Skiing in Monterosa
Monterosa Ski Area
Monterosa’s ski area covers Champoluc-Frachey, Gressoney and Alagna, plus the smaller resorts of Antagnod, Brusson-Estoul and Bieltschocke-Weissmatten. There is not a huge number of pistes but they tend to be long and uncrowded, and the off-piste is world-class.
The Monterosa’s three valleys are comparable to the Trois Vallees in France in terms of the physical relationship of the main resorts, but they could hardly offer a more different ski experience. Much of the terrain remains undeveloped and perfect for off-piste skiing. While the crowds arrive for the weekends and peak holiday periods, for the most part, the skiing throughout Monterosa is on amazingly quiet pistes. Alagna is legendary for advanced off-piste itineraries, but the area as a whole has something to offer skiers at every level, including those who just want family friendly terrain with plenty of mountain restaurants and magnificent scenery.
Intermediates and above should consider the Monterosa ski region as a whole rather than as three separate valleys. Looking at the piste map these valleys can be seen, very broadly and from left to right, as suitable for beginner to intermediate, intermediate and intermediate to advanced skiers. The on-piste skiing includes only 17km of black runs, none of which are particularly challenging, because whilst most of them have steep sections, they tend to be immaculately groomed with all the moguls removed. It’s the off-piste terrain that is the real magnet for experienced skiers from advanced to expert level. To get the best out of it, you will need a mountain guide.
At the head of all three valleys, above the pistes, is the broad collection of peaks and glaciers that make up the Monterosa massif. The entire southern flank is laced with off-piste itineraries reached by a combination of lift and legwork, or helicopter. The main starting point is from the ridge between Gressoney and Alagna – which is the real reason to base yourself in one of these two valleys if you come to Monterosa to ski off-piste.
Skiing in Champoluc
Champoluc offers most of the gentle terrain and has plenty of sheltered runs and convenient meeting and eating points on the mountain. Most of the runs are graded red but they are not very steep. For those wanting slightly tougher challenges, the runs down from Sarezza are the steepest. This is where the valley’s only black run is, and one of the reds goes from the top all the way to the valley floor – a descent of nearly 1,200m. There is also interesting, and easy to access off-piste to the side of this run, and the C6 run that descends from Sarezza in the opposite direction but be careful as there are dangerous cliffs.
Just up the valley from Champoluc is Frachey, a small satellite village at 1623m. Unlike at Champoluc, there is no piste down to the village – you have to take the funicular railway down as well as up (unless you want to take your chances on some of the off-piste routes through the trees which require good snow cover). Frachey has quicker access to Gressoney and Alagna than Champloluc does, because it’s closer to the Colle Bettaforce pass, so it can be a better base for advanced skiers who want to spend most of their time in the other valleys. However it’s also a popular area for novices and nervous intermediates because of the long blue run down from Mont Ros to Ciacero.
Skiing in Gressoney
Gressoney, in the centre, is well placed for access to both of the neighbouring valleys and also has plenty of terrain in its own right on both sides of its valley. On the Alagna side a lower region of tree lined runs is best reached directly from Gressoney La Trinite, whilst the higher slopes leading down from Passo Salati (2971m) are best reached from Stafal, although both areas are connected. Above Passo Salati the Punta Indren cable car rises to the highest point of the Monterosa ski area (3,275m). From here there are currently no pistes but normally the ungroomed trail down is marked out with piste poles. There are much longer itineraries from Punta Indren leading all the way to Stafal and Alagna, for most of which you will need either a guide or skins – and preferably both. On the other side of the valley there are blue, red and black runs from Colle Bettaforca at 2727m down to Stafal via the mid station of Sant Anna. There is also an offpiste itinerary down.
Skiing in Alagna
Alagna has its own small pisted ski area and is also well linked by new lifts to Gressoney. Due to its huge free-ride area and high mountain environment, it remains popular as an off-piste free-ride destination. Limited piste skiing in Alagna means heading into Gressoney each day for extra groomed terrain, which is great in fine weather, but less appealing, and sometimes not possible, in a snow storm when high winds close the lifts (although the pisteurs will sometimes help you return to your home valley by towing skiers behind piste grooming machines all the way up to Passo Salati). A new lift was also built in 2017 to serve the two blue runs coming down from Passo Salati to Cimalenga – previously skiers on these had to be picked up by the cable car which had a mid-mountain stop here. But Alagna is still a ‘Freeride Paradise’ where off-piste takes priority over on-piste. Descending back to the village by piste rather than lift also requires mastering a long black run then a long red run. Neither is particularly challenging for experienced skiers, but at the end of a day’s skiing they might be too much for beginners or nervous intermediates.
