Like so many fantastic discoveries, we happened upon Monte Rosa by accident; a last-minute, birthday ski trip to a quiet and little-known Italian resort and that was it.
It was love!
What & Where is Monte Rosa?
Monte Rosa is one of the ski areas of the Aosta Valley in Northern Italy. (The Aosta valley runs east from the Mont Blanc tunnel.)
- Italy’s Three Valleys – Monte Rosa comprises of three interconnected valleys / resorts; Champoluc, Gressoney and Alagna.
- The Second Highest Peak in The Alps – The Monte Rosa Massif boasts the second highest peak in the Alps (and Western Europe). At 4,634 metres (15,203 ft) Dufourspitz pips the Matterhorn’s mere 4,478m (14,690 ft) into third place. (Mont Blanc is the highest, at 4,810m – 15,771 ft).
- Aosta Valley Ski Resorts – the other, better known Aosta Valley resorts are listed below. They are covered on the Aosta Valley Ski Pass and are all a couple of hours drive from from Gressoney and Champoluc (not Alagna!) so they present possibilities for a long day out
- Courmayeur – nestling under Mont Blanc.
- La Thuile – with access to La Rosière in France.
- Cervinia & Valtournenche – with access to Zermatt. Re-mortgage your house if you want to buy a coffee or lunch in Switzerland!
- Pila ‘Ski in the Sky’ – a direct gondola from the town of Aosta, with views of Mont Blanc & the Matterhorn.
From Milan or Turin, Champoluc and Gressoney are a couple of hours drive (or a train ride to Pont St Martin and a bus from there up the valley.) For further information, see Getting to Monte Rosa or for an airport transfer, see Ski Lifts.
Piste Map & Ski Pass
Languages Spoken & The Walser People
Italian and French are official languages in the Aosta valley. In the Gressonay (Lys) valley, German is also widely spoken and place names are shown bilingually in Italian and German.
The Walser people who settled in Monte Rosa take their name from the Valais in Switzerland, where they originated. These “People of the Alps” adapted to make the most of the high pastures in this demanding mountain environment. Monte Rosa is littered with beautiful, traditional stone and wood Walser houses, known as ‘stadels’.
For a bit more history, click here.
What do we Like about Monte Rosa?
We are Born Again Italians! We love everything about Italy; her poetic language; her compulsively sociable, generous and effortlessly stylish people; the delicious food (“French food glorifies the chef. Italian food glorifies God!”); the wine – Valle d’Aosta is one of Italy’s smallest wine-producing areas yet produces more FABULOUS DOC wines than almost anywhere else!
Add to that the history, the scenery (see below) and the fact that you can eat on the mountain for less than €10 and buy a coffee without a mortgage… Just being in Italy brings a LOT to like to the party!
Surrounded by soaring 4000m Alpine peaks, in the shadow of Monte Rosa and with spectacular views of the Matterhorn (or ‘Cervino’ as she is known in Italy) popping up as you ski around, the scenery will not disappoint!
3. Quiet Pistes & Few Queues; Not too Easy & Not too Hard!
On piste, Monte Rosa is a small but perfectly-formed ski resort. Click here for the Monte Rosa piste map. One of the things that we like is that the resort extends over three valleys, which means that you can go places, rather than just taking a lift up and skiing down the same mountain. If you ski from top to bottom, there are also some delightfully long descents. (Passo Salati to Alagna is 8km with a 1768m difference in elevation!)
Monte Rosa is an intermediate resort on piste. The piste map looks like a blood circulation diagram – all red! Apart from nursery slopes and a couple of small collections of blue runs, high on the mountain and accessible by gondola, there is very little really easy skiing. However, the black runs are not particularly difficult either and with this being Italy, everything is groomed and pisted to perfection; every night!
In my opinion, the toughest bit of piste is the short top section of the red run C6 from Sarezza back towards Gressoney. It is steep, narrow, often icy – and there are usually a number of bodies to avoid!
If you put your head down, you could probably ski most of the 132km of pistes in the main ski area in one day (there is 180km of piste if you include the small satellite resorts.) However, Monte Rosa is all about Italian unhurriedness. With Gressoney and Champoluc within a 2-hour drive of both Milan and Turin, it is a favourite weekend retreat for Italians – and when we first came here, Brits had never even heard of it. That means that during the week (and at the weekend if the weather is not absolutely perfect) it can feel like having your own, personal ski resort!
Busy Times to Avoid
- Weekends – if the snow is good and the skies are bluebird, expect the weekends to be MOBBED – and make sure to book if you want lunch in a mountain restaurant!
- Italian Holidays – The other busy times are during the Italian holidays; 6th January (Epiphany) is an important holiday in Italy, as is the run up to ‘Carnevale’ or ‘Mardi Gras’ (Shrove Tuesday) in February. Carnevale occurs at different times for different areas and is linked to the shifting dates of Easter, so some weeks are busier than others, depending on the timing of the local holidays. Click here for school holiday dates throughout Europe.
