From fear to exhilaration: Go off piste in Livigno

Livigno offers white-knuckle excitement for Nick Boulos when he heads down the Monte della Neve for his first off-piste adventure

Spotting the aftermath of an avalanche is not the most comforting sight to see as I prepare to venture off-piste for the very first time. I'm sitting in a chairlift above the Italian resort of Livigno, with Matteo my mountain guide. "Avalanches are a problem," he says. "But that's only a small one." We gaze at the long, clean break in the snow.

The thought of skiing through virgin snow across untouched landscapes is a thrilling one. But, as the tragic loss of four skiers in Val d'Isère earlier this month reminds us, going off-piste is very dangerous. Skiers should never, under any circumstances, go without a professional guide laden with at least a shovel, probe and avalanche transceiver. However, those who do brave the dangers are rewarded with plenty of white-knuckle fun.

I'm keen to experience it for myself and Livigno, three hours from Innsbruck, is an obvious choice. The off-piste terrain here is tame compared to places such as Chamonix and the Dolomites, which means novices can get stuck in, without getting stuck.

I'm booked on an intensive course teaching the basics of off-piste skiing and I'm keen to get started, but first I had to get my ski legs back. Matteo and I soar down a couple of exhilarating red runs, pausing every so often to admire the scenery. "That's where we often go off-piste," he says, pointing high to the very top of a nearby mountain. "From the chairlift we walk for 20 minutes along the crest – not easy, let me tell you. Then we ski down the gullies," he adds.

Perhaps noticing my panic, Matteo is quick to reassure me. "Don't worry, we won't be going there. That's only for the most advanced skiers," he laughs.

Sadly, it seems I will have to wait a little longer to get a taste of it. My report card is in and it's not good news. "You're just not ready. You have to be in complete control at all times to go off-piste or it's a recipe for disaster," Matteo tells me.

That evening, Matteo's words ringing in my ears, I stroll through Livigno and wonder if I have bitten off more than I can chew. The town's busy cobbled streets, dominated by the 16th-century church, are lined with log cabins and stone farmhouses, designer boutiques, and an abundance of shops selling doilies and perfume.

Over a bombardino – a warm, fluorescent yellow drink made from eggs and topped with whipped cream – at the popular Miky's bar, my thoughts return to my predicament, and I pledge to succeed.

The next morning, I enlist the help of Olympic skier turned instructor, Giorgio Zini. We spend the day perfecting my technique. "Central balance is crucial. You never snowplough off-piste; your skis must always be parallel or one leg will go one way from the other," he warns as we ski up high on the Monte della Neve.

We meet again the next day and now the moment has come. Giorgio leads me to the very edges of the piste. "Ready?" he asks. He's off in a flash, speeding across a snowy plain, a flurry of flakes spraying from his skis.

I push myself over the mound of snow marking the slope boundary and soar, my skis vanishing under inches of soft powder.

Gone is the sharp sound of my skis on the packed snow. All I can hear is a subtle swish and the odd crunch as we brake through the icy surface, which is decorated with ripples and dune-like formations.

Struggling to remain upright, I remember Giorgio's advice and lean back slightly (a big no-no in regular skiing) while avoiding the desire to snowplough.

Fear soon gives way to exhilaration. For several euphoric seconds, I enjoy a sensation unlike anything else; then lose control and tumble into the deep snow. Getting up is exhausting, but the smile remains etched on my face.

Up ahead, Giorgio inspects our surroundings suspiciously. Stomping on the snow with his skis, he motions for us to proceed.

"Down!" he later bellows as we rocket towards a cluster of large pines. I immediately crouch to my knees as the branches lash against my helmet.

Out of the trees, I get into a stride and gain confidence, but the terrain becomes increasingly uneven: it's my biggest test yet. I try to mirror Giorgio's agile movements, but my limitations are beginning to become apparent.

Eventually I feel the reassuring presence of a groomed piste below my skis. We've reached the bottom of the Monte della Neve intact. "Bravo," says Giorgio, patting my back.

Travel essentials

Getting there

* The writer travelled with Inghams (020-8780 4447; inghams.co.uk). A week's stay at the three-star Bellavista Residence apartments, half board, costs from £455 per person. Price includes return flights from London Gatwick and transfers.

Skiing there

* A three-day off-piste training course led by an expert mountain guide with local operator Guide Alpine (00 39 328 709 5950; guidealpine.info) costs €185 (£157).

More information

* Italian tourist board (020-7408 1254; italiantouristboard.co.uk)

The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations

Suggested Topics
News
peopleFrankie Boyle responds to referendum result in characteristically offensive style
Arts and Entertainment
Friends is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year
tvSeries celebrates 20th anniversary
Sport
Twelve of the winning bidders will each host three group matches
football
Life and Style
Jack Cooksey goes for the grand unveiling - moments before dropping his new iPhone 6 on the floor
iphone launch
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Sport
A 'Sir Alex Feguson' tattoo
football

Arts and Entertainment
Ben Whishaw is replacing Colin Firth as the voice of Paddington Bear
tv

Thriller is set in the secret world of British espionage

Life and Style
life

News
ScienceGallery: Otherwise known as 'the best damn photos of space you'll see till 2015'
Life and Style
fashion

Bomber jacket worn by Mary Berry sells out within an hour

Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    IT Administrator - Graduate

    £18000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: ***EXCELLENT OPPORTUNITY FO...

    USA/Florida Travel Consultants £30-50k OTE Essex

    Basic of £18,000 + commission, realistic OTE of £30-£50k : Ocean Holidays: Le...

    Marketing Executive / Member Services Exec

    £20 - 26k + Benefits: Guru Careers: A Marketing Executive / Member Services Ex...

    Sales Account Manager

    £15,000 - £25,000: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity has arisen for ...

    Day In a Page

    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    The Imitation Game, film review
    England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

    England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

    Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week