Skiing at Antagnod, Brusson, Weissmatten and Champorcher
Away from the main connected ski area, there is further skiing in the Ayas valley a bus ride away from Champoluc at Antagnod (one short black run, two reds, two blues, and a nursery area). Skiing here starts at Area del Pino at 1780m and and the highest point is at 2307m.
Further down the Ayas valley from both Champoluc and Antagnod is the village of Brusson (Estoul), which has skiing at Estoul from 1805m to 2235m (six reds, one blue and a nursery area).
In the Gressoney valley, just below Gressoney-St-Jean at Bieltschocke, there is the Weissmatten (Bieltschocke) ski area. A single chairlift takes you up to a highpoint of 2023m, from where a mostly North facing red piste used for World Cup races, and a gentler blue run, descend through the woods to the valley floor at 1348m. There is also a nursery area for beginners, and in good snow conditions, some nice off-piste skiing through the trees. The main red run is also opened occasionally for night time skiing.
Finally, in a completely separate valley to the other resorts, is the ski area of Champorcher, with 21 km of slopes descending from the 2,500m Cimetta Rossa. Historically this has always been included in the area covered by the Monterosa ski pass but check before going there.
Beginner Skiing in Monterosa
Monterosa has plenty of easy terrain for beginners and several good ski schools. Nearly 25% of the groomed pistes are designated blue for easy skiing, and with two thirds (120km) of ski pistes categorised as red runs, there’s lots more intermediate skiing for beginners to progress to.
Beginner Skiing in Champoluc
Champoluc is the obvious place for beginners and is rightly popular with families; novices begin at the dedicated nursery slopes with two magic carpet lifts at the top of the Crest gondola. It’s sunny from mid-morning onwards, high enough to have good snow and there are plenty of cafes on hand, with deck chairs and sunny terraces. The next step for beginners is the Del Lago blue run, which is best accessed from Frachey initially, in order to avoid the steep section of red piste from Col Sarezza.
Newcomers should note the one-way piste system around Col Sarezza above Champoluc. When skiing out of Champoluc towards Bettaforca and Gressoney, you have to tackle the run from Sarezza to Conterey, which is narrow and fairly steep at the top – tough for timid intermediates. When returning to Champoluc, the descent is to the side of this peak, on easier pistes. Though there is no lift connection from the Crest towards Bettaforca and Gressoney that cuts this section out, skiers from Champoluc can avoid it, by ascending with the lift from Frachey. For capable skiers it’s a great run. The descent is through pristine terrain and is uncluttered by any lift infrastructure. It feels miles from anywhere, whether you stick to the fast, sweeping piste or explore to either side of the markers.
Antagnod, which is a 10 minute ride on the ski bus from Champoluc, has a small independent ski area with an enclosed children’s section, and a couple of pleasant blue and red runs to progress on to.
Beginner Skiing in Gressoney
Gressoney has nursery slopes at Stafal and an excellent area at Gabiet, where the snow is sure and the terrain offers improvers something to get their teeth into. Some of the terrain at Punta Jolanda provides the next step up, though there are some relatively challenging sections too. Down the valley at Gressoney St. Jean, there’s significant learner activity around the Weissmatten drag lift and also in the area directly opposite, but it is mainly aimed at children, and no good for meeting up with friends skiing the main domain.
Beginner Skiing in Alagna
Alagna nursery slopes and beginners area is at Wold area of the town. There is an enclosed area with a magic carpet lift, and a long drag lift with long, pleasant blue runs to either side, to move on to. There is a lovely blue run from the top of the Alagna cable car, but less adventurous beginners may prefer to choose a resort with a more gentle approach to the mountains!
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Intermediate Skiing in Monterosa
Most of Monterosa’s pistes are blues and reds so intermediate skiers can relax and enjoy the long descents. Few of Monterosa’s black runs are particularly challenging: they have a few steep sections but are well groomed. Strong intermediates should also try some of the off-piste with a guide.
