7 Days, 7 Resorts: Skiing Italy's Aosta Valley

The Valle d'Aosta (or Aosta Valley), in Italy's far northwest, is perfectly laid out for a multicenter European ski safari. Courtesy Valle d'Aosta Tourism
By Donald Strachan

It's not every resort that can keep a variety-hungry skier or boarder happy for a whole week. Pick your spot right, however, and you can ride a different hill every day. The Valle d'Aosta (or Aosta Valley), in Italy's far northwest, is perfectly laid out for a multi-center European ski safari. The A5 autostrada that bisects it was recently lengthened to span the valley from France to the border with Piedmont. World-class ski centers are arranged among the high peaks north and south of the highway, and wherever you are, you're rarely more than 90 minutes from everywhere else. With a little more car time, you can even take your snow tour international; the marquee resorts of Chamonix, France, and Verbier, Switzerland, are within range.

The former Roman garrison town of Aosta, almost in the geographical center, makes the best Valley base. As I write, the air is cold and the snow is pretty deep (2m or thereabouts at most top stations), making it two good winter seasons in a row.

Donald Strachan is a co-author of Frommer's' guides to Italy and Florence, Rome, and Venice.
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An iconic jagged skyline makes Cervinia one of the most easily recognizable villages in the Alps: the Matterhorn, or "Monte Cervino" as they call it here, looms 4,478m overhead. Courtesy Valle d'Aosta Tourism
An iconic jagged skyline makes Cervinia one of the most easily recognizable villages in the Alps: the Matterhorn, or "Monte Cervino" as they call it here, looms 4,478m overhead. While the resort has a more "packaged" feel than many in the Valley, that's your trade for more altitude, a longer season and 100 percent reliable snow. There's even enough for glacier skiing in the summer.

For the best rides on the hill, head up to Plateau Rosa then either take the 11km Ventina run back down to the village, or over the top and all the way down into Zermatt. Just remember to set out in plenty of time or you'll be overnighting overseas.

Best for: Huge, open and varied terrain makes Cervinia ideal for setting your own pace. There's something for everyone bar the dedicated expert.

Fact File: Resort altitude is 2,004m with 150km of piste (350km including Zermatt, included on the same ticket).

More Information: Cervino S.p.A (tel. 0166 944311; www.cervinia.it)
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Tucked away at the far end of the Val d'Ayas, Champoluc feels wild and secluded, with slopes that seem to ring with silence. Courtesy Valle d'Aosta Tourism
Tucked away at the far end of the Val d'Ayas, Champoluc feels wild and secluded, with slopes that seem to ring with silence. It feels like skiing thirty years ago, a fact that more than compensates for a modest-sized ski area. If I had just one day in the Valley, I'd ski here, with the super-speedy red descent from the top of the Colle Bettaforca my favorite bit.

Best for: Anyone who takes quality over quantity every time.

Fact File: Resort altitude is 1,568m, with 49km of piste (180km including the wider Monterosa Ski area).

More Information: Monterosa Ski (tel. 0125 303111; www.monterosa-ski.com)
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A vast ski area and enviable snow record make Gallic-sounding La Thuile the Valley's safest bet for mixed-ability groups. Courtesy Valle d'Aosta Tourism
Many of the Aosta Valley's towns have French names, reflecting historical roots as part of a greater Savoy kingdom (France's Haute-Savoie is just over the pass). A vast ski area and enviable snow record make Gallic-sounding La Thuile the Valley's safest bet for mixed-ability groups. The area's 150km of piste served by 38 lifts includes a (weather-dependent) cross-border link with La Rosière in France, the other pole of the Espace San Bernardo ski area.

Best for: Skiers of all abilities -- occasional awkward flats and strategically placed drag-lifts may irritate boarders.

Fact File: Resort altitude is 1,450m with 150km of piste.

