of its stunning setting overlooking the Susa valley. It has a thriving year-round community and has, for example, hardware and everyday clothing shops and hairdressers as well as ski shops. Quite a few of the hotels, restaurants and bars are run by ex-pat Brits, many with Italian spouses, and the British market remains very important to the resort.
The charming old central area of narrow lanes includes a church and fountain dating from the 16th century. It is very pleasant to wander around and its ancient buildings house a fine selection of bars and restaurants.
Surrounding that are more modern buildings housing most of the hotels and apartments and including the distinctive circular La Torre hotel, which was built by Fiat boss Giovanni Agnelli in the 1930s as holiday accommodation for his workers.
One big advantage of the resort is the short transfer time from Turin airport (only 95km away) – which makes it great for short breaks as well as week-long holidays.
The main lift out of the resort is the Clotes four-person chairlift from the top of the village. This meets a faster high-speed quad chair that goes to Sportinia, the heart of the local slopes, from where more lifts lead to all the other resorts of the Via Lattea.
The whole village is set on a quite steep slope and it’s an uphill walk to get to the Clotes access chairlift, so the position of accommodation is important. There are ski buses that run till around 5.30pm, however they are not included in the lift pass.
For those who are not interested in Sauze’s lively nightlife it could be worth considering staying in sleepy old Jouvenceaux, 1.5km down the road from Sauze with its own fast four-seater chairlift into the slopes.
On the slopes . . .
Navigate Sauze d’Oulx’s ski area with our insider’s knowledge of the local slopes and beyond, on and off piste, ski schools and terrain parks.
The local Sauze d’Oulx slopes are at the eastern end of the huge cross-border Via Lattea (Milky Way) ski area, which extends from Italy to Montgenèvre in France and has over 400km of pistes.
The local slopes above Sauze itself, together with those of neighbouring Sestriere and Sansicario, are extensive enough (300km of pistes, the same as Val d’Isère-Tignes in France) to keep most people happy for a week, without venturing further afield.
For beginners, there’s a slope at resort level served by a moving carpet. But lessons are normally held at Sportinia at mid-mountain. Learners can ride the chairlift both up and down, including while carrying skis/snowboard.
Intermediates will get most enjoyment from the ski area. The local Sauze slopes are ideal for intermediate cruising – although most are classified red, lots of them are more like blues. The lower slopes are tree lined and the upper slopes open, and the ravines separating different areas of piste give a sense of travelling around.
On the upper slopes the pistes on the far left of the piste map in the Moncrons area, served by a drag-lift and a chairlift, are among the most enjoyable for good, confident intermediates. And there are long top to bottom runs of around 1,000m vertical to be enjoyed.
From the top of the Rocce Nere chair, a long blue run leads down to Sestriere, where there is lots more intermediate cruising. And the Colò chair at Mont Fraiteve accesses the same run to Sestriere, is the route towards Sansicario and some of the most enjoyable pistes in the area for more advanced skiers and snowboarders.
Highlights include the Olympic Women’s Downhill run to Sansicario, used for the 2006 Turin Winter Olympics, which starts off black but isn’t hugely steep. It eventually turns into a red and has a vertical of 1,000m. Taking piste 75 from Mont Fraiteve and staying to skier’s left leads to run 71, which heads away from the lifts and is delightful. It is well over 1,000m vertical and ends at Pariol, the mid-station of a gondola back to Sansicario.
Accessing the rest of the Via Lattea and the lifts that lead eventually to Montgenèvre in France entails riding the gondola down from Pariol, then taking a series of three successive chairs up the other side of the valley. There’s a map of the quickest way to do the whole Via Lattea circuit on the back of the piste map; it takes an average of six hours and involves up to 22 lifts.
Experts looking for black runs should head to Sestriere, where there are several. While mainly short they include three that are left as mogul fields, which is unusual for Italy, where normally all pistes are groomed daily. There is also one long top-to-bottom black here. Off piste can be enjoyed between the pistes in good snow conditions, and heli- and cat-skiing is also available.
Sauze d’Oulx’s local terrain park has three lines down for different ability levels, and there’s another bigger one in neighbouring Sestriere.
The area as a whole has an erratic snowfall record, but around half the pistes are covered by snowmaking.Grooming is also good and helps keep the snow in good condition. Most of the main lifts are fast but there are still a lot of slow chairs and drag-lifts around.
The ski schools have good reputations and long experience of teaching British guests.
Who should go?
The prices here are roughly a third of those in premier French resorts like Courchevel and Val d’Isère, so eating out and entertainment needn’t cost a fortune, making it a good choice for thirfty skiers and snowboarders looking for a good time or those wanting to travel by train. Sauze d’Oulx had a reputation in the 1970s and 1980s as a sort of Magaluf with moguls, where pub was more important than piste, and many of its strong British youth following never made it on to the snow before midday. These days the charming Italian village is back on form, and the party atmosphere never went away. On the slopes and intermediates will particularly enjoy the ski area, with over 400km to explore across the Milky Way.
Know before you go . . .
British Embassy/Consulate: Via 20 Settembre, 80a, 00187 Roma; 0039 06 4220 0001; gov.uk
Police: dial 112
Fire: dial 112
Emergency services from mobile phone: dial 112
Tourist office: See sauzedoulx.net, the website for the Sauze d’Oulx 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 off the main road coming into Sauze d’Oulx.
Telephone code: from abroad, dial 00 39, then leave off the zero at the start of the 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