First of all we want to apologise to the Norwegian lady we shared the gondola with on the way up to our first morning’s ski in beautiful Champoluc. She has been visiting Champoluc every season for 15 years and told us that the empty slopes combined with world class terrain is something that’s worth keeping a secret. “Please don’t tell anyone about this place when you get back to Ireland” she asked. We didn’t have the heart to tell her that that was the precise reason for our visit.
We had heard about the Monterosa area in the Aosta Valley as a well kept Italian ski secret and a lot of what we were hearing made us think it would be a perfect destination for Irish skiers. What we found out is that it certainly is – and once you’ve skied there, you’ll want to keep it a secret too!
The Aosta Valley is set beneath the imposing Monte Rosa massif bordered by France and Switzerland and surrounded by the highest peaks in the Alps that culminate, at an altitude of over 4,000 metres, with the Punta Dufour (4,633m). The landscape is extremely varied, with glaciers and rugged rock faces alternating with gently rolling fields and pastures, which makes for some great skiing. Combine this with great value for money, friendly locals, easy access and fabulous Italian food and you have a recipe for a great winter holiday.
We were based in Champoluc, a tiny village that manages to be both traditional and provide everything you could want on a ski holiday, including great Apres Ski – try a Spritz at the Altetier to unwind. Champoluc is also the home of Ski 2 where Simon Brown and his team have created a company that brings together all the elements you need in a ski holiday package while offering clients complete flexibility on when to travel and how long for. They look after everything from accommodation, private transfers, equipment hire, lift passes and provide lots of family friendly services such as child minding and free equipment hire for children. Another perk of booking with Ski 2 is gaining access to their suberb English speaking Ski and Snowboard School. The school employs British Association of Snowport Instructors qualified teachers supplemented by local English speaking “maestri” who are native to Champoluc and have an unrivalled knowledge of this vast ski area.
One of the many services that really sets Ski 2 apart from other operators in our opinion is a two hour guide around the mountains on your first morning. Apart from the fact that it always takes some time getting to grip with a new piste map layout, the more cautious skier will not want to go too far afield without understanding how lifts link and how to return home – without having to ski down a black if they hadn’t planned to. This is particularly true in a massive area like the Aosta Valley. With over 800km of pistes spread across three valleys skiing with someone who knows their way around really makes a positive impact on your first morning. We skied with Duncan Adamson who co-manages the school with Simon and has over 20 years experience of skiing the Aosta Valley so we got our bearings quickly along with some great tips for lunch – the Carbonara at La Mandria is one of the best we’ve ever eaten in Italy.
So then all that’s left is to explore! This is the perfect resort for families or groups looking for a mixture of lovely cruising slopes and more challenging terrain. Intermediates really will be spoilt for choice with lots of cruisey red runs, as well as some gentle off-piste and some bumps for those looking for the next challenge. This is an ideal area for children too. Champoluc has a dedicated childrens / beginners areas that the kids will love, with a magic carpet lift and hoops to ski through. Across the valley La Thuile has lots of easy slopes and free childcare on offer plus dedicated children’s runs and play areas.
If you’re looking for more of a challenge though, don’t worry, you’re in luck too. The Aosta Valley is up there with some of the best off piste skiing and heli skiing in the world. Gressoney, just across the valley is known as the home of Italian off piste skiing and links into famous Alagna in the Piedmont region, where you’ll find plenty of steep and challenging terrain. The most challenging runs of all are in the direction of Alagna, where the magnificent off-piste terrain is best skied with a guide and is only for very strong skiers. Champoluc also has some great off-piste with steeps and bumps to be found.
Off-piste enthusiasts will also love Courmayeur, with fantastic powder opportunities to be found on the slopes of Mont Blanc. Experienced skiers can access off-piste runs to Chamonix including the famous 20km Vallée Blanche run.Cervinia has good off-piste terrain, steep gulleys, and links to Zermatt. Or head to La Thuile for great off-piste, steep blacks, and the legendary Berthod downhill run. If you’re staying in Champoluc and want to get start at this side of the valley head straight for the new funicular railway at Frachey that zips you up top in 2 minutes 33 seconds and saves a two hour ski across. Although you will miss the pleasure of skiing down the infamous “goat” run with this short cut. If you’re staying with Ski 2 they run a service all day to drop and collect you between Champoluc and Frachey.
The whole area is excellent value for money with your morning coffee setting you back between €1.50 and €2.00. A main course at lunch is €6 / €7 and après drinks and shops in town are equally reasonable. Another perk of travelling with Ski 2 are their lunch vouchers which are again included as part of the basic package. They have negociated with several of the best mountain restaurants and supply all their clients with a coupon exchangeable for a snack lunch and drink at any properties displaying their sign. All the restaurants we tried were excellent and it’s another lovely touch that takes the guess work out of where will be good to eat and lets you get on with enjoying your holiday.
Even with so much terrain on offer the area is perfect for short breaks as well as longer ski holidays. We visited for three days and were able to see and ski quite a lot. Ski 2 specialise in organising short stay and weekend trips and will put together a package based on your requirements. Get in touch with Simon and his team to find out more – and try not to tell too many people.
Vertical Drop 1200m
Top Elevation 3275 m
Total Pistes 180km
Terrain 17 Blue (43km), 38 Red (120km) 6 Black (17km)
Terrain parks 1