Europe ski tour continued: Four days in Italy
After a three-day skiing break in Chamonix, we decided to take a short tour of a number of smaller resorts in neighbouring Italy. The #Jeep Wrangler offered the possibility of driving to the Aosta Valley in Italy, via the 12km Mont Blanc tunnel.
The G-Force and I chose ski resorts that neither of us had visited before and ones that looked a bit smaller than our usual destinations. If we’re going to be staying in one place for a week, as we usually do, then we choose resorts that are part of a much larger ski area, such as the Three Valleys or the Milky Way, so that we have lots of runs and routes to ski.
Mini tour of Italy
We chose Courmayeur because it is just a 30-minute drive from Chamonix and we had heard it was beautiful and great for food. We stayed with Crystal Ski at Hotel Dei Camosci in Courmayeur itself. We were given a lovely welcome by the owner, who also acted as the vehicle driver, transporting guests the five minute drive to the resort base, bar man and, we overheard, the chef. The hotel is comfortable, friendly and offers good food.
We visited La Thuille, too, another 30 minutes or so from Courmayeur and (sort of) en route to our next destination of Gressoney St Jean, where we stayed in another Crystal Ski hotel, Hotel Gressoney. This hotel is also a great find. The owner is a quietly spoken but very welcoming man and the hotel is comfortable and relaxing. They obviously pride themselves on their superb food, which we enjoyed far too much of!
Gressoney offers easy access to a number of Monterosa ski villages, each with their own slopes, including Gressoney St Jean, Gressoney La Trinite, Alagna and Champoluc.
The freedom to roam
It was a very good to have a car of our own during our skiing week. It meant we could study the weather forecast and head to a resort that looked more favourable. Even in a small area, resort conditions can vary.
For example, if it’s snowy, a resort with more tree-lined runs can be a good idea because these pistes will offer better visibility. If fresh powder comes, you want a resort that has reliable lifts and lots of long and fantastic pistes. Good off-piste areas will also be a bonus, if that’s your kind of thing.
We were also able to ski for half a day at one resort before heading to another close by for an alternative few hours of skiing.
Also, if you accidentally leave something at the hotel, simply want a rest from skiing or you fancy a meal away from the ski resort, having a car allows you lots of flexibility.
Of course, you do need to pay for the car hire but sometimes this can work out to be cheaper than making use of transfers and public transport. On this occasion, we were very lucky to have the loan of a Jeep 75th anniversary Wrangler so that made things simple and practical for our ski tour.
Courmayeur ski resort
The Alps was due a dump of snow and luckily it came before we left for Scotland again. We did not experience Courmayeur at its best but we asked a local guide where would be the better slopes on the day we arrived and he brilliantly directed us to the highest slopes – and the ones most likely to benefit from a bit of sun.
The lower slopes were quite icy and in some places rather bare of snow but higher up we enjoyed some excellent snow. We took a gondola to 2624m and while I skied the fantastic red-graded Youla, the G-Force traversed off piste along a high slope and then zig-zagged neatly back down through un-skied snow to meet me lower down.
The first time we headed to Cresta Youla we also took a second gondola, Arp, without our skis to a viewpoint at 2755m at Cresta d’Arp. The views of Monte Bianco (Europe’s highest peak) are truly breath-taking from this point.
So long as we stayed fairly high, we were able to ski on mostly soft snow and we appreciated why many people rave about his resort. It is very beautiful.
We enjoyed a couple of mountain cafes and restaurants, too, especially one that served the most delicious custard-cream filled doughnuts and croissants.
La Thuille ski resort
We arrived at La Tuille on a very clagged in day. It was difficult to see very much at all and at times visibility was reduced to a couple of metres. I usually find these kind of conditions very challenging and I am not going to say it was easy at La Thuille, but the wide open slopes and flattering blue, red and black runs did make it seem a bit less of a challenge.
When we could see between the clouds the resort looked rather Scottish! Wide open and with large boulders and rocky outcrops, it reminded me of winter moorland views back home.
