Sestriere, Italy: A Trip Back in Time

Sestriere, Italy: A Trip Back in Time

This article was contributed by Susan Spalt. Susan lived in Italy as a teenager and has traveled extensively in Italy and Europe.

Watching the skiers zoom down the mountain slopes of Sestriere, Italy has been bringing back a lot of memories – of a time, about 1960,  when I  did not exactly zoom down the slopes—but I did get down them. Sestriere, Italy, then, as now, was a beautiful ski resort.

Then, however, as opposed to now, being fitted for skis meant standing on your tip toes and holding your hands over your head. Your skis were about that height. And they were very hard to steer! And getting up to the slopes did not involve a chair lift or heated gondola, but rather a poma lift. A long poma lift. Where it was imperative to hold on and not fall because the terrain was pretty rugged and rescue would not have been easy.

As we were not experienced skiers we took classes. My class had a very handsome instructor who spoke Italian and German. The class included some Americans who only spoke English—so I acted as interpreter—which slowed things down a bit.

The skiing was fun, if arduous. At the end of the day I was cold and bruised. We had gone up yet another poma lift and were skiing down to what I thought was Sestriere. It did not seem important to let the students in the class know that you could ski from village to village—and the only way home was to ski down, take another lift up and
then ski home. I did not get that bruised again until I skied in New England after I graduated from college.

We were ensconced in a lovely hotel, the round one which is prominent in many Olympic photos of Sestriere, Italy. We realized, to our dismay, that everyone dressed formally for dinner. Which meant we had to eat very early—so as not to be embarrassed by our lack of “class.”   We missed the elegance of the evening—which for the skiers in the family was just as well because we could hardly move by
nightfall.

Perhaps the most memorable event of that trip did not involve skiing. There was a total eclipse of the sun. It was a clear day. We did not account for how high you would have to go to actually see the sun during the eclipse. We did not quite get high enough to see the sun eclipsed, but we were up in the mountains, and watched the light go
from bright sun, to violet, to dark purple on the snow, the night and then back again. It became completely still. The stillness and beauty of that moment is still vivid in my memory. Later we learned that some of the villagers, who were at that time still quite remote, believed that the end of the world had come I did not realize at the time that I would never ski in the Italian Alps again, or go back to Sestriere, Italy, but looking back, it was a trip of nearly operatic drama—quite fitting for a unique memory of a
ski trip in a beautiful place.

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