Deep snow and cheap childcare

By Tom Otley, Evening Standard

Last updated at 11:17 12 October 2004


Activities at Passo Tonale include snowman building, sledging and snow walking

Passo Tonale sits in a remote pass between Lombardy and Trentino, 6,000 feet above sea level. With no views from the village except the looming Alps on either side, it will never qualify as a scenic spot.

What it does have, though, is snow, either of the falling-from-the-sky variety or man-made. At this altitude, once there's snow on the ground, it stays put - and that's the reason people go.

Lower resorts are losing out to higher ones because global warming is melting the snow, and everyone from Thomson and Crystal to Inghams, Airtours and Neilson offers Passo Tonale, though as yet, it's hardly a household name.

Perhaps that's because it's not the most attractive of resorts: utilitarian, more often than not concrete, and displaying all the aesthetic charm of a small Eastern Bloc town somewhere in the Urals.

It doesn't seem to put people off though. Like resorts of similar altitude, such as Tignes and Alpe d'Huez in the French Alps, Passo Tonale's main draw is its promise of snow, and as I arrived it was falling steadily.

The next morning 18 inches had covered the hotel car park and lower slopes, and on the upper slopes and off-piste it was nearer 24 inches.

The 80km of pistes, mostly beginner or intermediate, are plenty for a week for skiers of those abilities, and our hotel, the Miramonti, was a couple of minutes' walk from the main lifts. It advertised itself as a bar, pizzeria, ristorante and pasticerria (bakery), all of which it was, and also had excellent facilities for families, including a Thomson-run Kidzone (ages four to 11), children's menus and high chairs.

The little darlings can be left at the Kidzone for full or half-days, where they're entertained indoors and outdoors, fed, and if needed, escorted to and from ski school. Activities include snowman-building, sledging and snow walks.

The resort has further advantages. Compared to other Alpine destinations it is relatively good value, both in terms of a drink - a large beer costs only £2 - and food, though it's bogstandard Italian you'll be eating: pizzas from wood-fired ovens and anti-pasti washed down with Chianti, Montepulciano and Frascati. It's not expensive, though, and the children will love it - no 'yucky' fondue or casseroles here.

Busy over the weekends with Milanese, during the week it is British skiers on tour-operator packages who make up the village's population. Few concessions are made to tourists and even less English spoken.

Most shops shut between midday and 4pm, and nightlife is limited to a handful of bars. Best of the bunch is Al Cantuccio on Via Circomallazione, while two unremarkable nightclubs played Kylie Minogue and Robbie Williams until 2am. But most families aren't here for the nightlife.

Fellow guests were bullish about their decision to visit Passo Tonale. Snow was the first, second and third reason they had come - a choice proved triumphantly right by the heavy snowfall while I was there.

At the end of each day's skiing, I agreed with them completely. No matter how beautiful your resort is, spending seven days waiting for the snow to fall doesn't make for much of a skiing holiday.

For families, Passo Tonale is the perfect choice of ski resort. It has great food and is good value - six days of two hour-long lessons at the Italian ski school (English spoken) only costs £48. It is also an ideal place to learn to ski, with lots of easy blue and red runs for beginners.

Travel facts

Thomson Ski (0870 606 1470, www. has seven nights in Passo Tonale from £249pp self-catering in the Dahu Apartments, including return flights and transfers.

Prices in the Hotel Miramonti (four-star) are from £375pp half board. Thomson Kidzone club available in the resort for ages four to 10; escort service from hotel to ski school and back from £10 per week; half-day supervision £40; full day from £105, with supervised lunch. Thomson also provides free helmets for children if their skis and boots are pre-booked.

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