Intermediate Skiing in Champoluc
Snow conditions in Champoluc and the Monterosa region are normally excellent with well-groomed pistes and extensive snow making, for those years when the snow doesn’t arrive naturally. The pistes are typically long and varied and the magnificent mountain scenery, wild, natural ambience and quiet slopes make for some exceptional skiing. Be sure to check the last suggested return times, which are given at all the lift stations, as travelling by road from one valley to the other is long and expensive!
Two consecutive lifts from Crest to Col Sarezza (2,717m) lead to a magnificent downhill run back to the village. There are several options along the way, mainly reasonably steep, broad and with great views, ending on the pleasant wooded lower slopes. From Col Sarezza, through the gap and over to Contenery is also excellent, while the northern end towards Bettaforca is a mix of wooded, twisty but generally wide runs and open, rolling terrain.
Having skied the immediate Champoluc area, head east towards Alagna via the Gressoney valley (or do the reverse if skiing from Alagna).
Intermediate Skiing in Gressoney
Both sides of Gressoney are open and wide, seldom steep but with big rollers for enjoyable fast skiing. Directly above Gressoney-La-Trinite is Punta Jolanda and a wonderful region of trees, rock gardens and winding, more intimate pistes that are sensational under fresh snow. The area constitutes a mini-ski domain that families can enjoy without worrying about being separated by miles of piste or dropping into the wrong valley, with a couple of café-restaurants available for lunch.
To make a big tour starting from Gressoney, take the lift to Punta Jolanda out of Gressoney La Trinite, and head east to Alagna before crossing back over the Gressoney valley in the late morning to explore Champoluc, bathed in sunshine during the afternoon. It’s on this side that you could get stranded at the end of the day, with a series of connections needed to get back over to Gressoney. It’s no hardship to play it safe as the final quad up to Col Bettaforca serves as a great end-of-day run to lap a couple of times before heading down the other side. Keep in mind that even late in the season the return to Gressoney is in deep shade – soft conditions can crisp up unpleasantly making the last run home a trial.
Down the valley, at Weissmatten above Bieltschocke, confident intermediates will enjoy the old World Cup run through the trees, particularly if it’s snowing or the light is poor. The top half is graded red and the bottom black. It’s quite steep in places but usually well groomed and uncrowded. It faces North East so is perfect in the late morning. You get a good view of it as you ride the chair up. If at the top you lose your nerve there is an alternative all blue route down to the bottom. The area is not connected to the main ski area so you have to reach it by bus.
Intermediate Skiing in Alagna
Alagna itself has few groomed pistes runs, but the links to the neighbouring valleys are modern and high speed. From Passo Salati, the long blue run returns to the new drag lift near the middle station of the cable car, and the black, steepish in parts, returns to Pianalunga, at the bottom of the cable car. The pistes to the side of the Bocchetta delle Pisse is a panoramic reds, and the return to the village is on another red run, which is steep in sections. If you want to test your stamina, ski this straight after the black Olen run from Passo Salati without stopping – it’s a descent of over 1700m,
The point at which the Monterosa’s pistes start to underwhelm you is the time not to look elsewhere, but to begin exploring off piste. It’s a relaxed experience here, with abundant opportunities to experience skiing off-piste in small bites between the pistes and some tantalising goals to aspire to.
Advanced & Expert Skiing in Monterosa
Monterosa has an ungroomed but marked run that descends nearly a thousand metres, and some black and red runs that have steep sections. These can often be skied very fast because they are so uncrowded – a perfect warm up before tackling Monterosa’s renowned off-piste.
Alagna, Gressoney and Champoluc’s famous freeriding opportunities are described in a separate section dedicated to Monterosa’s off-piste but advanced skiers will also find enjoyment on marked runs as well.
In the Gressoney valley, on the piste map you will see a dotted line coming down from the area’s highest lift at Punta Indren (3275m) to Gabiet nearly a thousand metres below. It’s an ungroomed run but there are piste marker poles to guide you down. Be very careful in poor visibility though. And make sure you’re properly equipped: an avalanche beacon, shovel and probe are now mandatory in most of Italy when you’re skiing off-piste, and occasionally there are spot checks at the Punta Indren lift because this ungroomed trail is not counted as a piste.
