DEEP in the heart of the Northern Alps is the small village of Livigno. Just shy of the Swiss border and a stone’s throw from Austria, it is an Italian ski resort with a unique selling point.



Livigno was once an obligatory passage for commercial traffic passing into what is now Lombardy, Austria and Hungary. Since the 1600s when the village won economic independence, it has enjoyed a tax-free status. What this means for the holidaymaker is Olympic-scale shopping potential and fantastic bargains.



But the opportunity to buy duty-free cigarettes and alcohol was not what brought me to Livigno. I was on a quest for new snowboarding equipment and lots of fresh powder.



Dotted along the mountains are 30 ski lifts and 55 pistes.



The lifts are spread across either side of the mountain and a handy transit system has been set up. Complimentary shuttle buses are frequent and it takes no time at all to get from lift to lift.



First-time boarders need not be scared, as there are a range of lifts – from chairs to gondolas – to get you up the mountain in comfort. Coming down may pose more of a challenge for beginners.



But, with the sport gaining credibility worldwide, there are plenty of snowboarding lessons available from English-speaking instructors.



I recommend booking early or you may end up taking a lesson at 4pm and waste a day of riding.



And another word of warning. Although there are equipment rental shops throughout the resort and the prices are great, the quality tends to be less than brilliant.



Again, get there early and find out a little about what kind of board you should be riding (see panel, left). Six-day learn-to-ride packages are available from about £155 per person.



Having already paid my dues at the snowboarding school of hard knocks, I was eager to explore some of the vast terrain offered by the Dolomites.



I knew there was promise of fresh powder as I had already endured one of Europe’s worst snowstorms the day after arriving. The first few runs were fantastic, though unfortunately, due to the early season, there was next to no base and the rocks quickly showed through the thin layers of snow.



Another disappointment was the slopes themselves. While many are excellent for those either stepping onto a board for the first time or improving on last year’s skills, there is only one short black run and the reds and bluesdidn’t provide much of a challenge. As for the advertised snowboard park and half-pipe, well – I combed that mountain and couldn’t find either.



Still, what I did get was some cruisey runs with some good friends, followed by lunch and a Bombardino – the local warmer – at one of the mountain’s many affordable restaurants. And then more of the same.



It may not have been the adrenaline-fuelled mountain experience I’m used to, but there’s plenty to make up for that:thanks to Livigno’s tax-free status, snowboards, bindings and clothing are almost affordable, and you could never get bored of all the pubs, clubs, bars and discos, on top of the sledging, cross-country skiing, video arcades and bowling alley the resort offers.



Livigno



Inghams: offers the three-star self-catering Baita Francesca apartments for an end-of-season lead-in of £267. Close to the shops and bars, the pistes are easily accessible from the apartments. Better skiers will be able to ski to their door, conditions permitting.



Crystal: offers the two-star self catering Apartments Arnaldo for an end-of season lead-in of £295. The bus to the slopes is a minute’s walk, and a half-board or bed-and-breakfast option is available at the nearby Hotel Capriolo.



First Choice: offers the Livigno Ski Apartments for an end-of season lead-in of £259. The apartments are situated all over Livigno and are allocated to guests on arrival.All are within 500 metres of the nearest lift.



Rules of boarding



Choose your weaponcarefully: snowboards basically fall into one of two types – Carving and All-Mountain.



Carving boards have a rounded nose (top) and a flat end (rear). These boards are for racing and riding hard icy conditions and use hard ski boots. This is not a good learning board as it is very unforgiving. The all-mountain board is the best to learn on and is what you will see most of. Use proper snowboarding boots and make sure all the straps on the bindings are on tight before you leave the shop. To find the right height, stand the board up. If it reaches just under your nose, it should be OK.



Goofy or regular? It’s all to do with putting your best foot forward. Whether your goofy or regular relates to which foot you put at the front of the board. Either way works, but everybody has a natural preference. To find yours, stand up straight, relax, and get a friend togive you a shove from behind. If you put your right foot forward first, chances are, you’re goofy. Left foot isregular.