The Monterosa ski area (Gressoney St Jean, Gressoney La Trinite, Champoluc and Magna, plus unlinked Brusson and Antagnod) is a vast network of runs, including glacier skiing, extending from the resort of Alagna in Piedmont to Champoluc and Antagnod on the Italian side of the Matterhorn.
All four villages bear some rustic charm: parts of Champoluc date back to the 15th century and Gressoney La Trinite has wonderful cobbled streets lined with attractive chalets and an old church. At the far eastern end, Alagna was originally founded by the Walsers, a German tribe that migrated here via Switzerland. Nowadays it isinhabited by tribes of powder-hounds, keen to explore its cult off-piste status.
The Monterosa ski area is a little-known but wide ski region having considerable appeal and charm. The vertical drop in Alagna is a breathtaking 2,350m. With a helicopter drop as high as 4,400m, this could be extended to a massive 3,200m. The long-awaited link between the Gressoney valley and Valsesia above Alagna has been completed many years back: the Funifor cable-car joins the Valle d'Aosta and Piedmont by connecting Pianalunga with the Passo dei Salati at Gressoney.
Most of the piste skiing is intermediate to advanced - this isn't the best region in the Alps for novices, although there are decent nursery slopes above Champoluc -having everything from skiing in the trees to wide-open glades. There is also the wonderful 8km descent from the top of Punta Indren down into Alagna - it's a true classic.
Looking for virgin powder? Head for Alagna. From here it's possible to ski (with one helicopter drop and a guide) all the way from the shoulder of the Dufourspitze (Monte Rosa) at 4,673m across the Swiss border to Zermatt, back across to Cervinia, and home to Alagna via Champoluc and Gressoney - a six-resort 46km circular tour, mostly off-piste, across four valleys.
The Rifugio Guglielmina - for several years Europe's highest hotel - is still run by the Guglielmina family who built it in 1878. Located at 2,880m, between the valleys of Alagna and Gressoney, it extends simple, traditional, local dishes and a well-stocked wine cellar. It's solely accessible off-piste. Gabiet, on the Alagna side of Gressoney, is a cosy family-run refuge serving traditional food,including heaps of polenta. Other recommended spots include Bedemie.
There's no dedicated snowboard park, but boarders will enjoy some sublime off-piste, however, ski touring is one of the principal local attractions. Other activities in the area include ice-skating, crosscountry skiing and horse riding in Alagna, and a natural ice-rink, cross-country skiing, dog-sledding and heliskiing in Champoluc. There's likewise a toboggan run at Gressoney St Jean.
For your dining pleasure, try the Capanna Carla in Gressoney La Trinite for traditional Aosta valley dishes like roast lamb with blueberry sauce, prepared in a traditional wood stove. II Principe, in St Jean, is famous for its wine cellar and fantabulous local dishes including venison and pasta with a hare sauce (sugo di lepre). If skiing has not given you a storming appetite, the Atelier Gourmand in Champoluc specialises in first-rate nouvelle cuisine, while the Marmotta restaurant at the Residenza del Sole apartment hotel in Gressoney St Jean is more hearty: try the casserole of roast beef in barolo wine. Also in Gressoney St Jean, Lo Stambecco dishes out great pizzas.
The Jolanda Sport hotel is very close to the nearest chairlift at Gressoney La Trinite that you could virtually jump straight on to it from your room. In Champoluc, Le Petit Tournalin is a cute place with antique farming tools hanging on the walls and traditional local 'valdostano' cooking on the stove. The seriously first-class Hotel Breithorn is a luxurious four-star having cozy decor and sophisticated cuisine. The Hostellerie Mascognaz, 4km from the Breithorn, is the best location for a chalet holiday. The chalet, in an attractive old hamlet sleeps up to 14 people and is managed by the Breithorn with breakfast and evening meals served by its chef. Not cheap, but really smart.
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