Lucy Hodges spent half-term in the Italian Alps at the new resort of Montecampione
Italians ski as they drive: they're fast, pushy and dangerous. But don't let that put you off skiing the Italian Alps. We have just had a pleasurably restful half-term week at a small, purpose-built resort, Montecampione, perched above Lake Iseo, two-and-a-half hours north east of Milan. Yes, the crazy skiers and their snow-boarding pals were out in force at weekends, whooping and jumping their way down the slopes, but the weekdays were blissfully quiet - empty mountains, no lift queues, and gallant attendants who made a point of helping women skiers off the chairlifts. What more could you ask?

Montecampione is a new resort, built in the last five years and still undergoing construction. Straddling three mountains, it boasts two hotels, hundreds of apartments, ice-skating, and 25km of slopes, as well as bars, restaurants and eateries. Most important of all, it has an elaborate artificial snow-making system.

We had brilliant weather all week: azure blue skies, dazzling sunshine, luminous sunsets, not a snowflake in sight. It has apparently been thus for a while. After heavy snow earlier on, it has been warm and sunny this month. And so the snow-making machines have come into their own, pumping out the soft stuff to coat the ice with a layer of skiable powder. Those slopes that did not have machines were lethal - to be avoided at all costs.

We were lucky that Montecampione was about our level. There were black runs, notably Nera Canalone, a thin tube that descended at a right angle, and Rossa Dosso Beccherie, which was manageable before the sun had transformed the layer of ice/snow into slush.

This was not much of a place for the experts. Nor was it a paradise for mogul-jumpers. In fact, there was not a mogul field to be seen, just the occasional accidental hump where a snow machine had spewed out too much product. Those seeking thrills did have slalom racing, however. The two steep slalom runs were patronised almost continuously by speed freaks and given a wide berth by the rest of us.

But the scenery was still pretty awesome. Once you had ascended to a peak, the ski area opened up into a lunar landscape of wide runs and rolling bowls with breathtaking views of the southern Alps tapering off layer by layer to a distant horizon. From the top of the highest runs you glimpsed the dark water of the lake below.

Our week was transformed by Mimo, a ski instructor who spoke ski-lingo English. Like many skiers, we are stuck in an intermediate rut, able to parallel-ski down most slopes but only in a hesitating and inelegant fashion. Mimo reminded us about raising and lowering our trunks and holding our arms out as if we were carrying a tea tray. In between lessons we worked at pretending to be waiters on skis.

We travelled to Montecampione as independent skiers, swapping a two-bedroom timeshare in Plymouth, New Hampshire, for a studio flat in our Italian development. It was the most convenient location of any ski resort we have stayed in, being situated just above a chairlift and the ski pass office. Another of its great advantages, for someone who suffers from altitude sickness and has spent many unhappy hours feeling ill in Colorado, was that it was low, 1,827 metres, probably another reason for the dearth of snow.

The main drawback was a lack of eating places. Food figures large on any skiing agenda. Our bit of the resort contained a pizzeria where we ate three times and a trattoria where we ate once. Full stop. Otherwise you had to venture down the treacherous 11km of hairpin bends to Lovere, where there was more choice. We did find one family-run establishment locally, the Legazzuolo, which provided hearty home-made stuffed pastas and rich stews, and good red vino da tavola. It was a great antidote to the pizzeria.

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