Skiing in La Thuile
La Thuile’s ski area is lift linked to the French resort of La Rosiere forming the international Espace San Bernardo ski area. Recently extended to Mont Valaisan, it now has over 150km of piste skiing, 85 slopes and 39 lifts, with the highest reaching 2800m.
La Thuile Ski Area Overview
La Thuile’s ski area is surprisingly quiet during the week, offering uncrowded pistes, minimal queuing and far reaching mountain views including Mont Blanc, Monterosa and Cervino (the Matterhorn). The slopes in La Thuile mostly face north and north east whilst those in La Rosiere predominantly face South.
The combined area, the Espace San Bernardo, has 39 ski lifts and 85 pistes, divided into 36 easy blue runs, 36 moderate red runs and 13 difficult black runs. The total length of the ski runs amounts to 152km if measured the ‘straight-line’ way any normal person would measure a piste, or 196kms if measured by the method most ski resorts use to exagerate their piste length (they bulk up the quoted figure by including an estimate of the distance incured by skiers traversing across the piste as they descend – pure madness!) In summary this is a good mid-sized ski area, mostly aimed at intermediate level skiers, and big enough to keep most of them busy for a week.
Many of the ski lifts offer the option of a blue or easy red run, alongside a more difficult alternative. Thanks to its orientation and proximity to Mont Blanc, La Thuile is pretty snowsure. The resort runs are wooded and north-east facing and even the lower slopes normally maintain good snow conditions throughout the season. However, the ski area is a bit exposed and vulnerable to wind and poor visibility when the weather is bad.
The Espace san Bernardo was extended for the 2018/19 season to cover a new sector, Mont Valaisan. Two new lifts were constructed and five new red pistes created, plus some freeriding for advanced skiers. The top lift reaches 2800m, the new high point of the whole area. Even before the lifts were built, Mont Valaisan was a famous destination for ski tourers and off-piste skiers and snowboarders who were prepared to make the two hire hike up from the Col de la Traversette, and now it’s much more accessible. Although some of the off-piste routes have been swallowed up by the new pistes, a guide can show you many that haven’t, including itineraries ‘off the back’ to La Thuile.
Les Suches – Chaz Dura
The snowy bowl above the village and the Les Suches gondola, up to Chaz Dura (2,579m), has pisted runs for all abilities. The Les Suches chairlift and the La Combe drag lift provide access to wide, gentle blue runs which return to the top of the Les Suches gondola and are ideal for beginners or warming up. More confident skiers can head straight for Chaz Dura, from where red runs lead either back to the gondola, or all the way down to the village, on a fabulous 11km run (Red 7).
Advanced skiers can choose one of the steep black runs from Les Suches through the forest, back to La Thuile. Red piste number 4, offers a gentler alternative for the descent from Les Suches to the village. To the left of the gondola, the Arnouvaz chairlift offers a quiet, scenic and sheltered area with a variety of red runs. Another long red run leads from Arnouvaz back to the resort of La Thuile. Both Col de Fourclaz and Chaz Dura are panoramic spots with fabulous views towards Mont Blanc. They are focal points at the top of the resort, with onward runs leading to Belvedere, the San Bernardo area and La Rosiere.
Belvedere – Piccolo San Bernardo
The Belvedere – Piccolo San Bernardo area is reached by the Belvedere chairlift which rises to 2,641m, the former high point in the La Thuile – La Rosiere ski area before the Mont Valaisan extension. It provides access to numerous high altitude red runs, some of which include some reasonably steep sections. Advanced skiers can try black piste number 25, a challenging run which descends steeply from the top of the Belvedere chairlift to the base of the Fourclaz Express chairlift, or head off the marked piste to sample some of the excellent off-piste available in this area. Red run 7 from Chaz Dura is the longest run in the ski area. This 11km red run passes ancient buildings and winds through woodland, and there are two good restaurants if you want to take a break en- route, before eventually reaching the village.
From the top of the Belvedere chairlift (2,641m) a choice of blue runs lead to the Chardonnet chairlift which gives access to Col de la Traversette and the La Rosiere area. The south facing slopes of La Rosiere are easy to navigate with a choice of red and blue runs, serviced by a row of chairlifts, leading to the valley bottom. For the return to La Thuile, head for the Du Fort chairlift to Col de la Traversette, and from there ski to the long Bellecombe drag lift. Boarders and less confident skiers should allow for extra time on the Bellecombe drag lift as it has some long flat stretches which can be difficult, particularly with a board. The Combe des Moulins has plenty of off-piste and freeriding possibilities. La Rosiere also has a snow park/boarder cross close to the resort in the Zittieux area above the Ecudets lift, with some freeriding above it and beside it.
Beginner Skiing in La Thuile
La Thuile’s gentle nursery slopes for adults and children in the centre of the village are serviced by a magic carpet. Easy blue runs at the top of the Les Suches gondola provide a good next step but novices will have to return by lift as there is no easy run back to the resort.
The resort level nursery slopes are not free, but they have a special low-cost pass and are high quality.
