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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.

The largest village on the Monte Rosa pass is not actually linked by lift to the others, although it is a short drive to the centre of the network. There are 13km of trails locally.

Mountain

Skiers in Alagna can take the modern cable car from the village centre straight up to Pianalunga (a rise of nearly 850 vertical metres) and from there decide whether to take the new cable car a further 850 metres higher to Col d'Olen (2881m - a world beating 1,700m vertical ascent from two lifts!) - which opens up the links to Gressoney and Champoluc; or whether to take the chairlift to Bocchetta elle Pisse (2396) and the slopes used for competitions. 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.

Families

Families will enjoy the genuine atmosphere of the villages around Monte Rosa. There are no nurseries but a list of baby sitters is available from the tourist office and activities are sometimes available, including special 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.

Eating Out

Il Principe is a good place to eat in Gressoney St. Jean, it has a great wine cellar (try some Barbera d'Asti or Barbaresco) and magnificent food such as cheese fondue, and local specialities such as cervo (venison) or pasta with a hare sauce ( "sugo di lepre" ) if it is on the menu. The food at the Hotel Residence at Gressoney La Trinite and the restaurant at the Jolanda Sport are also good. In St Jean The Pizzeria Principe has the reputation for making the nest pizza in the Valley and has a listing in the Italian Good Food Guide. If you do intend to eat out then make reservations as not all restaurants will be able to fit you in if you have not.

Apres

Gressoney does not offer much in the way of apres ski or night life, but it's a good choice if you want to ski hard all day then relax in the evening over a quiet beer or two. There is a modest selection of small bars however. The Petit in la Trinite is good, the 'negrone' cocktail is a house special. The bar in the Jolanda Sport serves a mean Bombardino. The bars take it in turn close for one night a week so don't expect to go to the same place every night.

Boarding

The free riding terrain in the Monte Rosa region is a dream for boarders. The opportunity to open up 2000 metres of vertical above Alagna with a couple of cable car rides up is a truly wonderful thing, and the wide open powder fields all the way down likewise. There are plenty of off piste boarding and heli-boarding opportunities, but no terrain parks at the last report.

// HIGHLIGHTS //
Vertical drop
647m
Ski area
12
Resort height
1385m
Airport
Turin / Torino
Train station
Pont St Martin
beginner
66%
intermediate
25%
expert
9%