News from the snow
Some of Macugnaga's buildings date back to the thirteenth century and it has something of a cult status, and a 'Swiss feel', thanks to its location a few kilometres south of Switzerland. Its position, across the modern border, accounts for its Germanic Walser tribe traditions. The vintage (but fast!) cable car and a piste map done in oil paints help to underline the feeling that you're stepping back in to the era of classic ski resorts; even if Macugnaga's first lift didn't start running until 1950 when those early resorts were losing their monopoly. Made up of two pretty villages, Staffa and Pecetto, Macugnaga is located beneath the magnificent Monte Rosa, over the border from Saas Fee in one direction (which can be reached on ski with the help of a guide) and fellow Italian ski centre Gressoney on the other. Staffa is the larger of the two villages and the one commonly regarded as 'Macugnaga' as well as being the location for the usually lively, informal après ski scene. The majority of the serious skiing is here and most of the old chalet style buildings, many of them clustered around the central square. Pecetto, a 15 minute walk away, is quieter and has the smaller and easier ski area of Belvedere above it. Macugnaga originally grew up as a trading and meeting point, but also has a long mining history. The ancient gold mine which can still be visited today, opened in 1710. Another monument to the village's long past, the old church, was built at the place where Macuganga was established. Inside there are frescoes and furniture dating back through the centuries. In the churchyard, beyond the graves of the village's inhabitants, the power of the mountains in emphasised by the graves of guides and hikers who have lost their lives on Monte Rosa - a tribute to the real power of the mountain and a world away from the sanitised ski centres of the modern era. The image painted so far may give Macugnaga the wrong skiing image as a hardcore winter sports centre like Chamonix or a La Grave; in fact the resort attracts a great number of beginner and second-week skiers who have ideal terrain and conditions. There are some superb long reds and blacks for more advanced skiers but most will want to venture off piste with a guide for more variety.
Made up of two pretty villages, Staffa and Pecetto, Macugnaga is located beneath the magnificent Monte Rosa, over the border from Saas Fee in Switzerland. Staffa is the larger of the two and location for the usually lively, informal après ski scene.
The second and larger area is on Monte Moro, which backs on to Saas Fee in Switzerland. There is no lift link but guides will take you over on skis (beware of the three hour coach journey back!). The two stage cable car from Staffa ascends the full 1643m (5390ft) vertical from the village, opening up some wonderful long reds including the 8km (5 mile) long Meccia B route. This takes you back down to the bottom of the ski area, the middle station of the cable car, as the lower section back down to the village is not-pisted and generally regarded as not skiable. The skiable vertical for the upper section is 1103m (3620 feet). Most of the rest of the skiing is on similar long reds, including the 6.5km (4 mile) Monte Moro. In between there are extensive powder fields to explore with all the skiing in this section above the tree line.
Experts have three blacks to choose from including the 3km (2 mile) long Ruppenstein run, otherwise it's off-piste or heli-skiing with Elialpi. There are also a couple of drags at village level in Staffi giving an added choice for beginners staying in this part of the resort.
The high value, family friendly attitude of Macugnaga's restaurants and other facilities and the small, friendly village feel all combine to make Macugnaga a good choice for families with children of school age.
In Pecetto the slopeside Miramonti has a Gelateria and a reputation for pizzas and fondues and the bar-restaurant Seggiovia serves local specialities as well as Italian staples.
In quieter Pecettoi the Signal's small bar with open fire is one of the most attractive. A visit to the Bar Happy at Pestarena is worthwhile if only for the name. Most of the late night action is at the Big Ben disco, which stays open to 4am on busy nights.
The ski school only offers 'boarding lessons if there are at least five participants however. The resort's half pipe is located back on Monte Moro, near the Smeraldo ski lift, when the snow is enough.
Off the slopes Macugnaga tends to be rather quiet, but it's a good place if you like to chill out and stare in awe at the spectacular scenery of Monte Rosa, rather than party all night.