- British Holidays – A few British tour operators (Crystal, Inghams and Ski 2) have started coming to Monte Rosa, so beware the British Half Term weeks!
The Vikings – Monte Rosa is popular with Scandinavians, particularly Swedes. There is no need to avoid them; (I would actively seek them out – they are great fun!) You are unlikely to see them on piste, however, since they usually come to warm up off piste before the start of their ski season in April!
- Sun – “There’ll be Blue Birds over… the Monte Rosa…” It is a real sun-trap! In our first 3-month season (Jan – March), we had barely seven individual days that did not boast bluebird skies! This was an exceptional year, however a local did tell us that the prevailing weather comes from the west, so that Chamonix and Mont Blanc get the worst of it, while Monte Rosa usually basks in sunshine.
- Snow – as for snow, the resorts are relatively high (see ‘The Villages’ below for heights) and have extensive snow-making facilities. The highest lift serving the pistes is Passo Salati at 2980m. Off piste, the Punta Indren lift rises to a lofty 3275m. For an extensive database of ski lifts, check out Lift World.
5. EXTENSIVE Off Piste Routes
And the big surprise for such a mini resort is the extent of the Off Piste Paradise. Monte Rosa has cult status for freeride skiing – I read that it is one of the Top 5 Off Piste Destinations IN THE WORLD. It was named No 1 in Europe by Powderhounds and The Alps’ Best Kept Secret by Fall Line Magazine.
Polvere Rosa is a book an inch thick, which details many of the off piste routes in the area. The Punta Indren Lift serves only off piste routes and Alagna dubs itself ‘Alagna Freeride Paradise’. There are also extensive glacier Heliskiing opportunities, including an international trip from Monte Rosa to Zermatt.
Skiing Safely Off Piste
Skiing off piste is a dangerous occupation, carried out in a very hazardous and unpredictable environment. Every year there are fatalities from avalanches or other, unfortunate incidents. I DO NOT recommend skiing off piste without proper insurance, training, equipment (and the knowledge of how to use it) and a professional guide. High mountains are very extreme and unforgiving in both winter and summer.
HOWEVER – skiing in the secret areas of the back country in beautiful, soft powder is a definite GOB – Get Onyer Bucketlist! You can never mitigate 100% of the risks, but a blog will follow to explain how you can get out there in Monte Rosa as safely as possible.
6. Quiet, Traditional Villages.
If it’s Après Ski you want, go to Austria.
The resort villages in Monte Rosa are very traditional. They are small, quiet, picturesque, low key and WONDERFUL. Many of the apartments are holiday homes owned by wealthy Milanese and Torinese, which is why the area is often so quiet during in the week. There are enough lively bars, shops and restaurants to keep you going, but don’t expect dancing on the tables until the wee small hours!
- Champoluc (1600m) and Frachey are located in the western valley. Champoluc is the largest of the villages but is hardly a metropolis!
- In the central Gressoney (Lys) valley;
- Gressoney St Jean (1385m) has its own Weissmatten ski area. The black run, named in memory of local skier Leonardo David, was voted ‘the most beautiful ski run in Italy’ in 2009. St Jean is not connected by lifts to the main Monte Rosa ski area (there is a free ‘Navetta’ or shuttle bus.) Being lower down the valley, the snow conditions are not always wonderful. The bottom part of the Leonardo David run is floodlit, which presents night skiing opportunities!
- Gressoney La Trinité (1640m) is connected to the eastern, Alagna side of the resort by the rather old and slow 2-man Jolanda chair lift. Many skiers take the Navetta up to Staffal in the morning.
- Stafal (Staffal / Tschaval) (1829m) is a teeny, tiny village but is well connected, with lifts to both of the other valleys.
- Alagna (1191m) at the eastern extremity of the ski area, is the most remote and difficult to reach by road. (It is about 2 hours from Milan, 2.5 hours from Turin and 3 hours from Bergamo.) On skis, Alagna is reached via a long black and red run (8km with a 1768m drop.) In warmer temperatures, this can be slushy at the bottom, although descent by gondola is possible.
- Satellite Ski Areas – there are a few small, satellite ski areas (such as Antagnod in the Champoluc valley) which form part of the Monte Rosa ski area. These are not connected by lift to the main ski area although like Gressoney St Jean, there are shuttle buses.
Advice on Shops and Self-Catering
We have only stayed in the Gressoney valley, but recommend doing your main food shop in the towns at the bottom of the valley. There are Conad supermarkets in Pont St Martin or Verrès. (We found more choice of fresh produce in Verrès.) Remember to take shopping bags – and weigh and label your veggies before you get to the till!
