News from the snow
Gressoney - La Trinité Italy
Most people who visit the Gressoney Valley find it a very special place, relatively untouched by time and apparently unpreturbed by the arrival of winter sports. There are three main resorts - St Jean, La Trinite and Stafal at the head of trhe valley. Stafal is really just one hotel but has to best access to the giant Monte Rosa ski area. St Jean has most of the facilities but is not linked in to the main ski circuit, having just a small area of its own. La Trinite is connected to the circuit and has moderate facilities. The local people speak a German dialect, because they are of the ancient ethnic group of the Walser. In the beginning of 1800 the kings of Savoia had this valley as their hunting paradise and they brought with them all the glamour of a royal family. You can feel this charm when you ski around all the big area, from Stafal to Saint Jean and in all the wonderful buildings you find at the top or at the bottom of the pistes. 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 compact and key resort in the Italian ' Three Valleys' or Monterosa ski area, with a great deal to attract intermediate skiers and off-piste routes over to Alagna (or heli-skiing) for the more advanced.
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.
The pricing structure is one of the most complex in the world. For example there are two bands of child pricing, under age 8 and under age 12 (under 14 for the International version of the pass). Under age 8 ticket is only available when an adult buys a ticket for the same duration at the same time, otherwise child pays under age 12 price (assuming they are under age 12!) even if they are under age 8. Under 8s are free low season for 5 or more day standard (not international) ticket but pay for 3 or 4 day ticket and pay a lot for the International Ticket.
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.
There are plenty of off piste boarding and heli-boarding opportunities, but no terrain parks at the last report.