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Off-piste skiing on Mount Etna

DOWNHILL FAST ON MOUNT ETNA

Villas in Sicily near or on Mount Etna >>

Waking at 6am at the wonderful Rocca delle Tre Contrade, I opened my shutters to be confronted with clear skies and a snow-capped Mount Etna glowing in the pink light of the sunrise. I’d heard that it had been snowing for several days on the mountain, and never had I seen the snow stretching so far down the flanks of the great volcano.

After a hearty breakfast consumed in great anticipation by our group of nine (eating breakfast dressed in ski gear at one of Sicily’s finest villas is an experience in itself), we headed to our cars for the drive up the mountain.

At Linguaglossa, a beautiful town built from lava stone on the flanks of the mountain, we stopped at the fantastically stocked Simone Sport to pick up some equipment and our guide, Biagio Ragonesi. I was very impressed to find myself kitted out with Lange x9 boots and Fischer Ranger Freestyle skis. Perfect gear for a perfect day skiing virgin powder on Europe’s biggest active volcano.


Back in our cars, we headed further up the mountain, stopping just before Piano Provenzana to fit our snow chains. Soon we had arrived at our meeting point and our transport for the day: a kind of bus-cum-snow cat, into which we all clambered for the next stage of our journey. Carmelo is an expert snow cat driver, and as we trundled up from 1,800m towards the central craters of the volcano at just over 3,323m, trying to grab some views out of the rapidly steaming windows, the building excitement was hard to contain.

At about 3,200m the snow cat juddered to a halt and we could go no further. Carmelo jumped out, swept the heaps of show that were now wedging the doors shut and folded down the steel ladder that made our bus feel more like a moon landing craft than a ski lift. Out we tumbled onto a snow-swept landscape. The craters just above us belched vapour and a sharp smell of sulphur hung in the air.

The view at this height is incredible at the best of times, but when you’re standing in skis on pure white snow and the skies above you are cloudless blue, it is out of this world.

A short traverse around the craters to the south and we were presented with immense vistas of the Ionian sea, the Calabrian coast, Taormina, the Aeolian islands to the north and… a seemingly endless sequence of untouched powdery snow.

Off we went, alternating between tight turns and long sweeps depending on the gradient and our courage, making fresh tracks in the perfect bowls that in the summer months are covered in fine volcanic dust. The altitude is significant (where else do you have breakfast at sea level and ski at 3,000m?), and as my legs started working hard, my lungs began to burn. But boy was it worth it. We skied several kilometres of virgin snow down to the bottom of the drag lift at Piano Provenzana, stopped briefly to watch some fortunate Sicilians enjoying a perfect day on the snow, and then headed back into our snow cat to do it all over again.

At the end of the day, after a recovery drink in a bar, we returned to the luxurious confines of Rocca delle Tre Contrade, where the fireplaces were burning bright and a delicious Sicilian dinner was awaiting us. The perfect end to a perfect Sicilian winter's day.

Huw Beaugié, Founding Director of The Thinking Traveller


Huw was staying at Rocca delle Tre Contrade in February 2015. The Thinking Traveller and Rocca delle Tre Contrade organise various activities on Etna, including skiing, 4x4 excursions, winery visits, hiking and more.

Find out more about skiing on Mount Etna >>

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