In the small supermarkets in the mountain resorts, the choice of fresh meat, fruit and vegetables is understandably limited and more expensive. The Crai in Gressoney St Jean has the most choice. The owners speak English are very helpful. Check on opening times, since the local shops tend to close for a long lunch between 12:30 and late afternoon (15:00 – 16:00) but often do still open on Sundays.
Sunday Opening – if they open at all, supermarkets usually open only in the morning. Most shops are closed all day on a Sunday.
Market – a small outdoor market selling fresh produce comes to the car park in Gressoney St Jean every Thursday morning.
7. Dog Friendly
Monte Rosa prides itself on being dog friendly. A blog will follow with plenty of information on where to find a Wonderland of Winter Walkies!
Vet – The Gressoney valley is agricultural. We were advised that the best small-animal vet was in Pont St Martin; Veterinari Associati Valleise Valentino, Via Nazionale per Carema, 17, 11026 Pont-Saint-Martin. Tel: +39 0125 806061
Finding Seasonal Accommodation
There is a variety of accommodation available; from luxury hotels to self-catering apartments. Since we are budget-conscious and in resort for several months, we opt for self-catering. (We haven’t been brave enough to spend 3 months in our caravan with two people’s wet skiing gear and four wet dogs, although sites are available in all three valleys!)
If you have a car with you, I recommend finding an apartment with garage facilities!
Staffal is a very small village but has lifts to both sides of the ski area. There is a tiny food shop, a laundry, an ATM and an excellent ski sales, service and hire shop (see below). The Walsertal and Gordon’s Irish Bar are lively in the early evening. Il Fienile near the lifts and Da Giovanni, the little bar / restaurant next to the food shop get consistently good reviews.
- The Villa della Regina offers self-catering accommodation and is a few steps from the lifts.
- Hotel Chalet du Lys is slightly posher. Also near the lifts, it has some apartments, however it is a bit more pricey. (The food in Chalet du Lys gets rave reviews, it has a beautiful spa and Gordon’s, the Irish Pub adjoins!)
- Rezidenza Le Marmotte, still just a short walk from the lifts, offers Base, Superior and Deluxe apartments.
- Residence Walsertal – this is where we always stayed. It is very basic, but a great location at the bottom of the black run Moos and a short walk from the lifts. Unfortunately, under new ownership they seem to have lost the plot and more than doubled their rates for next year, so we must find an alternative. It was often empty when we stayed; the good news is that with increased prices, there will definitely be no shortage of availability!
- Rent Italia lists a number of apartments in Staffal, however many of these are not pet friendly and not all will do seasonal rentals. Staffal is a sub area of Gressoney la Trinité, so if you are keen to stay in Staffal, double check that your chosen accommodation is NOT actually in Gressoney!
- Staffal Campervan Park has 36 large spaces for campers (not caravans.) There is EHU, heated toilets and sinks, but no showers. It is floodlit and snow is cleared from the area daily. Pets are welcome.
Gressoney La Trinité and Gressoney St Jean
- There is a greater choice of accommodation in Gressoney La Trinité and Gressoney St Jean – too much to go into individual detail. (Gressoney La Trinité has a direct lift to the Alagna side of the resort. St Jean is connected to the main ski area ONLY by a free shuttle bus.)
- The website Mia Valle d’Aosta is a useful resource for finding accommodation (its sister websites also cover other parts of Italy.)
- Apartments for rent (Affito) are also advertised with local estate agents in Gressoney, usually from around September onwards.
- An occasional private, seasonal rental can be found on Airbnb.
- Camping Margherita in Gressoney St Jean is open year round to caravans and motorhomes. For stays on certain dates, you may qualify for a discounted ski pass.
Recommended Ski Service & Rental
Our recommendation for a professional sales, service and hire shop is Ambaradanspitz. Ezio and Carlos are really friendly, knowledgeable and helpful. Although based in Staffal, they, have an excellent reputation and people travel up from the other villages to use them. They speak excellent English and offer a 10% discount for clients staying locally or for the season.
If you are planning an extended stay abroad and/or if you intend to ski off piste CHECK YOUR TRAVEL INSURANCE! Most annual policies allow you to be out of the country only for so long at a stretch, cover winter sports only for a limited number of days per year and most do not cover skiing off piste, even with a guide. We insure with Ski Club of Great Britain so that we know we are covered by a company who understand winter sports. (Ski Club insurance also cover us for windsurfing and all sorts of other ‘risk’ sports and activities at different levels.)
My initial worry about Monte Rosa, especially coming for a season, was that I would get bored with it being so small. We had been more used to the Dolomites Superski with its 1200km of piste!
However, the beauty, diversity, tranquility (and now that we are puppy parents, the dog friendliness!) has kept us coming back time and again!
My upcoming series of blogs ‘Pups on Piste‘ will give you a very personal insight into our season in Monte Rosa with The Fab Four! For information on taking dogs into a cold climate, see Winterised World Wide Walkies – 10 Tips to Keep Chilly Canines Cosy!
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