Italy’s Aosta Valley: Gateway to great skiing

Italy’s Aosta Valley is rich with history; even richer with places to ski. The Romans used the valley as a route to Gaul. In the intervening centuries, more than 100 castles were built. Starting in the early 1930’s, the Italians, the Swiss and the French started building ski lifts. They haven’t stopped.

The valley provides easy access to some of the world’s greatest ski resorts. At one end is Courmayer on Mont Blanc. Drive up a side canyon and you’re in Cervinia, on your way by lift and ski to Zermatt. Another short drive, and you’re at Monterosa.

We’re in centrally located Saint Vincent, a scenic and charming walking town, where every day we journey through scenic alpine villages to a different resort. 

Centrally located Saint Vincent

It’s only the second week of March, and Saint Vincent is beginning to bloom. We’re staying in the aptly named Hotel Bijou, a gem of a hotel overlooking the town’s central plaza. The main street is lined with colorful three and four story buildings housing attractive stores and restaurants specializing in Aosta’s regional cuisine. Just a few blocks in either direction are an elaborate mineral bath complex reached by funicular and a sizeable casino.

After a full day of skiing, we don’t have energy for either.

We’re here with the owners of Alpskitour, a local guide service and SeniorsSkiing.com advertiser. Mauro Cevolo has taught and coached skiing in Italy, Austria, France, New Zealand and the US (Mammoth). Andrea Jory teaches mostly at Cervinia and Champoluc. He was on Italy’s national bobsled team and competed in the 1980 Lake Placid Olympics. Both are magnificent skiers and highly enjoyable companions. They’re intimately familiar with the many resorts in and around the Aosta Valley, including the best places to ski and where to stop for a gourmet lunch in an authentic surrounding.

The author with world speed ski champ, Simone Origone and Andrea Jory, Alpskitour

Wherever  you go with them they’re warmly greeted. At lunch the other day, they bumped into Simone Origone who for 12+ years held the record for the world’s fastest man on skis (about 157 mph!).

An important benefit of staying in Saint Vincent over one of the resorts is the ability to decide, last minute, where to ski. The other day, when high winds had forced many of the resorts to shut down, we drove to the city of Aosta, boarded a gondola and climbed the mountain into magnificent mid-winter conditions at the Pila resort. Accustomed to Rocky Mountain resorts, Pila was a big surprise…emphasis on big. But it is small, relative to where we’d be going over the coming days.

La Thuile in Aosta Valley

The next day we drove past high-perched castles, ancient stone villages, and up a series of hairpin turns to reach Espace San Bernardo. We started at La Thuile, and after a gondola and a chair entered a landscape of endless peaks and glaciers. Following several long runs and more lifts, we crossed into France and descended to La Rosiere, another sizeable resort. After a few hours of skiing, we rode two long Pomas, crossed back into Italy and skied to Maison Carrel, where we lunched on regional cuisine in a modernized 19thCentury stone barn. I had cabbage soup topped with a thick layer of Fontina cheese, one of many Aosta Valley products exported across the globe.

Combined, La Thuile and La Rosiere have 39 lifts servicing something like 7800 acres of terrain, mid-sized for the Alps. Nonetheless, it’s size is slightly less than Whistler Blackcomb, North America’s largest.

Monterosa’s Champoluc-Frachey

The story gets better. Yesterday we drove to Monterosa’s Champoluc-Frachey and skied two of its three massive valleys. We started on a super-steep, rail funicular and throughout the day used cable cars, gondolas, and a variety of open and bubble chairlifts. This place is humongous. Looking up into remote snow fields were tiny specks skiing gondola-accessed backcountry. We stayed on trail, at one point dropping down a long and steep sun-drenched trail…my kind of skiing.

The West won this season’s snow lottery. Last year, that prize went to the Alps. Coverage is adequate at the moment and skiing is a lot of fun. If it were deep powder, I’d be able to enjoy a handful of runs before calling it a day. We’re probably skiing 15,000 – 20,000 vertical.

Today is a self-imposed rest day. We’ll visit some of Saint Vincent’s treasures and drive into the city of Aosta to see its Roman ruins. Tomorrow we’ll be back on another mountain. Which one is a decision Mauro and Andrea will make in the morning. One thing I know: it will be big, beautiful, and interesting. That’s what defines skiing in and around the Aosta Valley.

More on this fantastic ski experience next week.  

8 Comments

  1. Great overview…I want to come ski there!

  2. Avatar Edward Cohen says:

    Sounds magnificent!

  3. Avatar Bob Gordon says:

    I just got back from 6 days on the slopes in the Dolomites. I have skied in 6 countries, and at about 17 resorts in the US but have never seen such beautiful vistas. With over 200 ski lifts, there is no way to see more than a few of the vast number of runs, but rest assured, no matter what degree of slope matches your druthers, it’s there. I habituated one vast bowl-like area that must have been 1,500 feet across. The lifts, running at all angles and of all types, were so numerous that they criss-crossed over/under each other. I was based at Campitello.
    As big as the entire area is, at times it seemed crowded.
    In 6 days, I never heard English spoken, except on day 6, at a gelatoria after the day’s runs were done.
    I am 82. My annual ski trip is the entire focus of my year. Next year is up for grabs, at this point.
    FYI: I switched to Apex boots 2 years ago; they are heavenly and have totally eliminated the difficulty and pain of getting into them, which was considerable for me because the left foot is semi-paralyzed after a discectomy 24 years ago.

    • Avatar Jon Weisberg says:

      Thanks for the report, Bob. We head out for the Dolomites tomorrow. Skiing Cervinia today. For next season — and a change of pace — I’d look into skiing the Aosta Valley. Mauro and Andrea have many options every day to avoid crowds, ski the best conditions, etc. Yesterday at Courmayeur (Mont Blanc) was exceptional (though a few too many people). Jon

  4. Avatar Ray Grundeman says:

    Jon,
    How does one link up with Mauro and Andrea? And what is their fee structure? Thanks.

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