My first ski experience in the Aosta Valley came when I was 11 years old and racing the British Children’s Championships hosted in Courmayeur. It was long enough ago for me to remember the construction of the cable car up to Plan Checrouit, in the early 1980’s. At the time it was the biggest cable car I had ever seen. Now I can’t wait for another cable car to be built in Courmayeur. When the new multi million-euro cable car opens this season to the top of Helbronner it will literally take the resort to new heights, providing easy access to the Toula glacier and for a trip over to Chamonix down the Valley Blanche.
Since the early days I have visited the Aosta Valley every season without fail, either during my ski racing career where I competed in Courmayeur, Pila, La Thuile and Cervinia, or as a presenter of Ski Sunday, filming in Gressoney, Courmayeur, and on the Grand St Bernard. Aside from professional trips, I have also chosen this region for family holidays and weekends away with mates. It is the sheer range of opportunities that brings me back to the Aosta Valley year on year.
As a family, we have enjoyed many holidays in the Aosta Valley over the years, mostly at Easter time when my filming schedule with Ski Sunday has eased. The food and value for money are the biggest attractions and the altitude of the resorts ensures good snow conditions late in the season. When the kids were younger we made use of the excellent ski schools in the region, but now they are old enough and more than fast enough to keep up. Our latest trip was to Champoluc where both my son Louis and daughter Lottie, joined in the famous music nights at the Hotel Castor.
Learning to Ski
As a patron of Caring Cancer Trust, I help teach a group of children from the UK, who are in remission from cancer, to ski. We run a week-long trip to Pila where the learn to ski facilities are excellent. It is a great resort for the children to progress from the nursery slopes to tackling blues and the easier reds, within the week.
My wife Sarah will take on the occasional black run, but fast cruising red runs are more her style. Pila and Champoluc are her favourites, both for the wide-open pistes and the many coffee stops, as well as the occasional Bombardino.
I have been lucky enough to heli-ski a few times in the Aosta Valley, and it needn’t break the bank. I was staying in Val d’Isere once with mates, and in search of fresh snow we skied over to La Thuile to treat ourselves to some heli-skiing that would not be allowed in France. I have also organised heli-ski days out of both Gressoney and Champoluc where the mighty Monte Rosa offers a massive off-piste paradise. You will need to book a guide because you will be dropped off high on a glacier and some of the descents are not for the faint hearted.
I have got more and more into ski touring over the years, and have even started to appreciate the uphill climbs as well as the descents. There is nothing quite as peaceful and rewarding than skinning up to a mountain refuge to spend the night. Then at first light head out to take get first tracks on the descent back to the resort. The Monte Rosa has about half a dozen Refuges over 3000m in altitude, but that does not seem to stop the patron supplying some excellent food and, if you can handle it, wine. They even have a name for the high alpine trek from one refuge to another -The Spaghetti Traverse.