Italy’s Incredible Monte Rosa Region
By Dee Dee McKinney Photos by Fred McKinney
The Monte Rosa region of Italy comprises 3 valleys. The skiing here makes up a huge ski circus. It is known worldwide for possessing some of the most amazing off-piste skiing sprinkled amid groomed trails connecting the 3 valleys. The west side of the region is Champoluc Valley containing Champoluc, the largest ski village in the valley. The center valley is comprised of the Gressoney Valley, home to the mountain villages of Gressoney Saint-Jean and Gressoney La-Trinite. The eastern most valley is Alagna including the village of Alagna Valsesia nested in a narrow valley beneath the towering Italian Alps.
A stay in Gressoney La-Trinite provides a skier easy access to the entire Italian Monte Rosa region. Because of its central location, many skiers favor this village location as the best starting point to ski the Monte Rosa. In the center of this village located at 5370 feet in the shadow of the Lyskamma Glacier, is the circa 1637 parish church. Here skiers will find a network of over 100 miles of interconnected well groomed ski trails connecting all three valleys with the uniqueness of catching off-piste skiing just off the side of the trail network. Most of the trails have state of the art lifts and snow-making providing excellent snow cover when man-made snow is needed.
The Gressoney Valley is a favorite of many skiers. The quaint Italian villages are filled with many examples of historical ambiance. The old village’s original wooden buildings and mountain huts are visual history lesson showing the beauty and appreciation of the early founders of this region. Some buildings date back to the 12th and 13th centuries.
Champoluc is the largest of the Monte Rosa villages and offers tourists more of a village setting with a large selection of hotels, restaurants and shopping. The lift system serves all these villages, usually within easy walking distance from the hotels.
Skiers, in the Monta Rosa region, can ski through small summer farm communities called, Walser Settlements, located high in this region. The summer settlements have quaint homes and barns which house the summer farmers and their cattle. Farmers walk their cows up in the springtime for grazing and the making of cheese before heading back down into the valley before the early snows. The days going and returning from the summer pastures are very festive. A parade of cattle decked out with colorful ribbons and bells walking through local villages is a celebration of the beginning of summer. This farmer/cow parade is recreated in the fall as they return to their villages in anticipation of winter.
The third and most eastern valley contains the rather small village of Alagna. This village is often the chosen location for the off-piste skier. The smaller hotels, guest houses, along with small bars and restaurants are often the setting for skier chat at the end of the day. Describing wild adventures and exciting tales of vaunting exploits of runs in waist deep powder and unspoiled scenery may or many not be committed with all sorts of extravagances. If you are skiing out of your Gressoney base valley, be aware of the time the last lift closes to get your back to home. If you do not time it correctly, you will be looking at a very long 2 1/2 to 3 hr expensive taxi ride and over twisting roads from Alagna. From Champoluc it is about a 1 hour taxi ride to return to Gressoney. The alternative for late skiers is a overnight hotel.
Mentioning the name Alagna to off-piste skiers often brings a comparison with the famous French ski area of LaGrave. These hard core, skilled, freeriding skiers often associate these two great mountain names as some of the best for off-piste skiing in the world!
Any valley in the Monte Rosa is a natural setting for winter enthusiasts Sports offerings include cross-country skiing, ski touring, snow shoeing, helicopter skiing, ice climbing, hiking, ice skating and walking. Tourists venturing into the mountains return with a real appreciation of nature, history and beauty. Ski guides and instructors are available for all skier levels. Their familiarity, certifications, and experience with the valleys insure that a great memory day can be had. Beginners and novices excited for some first experiences, intermediate skiers hoping to enjoying touring the region on well groomed trails, the die-hard expert and off-piste skier looking to push limits for that special descent can all have a great ski experience.
Outstanding views are close. These ruggedly accessible mountain peaks tower over 13,000 feet with some nearing15,000 feet. One of the most notable views is looking at the Matterhorn across a few valleys. This breathtaking sight links Switzerland and Italy. Officials in the Monte Rosa would like to link their region with a new cable car connecting the Matterhorn and the Italian ski resort town of Cervinia on the south side of the Matterhorn. The project price tag for this lift project and interlinking the valleys is gigantic. However, the Monte Rosa officials are optimistic that it will one day happen.
Wines and local food dishes are all part of the experience, whether enjoying them at a mountain hut or in a hotel at the end of the day. Delicious tasty Italian dishes as well as typical mountain cuisine are prepared in the kitchens by skilled chefs. Locally made cheeses and cold cuts washed down with local wines and grappa, is a delightful culinary experience.
“Refuge Guglielmina”, built in 1872, welcomed hikers, skiers and mountaineers year round until the yellow 2-story building located at 7,480 feet above Gressoney was destroyed by fire in December, 2011. The refuge was known in the area for outstanding local mountain dishes and wines. It was a great gathering spot. Visitors and locals alike enjoyed hiking to the refuge and enjoying the camaraderie, setting and fabulous views from the patio. Many town folks watched in disbelief, some with tears running down their faces, as the flames and columns of smoke roared from the much beloved mountain refuge. The fire burned out of control as helicopters were unable to fly in the severe weather. The firefighters were helpless - having no water nor equipment accessible to fight the blaze. This special refuge has never been rebuilt. However, the recipes and wines once found at the refuge can still be experienced at the Colle Betta 2727 Restaurant located at the top of Gressoney’s S.Anna-Bettaforca quad chairlift. Owners Alberto Cabala, Luca Malberti and Daniele Mania were the operators of “Refuge Guglielmina” for years and after it burned, brought all their speciality dishes and warm hospitality to their new Colle Betta 2727.
The region is easily to reach from Milan’s airport in about a 2 1/2 hr drive. A trip there is a learning experience as well as a great adventure. Each valley and village has a tourist office with very helpful and friendly representatives offering information and available lodging. In Gressoney, tourist guide, Davide Branca, provided extensive details for the Monte Rosa valley including hotels, guest houses, rooms and apartments, recommendations for restaurants both on and off mountain, his favorite ski trails and powder stashes along with great knowledge of local folklore and tradition. With a guide like Davide, one wants to quickly return to the Monte Rosa for another unique and treasured holiday! A trip there is a memorable experience in many ways! Try it, you’ll like it!