There are two main ski areas in Italy - in simple terms, the one on the left blends in with the alpine resorts in France and Switzerland. Many are clustered around the Matterhorn, perhaps the most famous being Cervinia. The area on the right lies at the southern edge of the Tyrol. The Dolomite mountain range has to be one of the most beautiful regions on the planet, and it's where the HFO have spent many happy hours...
So far, we've only visited Italian resorts by air, so we can't really comment about alternative methods of transport. If you've done it, let us know!
Flying in to Verona airport is a little disconcerting, as it's operated as a joint civilian/military airfield. As your Boeing 737 taxis to the gate, you may well see a couple of F-16's screaming down the runway and heading off into the distance.
From the airport, the coach transfer heads up the autostrada and then leaves the valleys to climb into the mountains. Even when it's snowing, the Italian exuberance when driving still shows - our transfer coach neatly collected a car which was coming in the opposite direction without snow chains fitted. Sideways.
The HFO have spent several years at the resort of Arabba in the Dolomites. It's part of the Sella Ronda ski circuit, and lies in striking distance of Selva di Val Gardena and Cortina d'Ampezzo.
The Sella Ronda circuit encircles a huge buttress of sedimentary rock. The principal mineral is Dolomite, named after the region and formed of carbonate minerals. Everywhere you look there are limestone and dolostone pinnacles, ridges, plateaus and escarpments. High up, the cliffs are nearly all vertical. Lower down, the slopes of the mountains are littered with enormous boulders, which had us wondering how often they're joined by new ones and hoping that we wouldn't be anywhere close by when they arrived...
The scenery is positively cinematic in scope. And the Dolomites have featured in a lot of films, including The Pink Panther, the skiing scenes (strangely enough) in For Your Eyes Only, and Sylvester Stallone's mountain blockbuster Cliffhanger.
The HFO check out the Frozen Waterfalls at Lagazuoi
All the villages we travelled through in the area are picturesque hamlets, where a sizable proportion of the locals seem to have no connection with skiing or tourism. Because of this, the villages have a genuine feel to them which is lacking in most French resorts.
The pace of life is also somewhat slower than most French resorts, and there's a real opportunity to slow down and unwind (although see the note about coffee below!)
Italians seem to come down on the side of caution when grading runs - some blacks feel easier than French red runs. However, it's still possible to get the adrenalin pumping if you want to.
Runs are varied - from long schusses through trees to wide open runs on mountainsides. One thing we did notice in Italy - you may have to do a bit more walking between the end of one run and the lift to the next. The way in which lifts are laid out doesn't always make a lot of sense. Several of the better areas in the Sella Ronda circuit were only accessible by minibus or taxi, but once there it was possible to ski back. Some assistance was available from skiddoo drivers and very long pieces of rope, but we got the general impression that providing decent lift facilities wasn't particularly high on anyone's agenda here. All the queueing slows things down to a pace that the locals are comfortable with.
Riding in some of the older cable cars can also be an adrenalin pumping experience. There can be quite a drop looking out of the window! A particularly riveting ride is the car up to the Marmolada glacier, which feels like something straight out of "Where Eagles Dare".
It may be a cliché, but the pizzas in Italy really do taste better than any others on Earth. Most villages seem to have a pizzeria - in Arabba they were happy to lay on tables for twelve provided we booked a couple of days in advance.
Food is reasonably priced and there's plenty of choice for the dedicated carbohydrate loader. I recommend trying calzone - pizza folded over and cooked with the fillings inside the crust, giving a much more creamy taste. Pizza bread with olive oil was voted the most popular starter and disappeared in remarkable quantities.
Italian food is also more friendly to vegetarianism - more so than France, where a vegetarian meal would be a ham salad; you'd be expected to pick the ham out yourself.
Much of Italy's best produce has become popular fare at home, but you can't beat Tiramisu eaten in its natural habitat. The Italian passion for gelati (ice creams to you and me) becomes readily understandable after you've tasted a few varieties in the local caffé.
It's also true that the Italians brew the best coffee on the planet. Several of us spent the entire holiday completely wired from all the caffeine we'd drunk. It was much too good to just have the one cup.
Be warned, though. After ordering a cup of cappucino or two to wash all that lovely food down, you'll never want to drink instant coffee ever again.
In true internet fashion, please bear in mind that your mileage may vary. Resorts change from year to year. These pages are intended to give a flavour of what we found each trip to be like: our experiences are not necessarily going to be the same as yours. We hope they'll be as enjoyable!