The ski slopes were much larger though and far more plentiful than in any Scottish resort.
La Thuille would be great if you’re learning to ski or if you are part of a mixed ability group. If visibility had been better we reckon there would have been lots of off-piste possibilities, especially between the numerous ski runs.
We spent the day roaming all over the resort and despite the low cloud the snow was mostly okay. By the end of the day the lower slopes were vey icy and I found it scary and daunting to get to the base. The resort needed a big dump of snow, which it did get a day later!
Some people told us they think that La Thuille is a bit bleak and too open with not enough tree cover but I rather liked its large open slopes and bowls.
The Monterosa resorts
It was the G-Force that had chosen Monterosa. He had heard there are good off-piste options and some great back country routes, especially in the Alagna ski area.
I had no idea what to expect but when we were riding the first gondola and got chatting to a British couple who told us it was their 16th year in the resort area I knew there must be something special about it. (Incidentally, the same couple also visit La Thuille almost every year, too.)
And I immediately loved Monterosa. Although the gondolas and chairlifts can seem like they go on ever and ever, the result is the opportunity to ski very long and winding pistes.
There are numerous red runs, a few blues and a couple of blacks. If you are an advanced skier this might sound a bit lacking but the black run, for example, from Punta Indren towards the village of Alagna is awesomely long.
The plentiful red runs also offer many different challenges and because of the amount of off-piste opportunities I think most skiers, from intermediate to advanced, will be thrilled by this ski area.
The advice was to head from Gressoney straight to Stafal, in the middle of the ski area. Then to take another gondola to Punta Indren and ski in the Alagna area in the morning. This area tends to get the sun, so after about mid-day it can get a bit skied out.
On both days that we skied here there was a low band of mist on the ski run. The cloud inversion looked stunning from above because we were in sunshine and while the mist itself did limit visibility as we skied through it I really liked the atmospheric drama of it all.
In any case, we soon whizzed through the mist and out into brighter conditions below the mist. The long and winding red run lower down is a superb ski.
After lunch we were advised to head across to the other side of Stafal to ski in the Champoluc area. There are also runs below Stafal to enjoy.
Champoluc offers breath-taking scenery, with the village sitting below magnificent high rise Italian Alp peaks. It’s possible to catch sight of the highest of them all, the Matterhorn, although the other peaks nearby also look fantastic.
I recommend the warm and quirky Roxi café for a bit to eat (although I am not so sure about the goat’s feet coat hooks).
I think this ski area is one of the most beautiful I have ever skied in. Almost at every turn I wanted to stop to take another photo. The clouds rolled in and out during two surprisingly sunny days and this only added to the incredible views all around.
On each day, when we looked up the valley to the ski area the clouds seemed over-bearing. We knew there had been fresh snow so we wanted to see if it was possible to ski despite the clouds. And then when we reached the resort we found the had clouds lifted and although on the second day they came and went we were delighted by the amount of great visibility and the snow conditions.
We both want to return to Gressoney because it’s such a beautiful resort and it is apparently far less visited than other major ski areas. On some slopes we were the only people to be seen.
Things to be aware of on a tour of ski resorts
We had not taken into account the cost of road tolls and tunnels in France and Italy. Between France and Gressoney we paid for the Mont Blanc tunnel (luckily we knew that if we showed our Mont Blanc ski pass we would gain a 50% discount but the cost was still about €45 return); several stretches of road and one that cost €17 each way.
If you are skiing in different areas you need to buy lift passes that last only a day or two. These can be pricier per day than if you were to buy a week’s pass.
There’s the cost of petrol and also the potential difficultly of booking only a couple of nights in different hotels. You tend to get the best deals if you book for week’s package. However if you go outside the school holidays you can find some great one or two night deals.
* Many thanks to Jeep for the loan of the four-door Wrangler. Thanks to Crystal Ski for hosting us in the two hotels, sorting ski hire and also ski passes for Courmayeur and Monterosa. For ski hire in Monterosa try David Sport ski shop in Gressoney La Trinite.