At over 2,200m good snow is virtually guaranteed in Les Suches and the gentle gradients of the many long runs provide ideal terrain for beginners to make good progress. Much of the ski area is open to more adventurous beginners with many of the lifts offering the option of an easy blue or easy red run alongside a more difficult alternative for more experienced skiers. Beginners should allow extra time for the long Bellecombe drag lift, which has some long flat sections and is more difficult for beginners to negotiate. (The blue piste beside it is very beginner friendly though). And novices should be especailly careful of taking the Chardonnet lift up to Fort de la Redoute and crossing over to la Rosiere, because the only return route is via the red Bouquetin piste. It’s quite short but it’s also narrow and quite steep, and whilst crowded slopes are rare in the San Bernardo ski area, this is one possible bottleneck. But if they can negotiate that, La Rosiere has plenty of blue pistes for them to explore.
One disadvantage of la Thuile for beginners, though, is that once they have started venturing out beyond the confines of the nursery slopes, they will have to return to the resort in the Les Suches lift: the red and black runs back are too steep.
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Intermediate Skiing in La Thuile
La Thuile has plenty of varied ski terrain for intermediates with seemingly endless blue and red runs radiating out from the peaks of Chaz Dura and Belvedere, plus sunny South-facing slopes at La Rosière in France. The new Mont Valaisan sector created 5 new high red runs.
The area around the Arnouvaz chairlift offers a quiet, scenic and sheltered skiing with a variety of red runs. A red run of almost 6.5km and a vertical drop of 870m, leads from this area back to the resort of La Thuile.
Intermediate skiers have a choice of red runs back to the village including the resort’s longest run. Piste number 7, an 11km descent from Chaz Dura (2,579m) at the top of the resort, is a road during the summer months and passes through the wide San Bernardo bowl before winding through the forests on the lower slopes, to reach La Thuile. Piste number 4 is a delightful 6km resort run, which is accessed by turning skiers left towards the bottom of blue piste number 14, and crossing under the Chalet Express chair lift.
La Thuile has a great snow record and conditions are normally excellent with well marked, well groomed pistes throughout the season. Pisted runs are long and varied and the magnificent mountain scenery with views towards Mont Blanc, Monterosa and the Matterhorn make for some exceptional skiing.
The slopes above La Rosiere are also good for intermediates, with a wide choice of red and blue runs on the high altitude slopes above the village. The highest slopes in the whole San Bernardo ski area are now in the Mont Valaisan sector where 5 new red runs were created for the 2018/19 season, with a top height of 2800m.
Intermediate skiers also have the opportunity to ski in neighbouring Courmayeur, easily accessible by local bus.
Advanced & Expert Skiing in La Thuile
La Thuile and La Rosiere have about a dozen black runs for advanced skiers to choose from, including the famous Franco Berthod World Cup piste. There are also extensive freeriding and off-piste opportunities, especially from the new lifts at Mont Valaisan, and great heliskiing too.
La Thuile’s advanced skiers don’t have to go far to find testing slopes (which can be handy for parents of young children and other time-pressed skiers and boarders). Often the first piste they can see from the village is black piste number 3, dedicated to Franco Berthod, the great local skier, which has hosted many a European Cup downhill competition. The slope gradient reaches 37 degrees in places as it plunges 800m down towards the village. It faces North so holds its snow well for a a resort-level run. Another black run in the same area with similar steepness is piste number 2, with 710m of vertical, and piste number 5.
Moving further away, Piste 25, descends steeply from the top of the Belvedere chairlift to the base of the Fourclaz Express chairlift. Piste 23 is also worth a visit.
The black runs in La Rosiere are testing too, although this is partly because they tend to be low and South-facing, and therefore are often slushy or icy. This is certainly true of Ecudets and Ecureil coming down to Ecudets, and Marcassin down to the Petit Bois chairlift at Le Vaz. Get to them when the snow conditions are right (either fresh snow has just fallen or they have just been piste-bashed) and they are steep enough to be highly enjoyable. A safer bet is the higher and more East-facing (but not as steep) black Chevreuil run from Roc Noir. The red runs in the Fort and Mont Valaisan sector are worth a visit as well.
Off-Piste Skiing & Freeriding in La Thuile
Close to La Thuile, reasonably safe (but not totally safe) off-piste terrain can be found on the wooded lower slopes bordered by piste number 4. There is a similar area (except it faces South West) at La Rosiere, between Roc Noir and the les Ecudets lift and close by the snow-cross area called Les Zittieux. Provided you’re sensible and can both see what you are doing and know what you are doing, you shouldn’t come to too much harm, although hiring a guide is still recommended.
The top of the Fort sector has steep runs on both sides. Be particularly careful about going off the back without a guide – there are some very big cliffs here.
The Mont Valaisan extension opened up some interesting off-piste opportunities. Before the Mont Valaisan lifts were built for the 2018/19 winter season, this was already an off-piste destination for ski tourers and others prepared to walk up hill for two hours. Now the need for an ascent has been largely or totally removed, although some of the off-piste skiing on the South face has been coverted into red pistes. But the North-face is an unofficial freeride zone. It’s easy to access – just look for the Piste Hors signs near the top of Piste 2800 – but only a guide can tell you if its safe to ski or not. And there are much longer intineraries linking into the Combe des Moulins on the South-face and descending down to the Petit Bois chairlift or even lower to the small villages of les Moulins or Le Mousselard outside the ski area (take a taxi back); or heading North-Eastwards, towards La Joux and La Thuile.
