The Piedmont normally gets hammered when a retour d'est comes in. There are plenty of great resorts where you can ride deep powder, but there's one resort that stole my heart. Prali is a small ski area in the western Piedmont and is operating below the radar. You can't find the resort in the brochures from tour operators and you won't find that much accommodation on popular sites like Booking.com or Airbnb. The resort is proud owner of two chairs and two T-bars. Two centuries ago, close to 1400 people were living in Prali, nowadays that number is down to 266 inhabitants.
Prali is situated at 1454 meters in a valley with a dead in. It will take about an hour and fifteen minutes to drive to Prali from Sestrière and almost an hour and a half from Torino. There are four lifts that serve seven slopes. The vertical is around 1100 meters. Not exactly numbers to get you excited already I guess. The tree line is around 2200 meters and that means that you can find a lot of trees in the ski area: larch trees!
The fact that Prali is still there can be called a miracle. Small resorts are struggling in an industry where connected ski areas with over 200 kilometers of slopes seems to be the standard. A lot of skiers visit those huge and popular ski areas. And with less people skiing smaller resorts, it's getting harder and harder for them to make the necessary investments to keep their lifts running. A lot of smaller resorts already had to shut down, simply because they didn't have the money to renew the lifts.
But fortunately for us, Prali is still alive and kicking. The costs of operating the ski area are relatively low, because the lifts are quite easy to maintain (don't expect any fast chair lifts with heating in the seats) and because the ski area is not that big you don't need a dozen of Pistenbullies to groom the slopes. It can be busy during the weekends, since the more fortunate have a second home or condo near the ski area.
This results in a number of advantages:
A 1000-meter vertical, of which 800 meters through the larch trees. A chair will bring you up to mid-mountain and another one will bring you to the highest point in the ski area: Bric Rond. You have three options from there:
The video above gives you a good impression of the vast larch forests. Please note that this footage has been shot in November. There's normally more snow later in the season.
You should go to Prali for the larches. Sure, you can ski touring as well, but the larches are just magical. If you want to go touring, the map below comes in handy. You'll buy one for less than ten euros in the local supermarket and you can start planning your tour. You can skin up the Punta Cialancia (2855 m) from the Bric Rond. Or you can start in the neighboring village of Idritti and skin up to Rocca Bianca (2379 m) and the Punta Gardetta (2737 m). Whether you go touring or freeriding, always check the local avalanche forecast (Prali is situated in the Cosie Nord) and adapt your plans to it.
You won't find Prali in any brochure and the options on booking.com and Airbnb are limited. You'd better book direct. I used to call the lifts (+39 0121 807921) and they helped you out, but nowadays I have a list with numbers I call directly:
Don't worry about the food. This is the Piedmont. The food is lovely and affordable. The prices of an espresso and cappuccino are set by law and it's just nothing compared to what you pay in the bigger resorts of the Alps.
Prali is a snow magnet and gets a lot of snow from the east. That happens when a retour d'est comes in, but also when a front comes in from the southwest. The wind turns to the southeast at first and as a result the 'Lombarde' pushes the clouds with all the snow against the Piedmont. The snowfall has to come from the southeast, east or southwest. You can expect some heavy snowfall and often the season is stretched into May. If the current comes from the northwest to north, you don't have to expect any snowfall in Prali.
Yes and no. Prali is positioning itself more and more as a freeride area. They recently had a PowderAlert photoshoot contest on Instagram. Prali was regularly mentioned in the forecasts on wePowder, but if you've been there, you've probably shared this secret as well. Anyway, you don't have to expect crowds on weekdays. It's not as quiet as it used to be, but it's still a relief compared to 'bigger' freeride resorts. I expect that it will stay like this for a while. There's limited accommodation, it's pretty far from big cities and there's no passing traffic. You really have to choose to ride there. There are no ski areas nearby and there aren't much skiers who ride Prali just for a day when spending a week in the Via Lattea for example. I love to share this secret with you, because it can serve as an example for other smaller ski resorts. The vibe is still amazing and let's keep it that way.