The Long Distance Ski Championship

5 reasons to start the ski season with Sgambeda

Written by: Denis Kabanen

Sgambeda is the first event of the Visma Ski Classics season VIII calendar (taking place december 2nd 2017) and has been one of Italy's premier long distance cross-country ski races for many years. Even if you don't have the chance for on-snow training at home in November, you should consider a visit to Livigno to kick off the season! Here you can get some guaranteed on-snow ski practice and the italian ski resort has a lot to offer; high altitude training, great restaurants and tax free shopping. Let's take a look at what Sgambeda is famous for and ask Martina, Andreas and Denis about it- organizer, professional and amateur skier.

1. Original Sgambeda track

Livigno valley is quite narrow with beautiful 3000 meters high mountain peaks on the sides. You can ski almost from one Switzerland border in the north to another one in the south - and, yes, you still will be in Italy. A winding track follows you through the village and all the classic Alpine-style buildings. For an extra bit of authenticity be prepared for some barn odor on the edge of town.

After that you will face a really tough and scenic climb up to 2150 meters of altitude and Grasso Degli Agnelli. At this point, professional skiers will fight for the new-born “Сlimb” jersey competition, which Visma Ski Classics introduced for the upcoming Season VIII. The male and female athletes in the Pro Teams will collect points at 8 different climb checkpoints all over Europe and it all starts here on the Sgambeda track. After Sgambeda, the current leader in the Climb standing will wear the all new red and black squared "Lumberjack" bib. It will be a very interesting competition to follow.

After reaching the top of the track, you will have plenty of time for recovery on a long descent back to Livigno that goes right on the road down to 1900 meters altitude. Yes, the asphalt road gets closed at winter time and becomes a nice and wide cross-country ski track for our pleasure. The rest of the Sgambeda track goes through the town and it feels easier than in the beginning even if you had more energy from the start of the race. That is because in this part you are skiing by the river, with a slightly noticeable descent. It means that by the finish line you won't be dead tired - perfect solution for the first long distance ski race of the season.

2. Guaranteed snow

Livigno is a high-altitude ski resort. It used to receive some good snowfalls in November, but for the last two seasons, warm weather just before the race made it difficult to use the original track. Anyway, we know what Italians are famous for... snowmaking! In quite short period of time they managed to create a wide 6 kilometers loop previous years. Martina Bormolini, Livigno Social Media Manager, explains the steps organizers are taking to run Sgambeda in any weather conditions:

“This year we stored more snow with the "Snowfarm technique", and in that way, even if there won't be natural snow like the past year, we will be able to create a good quality track with the artificial snow. Some of this snow will also be used today for summer ski race Trofeo delle Contrade on the streets of Livigno.

We will try to cover all the 35km with the snow… Then if the condition of the natural snow will be like last year, we have to evaluate a shorter loop. Unfortunately we can't predict yet how the snow condition will be, it is something we have to come back to in November. But what we did was to store more snow this year with the Snow farming technique, in order to make the best track we can for Sgambeda, even if we get bad natural snow conditions.”

3. Racing and training with Professional skiers

In both summer and winter seasons, Livigno is filled with professional skiers taking advantage of the high altitude with a great variety of training. In the end of October, they usually come for the first ski training. Where in the world can you ski side by side with the long distance elite, Olympic and World Champions without disturbing each other?

On the race day you do the same track and can compare your finish times with the winner’s. But really, for many of us skiers it’s not the main point of participating in an event like Sgambeda. It’s our passion for the sport and to get startet with extra motivation for the ski season!

4. The sun

Livigno’s slogan “feel the alps” and the sun logo in place of the letter “O” speaks for itself. Here you get tons of sunshine on top of the mountain view. The best Visma Ski Classics sprinter Andreas Nygaard have some words to prove it:

“For me it is always a pleasure coming to Livigno, feeling the Alps for real. Living in Tromsø- Norway, especially in November and December can be quite tough. Only 3-4 hours with daylight, no sun to be seen, and often no snow at all. In Livigno I am almost always guaranteed a lot of sun, stable cold weather and a lot of daylight. This is vital when training 3-5 hours a day, trying to get in top shape. I’m always looking forward to come to Livigno. In 2017 I will reach almost 50 days in this place. So there is no doubt that I am a Livigno fan.”

5. Infrastructure

For regular skiers there are some other important factors when it comes to vacation, especially if traveling with a family. Denis lives in central Europe and for the first time came to Livigno last December to participate in Sgambeda. And he plans to come there again:

“Unlike some other Alpine resorts, getting to Livigno is not a quick affair. That said, you wouldn't expect a true gem to be located right by the side of the highway, right? Still, some of Europe's top airports, such as Zurich and the Milanese three, are within 200-250 kilometers of the valley. Even a 3-4 hour car or bus ride, however, is simply compensated by stunning Alpine views. During the skiing season, there also is an airport ski shuttle service known as Livigno Express. 

Still, I would recommend either renting a car or if possible drive there with your own: in that way you could make a stop at one of the many roadside cafes, each with a better view than the previous. It also leaves you with more space in the trunk for your shopping. Yes, you read that correctly: shopping. A choice of top Italian brands, offered at retail stores occupying Livigno's main street (Via Plan/Via Sant'Antoni/Via Fontana which is, essentially, the same street running the length of the town) can easily compete with the better-known shopping streets of Rome and Milan, with one distinct advantage: prices. Livigno has been a tax-free haven since the mid-19th century.

Guaranteed snow, crisp mountain air and sunshine – combined with tax free shopping – attracts the affluent crowd from all over the Alpine region and beyond. A discerning tourist would, naturally, demand top cuisine, and here, Livigno delivers yet again. Gourmet restaurants or little family-run pasticcerie and panificios (cafes & bakeries) – the choice is yours. If all of the above makes you think of Livigno as a secluded holiday retreat, reserved for the super-rich, that's a mistake. Somehow, the valley manages to keep retail prices (hotels, food, ski passes etc.) reasonable, and the atmosphere is very family-friendly. ”

If you are traveling with somebody who is not big fan of cross-country skiing they can find other activities, for example, taking advantage of downhill skiing with “free of charge” ski lifts in December, and swimming in the newly opened Aquagrande water center – one of the largest in Europe. When you reach Livigno, then you have ski tracks and almost everything else in walking distance. And you can also take advantage of well organized free ski shuttles inside of the valley.

Take advantage of Early Bird registration till the end of August for the perfect beginning of the ski season.
You can register here:

Race: Sgambeda
Location: Livigno Italy 
Date: Saturday, December 2nd 2017
Distance: 35 km
​Altitude: 1820 - 2150 meters
​Style: classic
​Since: 1990
​Participants: Around 1000