Guides will usually provide all the specialist equipent you need for off-piste skiing (including harnesses for glacier skiing) and, very importantly, show you how to use it correctly. But if you’re meeting a guide, you should still bring your own water/drinks flask, snack including energy bar, mobile phone, and extra layer and make a note of the local emergency numbers. If you are skiing off-piste without a guide (never recommended) you should at least have all the items already mentioned plus your own transceiver, poles and a shovel. In more and more of Italy, this is not just good sense but a mandatory legal requirement, enforced through spot checks.
Advanced and expert skiers should also consider visiting Courmayeur where the off-piste terrain and ski touring is outstanding. You can catch buses there and back, and some of the descents return you to the Espace San Bernardo (or close to it). At least one day’s skiing in Courmayeur is usually included in most Espace San Bernardo ski passes, or if you are going to be a frequent visitor you can buy a Valle d’Aosta pass.
Heli-Skiing in La Thuile
La Thuile offers reasonably priced heli-skiing for good skiers and boarders with spectacular views of some of the highest mountains in the Alps and guiding by the Rutor Mountain Guides Association. Heli-skiing in La Thuile is available from early January until May with helicopter flights to a number of landing points in the area including Pointe Lechaud, Monte Miravidi, Mont Ouille, Mont Freduaz and the head of the Rutor Glacier. Some of these have descents into France from where you catch a taxi back to La Rosiere.
Boarding & Freestyle in La Thuile
La Thuile is fine for boarders and freestylers with some excellent high altitude powder in both La Thuile and La Rosiere (over the border in France) and a snow park and boarder cross on the south facing slopes above La Rosiere.
The blue pistes at the top of the Les Suches gondola provide ideal terrain for learning to snowboard and in most parts of the ski area the pistes are wide, un-crowded and boarder friendly except for a few flat sections where you may need a skier buddy to give you a ski pole tow.
Great powder can be found on the wooded lower slopes bordered by piste number 4 and in the San Bernardo area of La Thuile. La Rosiere has a dedicated off piste zone in the Zittieux area as well as a snow park served by the Poletta drag lift, and a boarder cross close to the Le Fort chairlift, on the south facing slopes above La Rosiere.
The majority of the routes are serviced by high speed chairlifts but there are a couple of long drag lifts to negotiate, of which the worst for boarders is the Bellacombe drag lift, on the route back from La Rosiere, which has some long flat sections.
Mountain Restaurants in La Thuile
La Thuile has several good mountain restaurants and bars offering quick snacks or a long full three course lunch, Italian style in a cosy Alpine hut. And if you like French cuisine you can ski over the border to La Roisere which offers a choice of seven more mountain restaurants.
La Thuile’s mountain restaurants and bars are reasonably priced with a wide range of menu options ranging from fast food options including sandwiches, burgers and chips, hearty soup, pasta or polenta dishes, or a long and leisurely lunch in either a cosy Alpine restaurant or alfresco, on a panoramic, sunny terrace.
Many of La Thuile’s mountain restaurants offer good authentic Italian cuisine with lots of local specialities and seven more mountain restaurants in the linked resort of La Rosiere, over the border in France, offer a choice of French cuisine.
Mountain restaurants in Le Suches Area
The Panoramique, a large self service restaurant at the top of the gondola is a practical, though rather uninspiring option! Also close to the top of the gondola, the Mélèze is a self service restaurant serving traditional cuisine and freshly made desserts. The outdoor terrace offers terrific views of Mont Blanc and deck chairs can be rented on a sunny day!
Lo Chalet de Cantamont is a small bar and restaurant located just beyond the race starting gate, on ski run number 16. The menu includes locally sourced mountain dishes with excellent cured meats, cheeses and desserts. The La Clotze bar and restaurant is found at the arrival point of the Bosco Express chairlift and offers a fantastic sun terrace. Enjoy a variety of salads, sandwiches and local dishes, accompanied by some great music.
Located at the arrival of the Chalet Express chairlift (2,430m), the Le Foyer bar and restaurant offers a self service buffet, sandwiches, crepes and pizza in a panoramic location. The Maison Carrel has great food, fabulous views and a cosy Alpine ambience in the Argillio Express chair lift area.
Mountain restaurants in the Piccolo San Bernardo Area
The Bar & Ristorante San Bernardo is a friendly and affordable restaurant offering traditional Aosta Valley specialities alongside ski favourites, accompanied by a wide selection of wines and liquors!
Lo Riondet is a warm and welcoming mountain refuge with a wide menu which includes typical Aosta Valley fare, such as soup, polenta, pasta, cured meats and cheeses. Evening meals can also be organised, with transport by snow cat. Also an excellent hotel, the Maison de Neige offers authentic Italian and Aosta Valley cuisine and the pasta, bread and cakes are all homemade.
Both Lo Riondet and Maison de Neige are located to the side of piste number 7, en-route to La Thuile.