Most of the run is relatively benign, but the marker poles eventually direct you to the Eagle couloir which is narrow and steep, and often icy and heavily moguled as well. The only alternative is the nearby Canale Grande which is wider but if anything slightly steeper. At the bottom, keep an eye out for the Rifugio on your right before you re-join the piste because it’s also a simple restaurant. It’s miles from anywhere and often looks closed even when it’s open. The staff are used to skiers popping in mid-morning and reserving a table for later, so they can complete another circuit. Food choice is limited but what they have is usually delicious and good value, and if you come mid-week you might have the whole place and its amazing views all to yourself.
The black runs down to Stafal from Gabiet on the Alagna side of the valley, and from Sant Anna on the Champoluc side really only deserve their grading because lower down by the late afternoon they can be slushy and quite crowded (at least vby Monterosa standards). They are much more enjoyable to ski in the late morning or early afternoon.
A better bet for an enjoyable final run at the end the day is the black G4 Jolanda 1 run from Punta Jolanda that heads towards Orsia before swinging back towards Gressoney La Trinite. This has genuinely steep sections as does the red run above it coming from Seehorn. Both are usually uncrowded and well groomed so they can be taken at high speed.
Even further down the Gressoney valley, below Gressoney St. Jean, and unconnected to the main lift system, the run above Bieltschocke at Weissmatten is another for advanced skiers to consider, particularly after or during a good snowfall. One chairlift takes you straight to the top from where the World Cup run, graded red at the top and black at the bottom, cuts a steep route through the forested slope. It’s nearly always deserted, but mid morning is the best time to tackle it, when this North East facing area gets a little sun. When you have had enough you can stop for a bite to eat at the restaurant at the top which has lovely views.
In the Alagna valley, the long black Olen run from Passo Salati to Pianalunga descends over 900m and is steep in parts but is generally more like a tough red than an out and out black. The real test is to see whether you have the endurance to keep going through Pianalunga and continue on the red run it joins all the way down to Alagna itself, a further 800m below. The whole mountain is predominantly East facing so is at its best in the morning.
Champoluc only has one Black run, a variant of the C4 Ostafa piste coming down from Sarezza to Crest. It’s short and sharp, and worth doing if you’re in the area. Again it’s worth keeping an eye out for challenges beside the piste. The best of these are covered in the separate Monterosa off-piste section below.
Off-Piste Skiing & Freeriding in Monterosa
Alagna now styles itself as Italy’s Freeride Paradise – and for good reason. But many of Monterosa’s epic itineraries start off from the Gressoney valley, which has the highest lift, reaching up to 3275m. And there is easily accessible off-piste terrain in Champoluc too.
Before setting out, make sure you’re properly equipped. Having an avalanche beacon, shovel and probe is now a legal requirement when skiing off-piste in most parts of Italy, and there can be spot checks at the Punta Indren lift and at Passo Salati. If you’re going onto the glacier, you should have a harness and ropes as well.
Hiring a Monterosa guide is also strongly recommended. They can show you the runs that don’t appear on any piste map, such as the Malfatta and Punta Vittoria descents from Punta Indren and Passo Salati, or various off-piste tours across the Bors glacier down to Alagna (most of which require skins), or the steep and narrow couloirs between Passo Salati and Passo Zube.
There are also much gentler options such as the Valle Salza, a long and pleasant descent from Punta Indren to Stafal through the Lys valley. The first section crosses the Indren Glacier to a panoramic but hard to find Col, and involves a long traverse and a 15-minute climb.
You don’t need a guide to do the marked but ungroomed run from Punta Indren to Gabiet through the tricky Eagle Couloir (its shown on the piste map as a dotted line, and described in more detail in the Advanced & Expert Skiing section above) but if you have one, they can take you down some variations from the main route which will be less tracked.
Another favourite which is not too testing is the run down from Stolemberg to Gabiet. On the other side of the Gressoney valley, there is an off-piste route running down from Colle Bettaforca to Stafal which is great fun but can be hard to find.
