News from the snow
Champoluc - Monterosa Ski Italy
The giant Monterosa ski area is one of the world's largest, and thanks to recent investment in new lifts you can now ski or board without needing to stop for 180km between the resorts of Champoluc and Gressoney and Gressoney on to Alagna across three valleys. The skiing extends almost up to 3000 metres and there are spectacular views across Aosta Valley and Piemonte. The ski area was 'reborn' for the 2003/4 season when the spectacular Funifor cable car finally completed the long planned link in the circuit between the Valsesia and Gressoney La Trinite resorts (themselves connected to Champoluc). The most internationally famous resort on the circuit, Alagna, is known for its old world charm and having been "preserved from cement" with its Walser buildings dominant. It was founded in the 12th century and is built around the local parish church. Although there's skiing for all standards, Alagna remains a haven for expert skiers, the village sits beneath one of the world's greatest lift-served verticals skiable by many off-piste descents. At the other extreme of the pass, Champoluc at 1570m is the main resort in the Val d'Ayas. Surrounded by pine woods, it offers spectacular views of the Monte Rosa glaciers and the rocky buttresses of Mont Sarezza and the Testa Grigia. Antagnod above at 1710m also has spectacular views as well as well preserved old buildings, including the famous "maison Fournier" once the stronghold of the counts of Challant. Between them Gressoney La Trinite - which is linked to the Monte Rosa circuit and Gressoney St Jean beneath it, which isn't. The architecture is again beautiful, with chalet style buildings and again spectacular views.
A quiet village with a few hotels and shops surrounded by wooded slopes at the western end of the Italian 'Three Valleys' or 'Monterosa' ski area.
From there its possible to ascend to the Punta Indren Glacier and the full 2000m+ vertical.
The Olen and Bors Valleys offer fairly difficult skiing and spectacular off piste opportunities.
For beginners and early intermediates there's a special separate area, Wold, some 500m north of the village. Although low altitude it has full snowmaking cover.
From Gressoney, the central valley, lifts stretch up on either side to reach trails back down to Champoluc on one side and Alagna on the other. Runs of all standards descend on either side and back down to the resort.
There are many on and off piste itineraries in the area including the most popular Mount Rose Grand Tour which begins at 8.30 with a rendezvous at the Monterosa Ski offices in Champoluc. There's a coach link to Frachey from where participants can ski to the Gressoney Valley via Colle della Bettaforca (2701m) continuing on to the Passo dei Salati (2967m) and then descending along the Valsesia face of the slopes. An ascent to Punta Indren (3260m) follows with an off piste descent towards Gressoney. The tour ends back in Champoluc at 4pm.
Heliskiing is another popular activity given the wide range of high peaks in the area - and the proximity to France where heliskiing is banned. There's a wide choice of descents available to suit almost all ability levels. You can also take a helicopter to the top of the Lys mountain pass for a descent along the Grenz glacier down to Zermatt. Two or three day variants of the tour, staying overnight in Cervinia or Zermatt, are available.
Away from the main Three Valleys area, there are small separate ski areas on the Pass, including an area of mostly red and blue slopes above Antagnod, famous for their sunshine record, and at Gressoney St Jean there are famous slopes down through the old Swiss pines of Weissmatten.
Telemarking is also popular in the area and there' a special club for Telemarkers. Cross country skiers have valley and altitude routes (at 2025m high Pianalunga for example) around the area. However summer skiing ended here several seasons ago when work began on the lift upgrades.
Monterosa is included on The Aosta Valley pass which covers 800km (500 miles) of terrain served by nearly 200 lifts in over a dozen ski areas, including Cervinia, linked to Zermatt and other famous resorts in the area such as Pila, La Thuile and Courmayeur (a 30 minute bus ride away) which is linked to Chamonix (you need a special International variant of the ticket - see below - at an additional cost), but it's just about physically possible to ski over if you set off on the early bus.
There's no ski bus so your own transport is most useful to make the most of the pass.
There are many different versions of the Aosta Valley Pass. Variants include the six day 'International Pass' which is valid for two days in Chamonix or the Mont Blanc Snow Safari which is valid in the 4 Valleys region also.
children's walks over the snow with ski sticks which are organised in Alagna.
Some of the hotels do have children's playrooms and special menus for kids are normally available in the restaurants.
On the slopes Antagnod has a Baby Snow Park especially for children which includes the first conveyor type lift that was installed in the Aosta Valley.
Other recommended eateries include Da Martino and le Sapin. Le Petit Tournalin's restaurant serves good food with very friendly service. The restaurants in the Hotels Castor and Mount Cervino are also recommended.
Good places to eat on the mountain include the Belvedere, and the Novez (commonly known as Bob's, due to the playing of Bob Marley music most of the day!). The 'motorway-service' style cafe at Crest is functional, but still good value for filling up.
The Golosone pub often has live music, the Bistro has a disco twice a week and there is the Friday disco at the West Road Bar, which is out of the village towards Frachey.
Make sure you try the regional beverage called Fil d'Fer which is a sort of Creamy Mandarine Orange Punch with a hints of cloves and is served hot.
There are plenty of off piste boarding and heli-boarding opportunities, but no terrain parks at the last report.