6 (3 draglifts)
Total lift vert:
Snowboarding in Ticino? Sounds unusual but yes it's possible. Airolo, just south of the Gotthard tunnel at the top of the Valle Leventina, has a small resort suitable for a day trip. One advantage is that the weather and the snow conditions can be quite different on the south side of the mountains, so you can take advantage of the best of both.
Most of the runs here are reds and blacks, with some surprisingly steep bits. Beginners are better off on the right-hand side, with wide easy blues.
For a zoomable, scrollable map of the areas, see this online map using Openstreetmap or Opencyclemap.
Getting to Airolo isn't the difficult part, as it's a major stop on the main north-south train line through the Gotthard tunnel to Italy and has good highway connections to the north and south. The difficult part, if you're coming by train, is getting from the train station to the ski lift. With a pathetic minibus and total free-for-all clambering into it, it can take up to 45 minutes to even leave the station. Stupidly it's only 600m in a straight line but there are railway lines, highways and a small lake to navigate, so walking the 1.5km along the road can take around 20 minutes.
From Zürich it's a direct train to Airolo which only takes 1h40 but you might have to add another 50 minutes for the last little stretch to the cable car (or 20 mins by foot). The return train is only once an hour and needs at least one change in Arth-Goldau. A Snow and Rail ticket costs CHF 61 and doesn't require a card deposit or other such trickery.
Coming by car will take around 1h45 from Zürich according to Google Maps, and a day ticket on its own costs CHF 40.
showing the runs and lifts
There is only a handful of lifts here at Airolo - a pair of cable cars (from the base to Pesciüm and a second from there up to Sasso della Boggia), a single chair lift (from Ravina up to the highest point Varozzei (2250m)), and three T-bar drag lifts (from Ravina up towards Sasso, from Pesciüm to Comascnè and a short bunny lift also from Pesciüm).
The runs are all marked red and black, although some of the red slopes have quite steep mogully sections, and the ones underneath Comascnè are pretty much blues. Beginners will like the wide smooth slopes on that right-hand side, although maybe not like the drag lifts so much.
In terms of off-piste, there is a boatload, but there are also signs saying that riding off the marked slopes is "strengst verboten". The number of people riding off-piste is huge though, even on the steeper, more avalanche-prone-looking parts of the mountain. There are some tricky cliffs and coulouirs to watch out for but there are some sweet, flatter areas between the pistes to explore without so much risk.
There is currently no jump park or halfpipe here, but there are a couple of jumps built for hot-dog skiers and one or two home-made launch ramps. Otherwise there are plenty of piste-side opportunities to ride off.
The only major sticking point is the Pesciüm junction - coming from the Sasso side it's quite tricky to keep enough speed to reach the Comascnè drag lift, and if you want to take the cable car back up again you'll have some steep uphill walking to do. The home run from Ravina also flattens out, actually needing a walk along the road at Nante at the moment, and a further road crossing a bit lower down. The black home run from Pesciüm is steeper but narrower.
19 January 2008 - beautiful snow, amazingly still fresh, and in much better condition than other resorts in the north. Blue skies, sunshine (although the slopes are mostly shady) and surprisingly short lift queues.
Unfortunately there's not much information online. The 'official' site is at funivie-gottardo.ch, but it's only in Italian and German and doesn't really contain much information. However there's a good piste plan at snow-forecast.com. For Snow and Rail information you'll have to see the printed Snow'n'Rail brochure, as the online information at railaway.ch seems to have disappeared. The snow report at snow-forecast.com also seems to have died.
In the Summer there's plenty of walking in the Airolo area, and Airolo marks the start of the Strada Alta Leventina.