Not all the off-piste in the Alagna valley is far away from the piste. As you descend the long Olen black run look out for freeriding opportunities on both sides. In fresh snow, there is also some fun to be had beside the red run coming down from Bocchetta Delle Pisse, but this is predominantly south-facing so it deteriorates quickly.
The off-piste in Champuloc valley is mostly easy to reach because it tends to be close to the piste. A good place to start is the long red run from Bettaforca to Ciarcero. There are several gentle off-piste variations to skier’s right of this piste.
For something steeper, try the area near the C6 Sarezza to Contenery red run. This is high and mostly north-facing, so the snow here is often the last to turn to crud. But be careful – there are cliffs. On the other side of Sarezza, there are moguls and other challenges beside the piste running down to Crest.
In powder conditions there are good routes through the trees in the Gressoney valley at Punta Jolanda and in the Champoluc valley above Frachey. Perhaps the best tree skiing in Monterosa, however, is outside the main lift-linked area, on the Weissmatten mountain above Bieltschocke, just below Gressoney Saint Jean. It’s a low altitude area – the high point is 2093m and the valley floor here is at just 1348m – but it’s North East facing and so tends to have better snow than its height suggests.
First ski the world cup downhill run from the top following the red and black pistes. These are quite steep and good fun anyway, but keep an eye out for possible detours through the woods. You can assess them from above as you ride the chairlift back to the top of the mountain. Remember the slopes here are often deserted which is part of their charm but this also means there may not be many people within earshot if you get into trouble.
For an expensive treat, one of the best heliski itineraries in Europe is best accessed from Monterosa. Starting from the Col del Lys (4,200m), the first descent is on the Grenz glacier to Zermatt, surrounded by the awesome Lyskamm, Castore and Dufour peaks. From Zermatt a cable car reaches the Piccolo Cervino (Klein Matterhorn), from where the views are magnificent, and the descent back to Champoluc is through the gentle sweeping Cime Bianche valley. Guided, this route is within reach of most competent skiers with stamina, even if they have only limited off-piste experience. And whilst heliskiing is not cheap, it’s more affordable in Monterosa than in Switzerland or Austria (it’s banned in France).
Ski touring is another option to consider – and not just in winter. From late Spring into July, the Societa delle Guide di Gressoney arrange expeditions from Rifugio Mantova (3498m) and other high mountain refuges to the 4000m peaks that surround the area on a ‘walk/skin up, ski down’ basis.
Boarding & Freestyle in Monterosa
Monterosa’s pistes are typically wide and un-crowded, with few flats to worry about, and the lifts are boarder-friendly with no drag lifts in the main ski area. Many pistes offer good powder to the sides, and the runs from Mont Ros to Ciarcerio have some excellent tree-lined powder.
Beginners boarding in the Monterosa will be happiest in Champoluc where the two carpet lifts at the Crest make an ideal starting point. Stronger riders come for the amazing off-piste and great free ride opportunities both to the east and west of Punta Indren.
The new snowpark is situated at Gabiet in Gressoney La Trinité. There are jumps, rail and a quarter pipe. In good conditions it also includes a small boardercross. A helmet is obligatory in the park, and it is closed one day a week (usually Wednesday).
Mountain Restaurants in Monterosa
The Monterosa ski region has some good restaurants and bars on piste and there’s a lot of authentic cooking to be enjoyed, though some mountain restaurants don’t have capacity to cope with weekend crowds.
Most mountain restaurant menus in the Monterosa offer dishes based around polenta, vegetable soup, pasta, local sausages, and Fontina cheese, but often also include sandwiches, salads, burghers, hot dogs and chips. The following bars and restaurants are definitely worth visiting:
Lo Retsignon (Ciarcerio – 1,992m) at the bottom of the Alpe Mandria chairlift is a good quality restaurant and snack bar and Campo Base (Mont Ros – 2,457m) offers superb views and good food, with an Oriental twist. Enjoy a glass of champagne at Champagnerie (Alp Betta 2,180m) while admiring the stunning local scenery!
Sadly, the popular Rifugio Guglielmina (Col d’Olen 2880m) was destroyed by fire on 22 December 2011 and unfortunately there are no plans for it to be rebuilt.
Alpen Stop (Pianalunga) is a cosy restaurant and snack bar with outdoor seating area, conveniently located at the top of the gondola from Alagna.