More Information: Consorzio La Thuile (tel. 0165 883049; www.lathuile.it)
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Aosta's best expert terrain lies at its furthest eastern reaches, in this part of the three-valley Monterosa Ski area. Courtesy Valle d'Aosta Tourism
Aosta's best expert terrain lies at its furthest eastern reaches, in this part of the three-valley Monterosa Ski area. The twin villages of Gressoney themselves have immediate access to varied terrain and a modern lift system, but the real draw is over the hill in Alagna (strictly speaking part of Piedmont, not the Valle d'Aosta). The precipitous black runs here are considered among the best in Europe. Remember to brush up on your Walser before stopping by: This disappearing Alpine German dialect is still spoken by locals.

Best for: Anyone who likes it steep: head straight for the 7km Olen black run down towards Alagna.

Fact File: Resort altitude is 1,385m with 180km of piste in the Monterosa Ski area, which also includes Alagna-Valsesia.

More Information: Monterosa Ski (tel. 0125 303111; www.monterosa-ski.com)
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Though Pila's ski area is relatively small, it's varied, with treeline and open bowl areas for cruising and a halfpipe and freestyle pen if that's your thing. Courtesy Valle d'Aosta Tourism
A major upgrade to the Aosta-Pila cableway means you can now cover the 1,300m vertical from the region's capital to this friendly little resort in around 17 minutes (it's more like a half-hour by road). Though the ski area is relatively small, it's varied, with treeline and open bowl areas for cruising and a halfpipe and freestyle pen if that's your thing. A ride to the top of the Couis chairlift ends in a unique 360-degree panorama of the Valley's four 4,000m peaks, with a bonus of decent steep and deep falling away down the front.

Best for: Beginners, families and anyone who likes the convenience of Italian city life just 17 minutes away.

Fact File: Resort altitude is 1,800m with 70km of piste.

More Information: Pila S.p.A. (tel. 0165 521148; www.pila.it)
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The Sant'Orso meadow outside Cogne, a former ore mining village, is the best spot to try a bit of cross-country skiing Courtesy Valle d'Aosta Tourism
The Sant'Orso meadow outside this former ore mining village is the best spot to try a bit of cross-country skiing (sci di fondo, as distinct from sci da discesa). The whole enterprise is watched over by the only 4,000m mountain wholly inside the Italian border, Gran Paradiso, flanked by idyllic larch and pine forest. While you're here, take short tour round Cogne's craft shops. The village is known for woodcarving and lacemaking -- with the latter perhaps a little easier to carry home.

Best for: A leisurely break from downhill skiing? You must be kidding. Cross-country is going to hurt, but with less speed and less company comes more time to appreciate the Alpine silence.

Fact File: Resort altitude is 1,534m with 80km of cross-country piste marked around the village.

More Information: Funivie Gran Paradiso (tel. 0165 74008; www.funiviegranparadiso.it)
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Courmayeur has the best views of Mont Blanc and the Brenva Glacier, the best collection of groomed intermediate pistes, and the best place in the Valley to find a knowledgeable guide and head into the backcountry. Courtesy Valle d'Aosta Tourism
The best views of Mont Blanc and the Brenva Glacier, the best collection of groomed intermediate pistes, and the best place in the Valley to find a knowledgeable guide and head into the backcountry. A morning's treeline skiing down to Zerotta is just enough to work up an appetite for lunch. My favorites are Maison Vieille (tel. 0165 809399; www.maisonvieille.com) for the tastiest carbonara in the Alps, Christiania (tel. 0165 843572; www.ski.yeur.net) for excellent thin-crust pizza, and fine dining at Chiecco (tel. 338 7003035; www.chiecco.com). Après-ski, Courmayeur's Via Roma is also the Valley's most fashionable, and most expensive, shopping street.

Best for: Competent skiers who love a leisurely lunch: Courmayeur has some of the best mountain dining in Europe.

Fact File: Resort altitude is 1,224m with 100km of piste. A 1-day lift-pass costs €42.

More Information: Courmayeur Mont Blanc (tel. 0165 846658; www.courmayeur-montblanc.com)
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