It’s where Chamonix locals go on a powder day. (And it has a lot of them.) Here’s an insider’s guide to the best first-run hoons, on-hill bites and empty powder fields
Locals in Chamonix have a powder day secret: Courmayeur.
Just a short hop through the Mont Blanc tunnel and you have a resort which combines epic off-piste with Italian style and a committed embrace of la vita bella. One minute you’re creating rooster tails off the Cresta d’Arp, the next you’re dining piste-side on spectacular spaghetti con funghi next to an immaculately turned out, fur-clad Italian beauty and her tiny dog.
Life doesn’t get any better.
The Aosta Valley is arguably one of the most beautiful snowscapes in Europe, and when your eyes are tired of feasting on that, the intimate, welcoming town of Courmayeur serves up eateries, cafes and bars with a healthy dose of robust wines and a convivial après-ski atmosphere.
You probably won’t find yourself sinking Jägerbombs at 4am, but after a day on the hill (the skiing is vast and diverse enough for all levels) you’ll be too knackered for that anyway.
Oh, and one more thing. Last season, while French resorts –including neighbouring Chamonix – were feeling the pinch snow-wise, Courmayeur, thanks to its investment in snowmaking as well as its luck with the snow gods, enjoyed good snow right through to the end of April.
Here we speak to long-time local, Amin Momen, about his favourite spots on and off the hill, director of Momentum Ski, has skied in Courmayeur for 26 years.
FIRST RUN OF THE DAY
It has to be the red Checrouit run under the gondola down to Plan Checrouit.
There is a ski shop right at the bottom so if you’ve just arrived in resort you can deposit your stuff there for the day.
Or, if you want to test new equipment, you can hire it from the shop, do the Checrouit a few times, then pop back into the shop to change it.
The run is wide open, so you have great peripheral vision for clocking up some speed and getting those legs warmed up.
THE BEST THING ABOUT COURMAYEUR?
Everything, including the skiing. The town, the ambiance – it’s more like a boutique than a department store – more personal.
Everything is quality: it may only have 29 runs but all of them are different in character. And the town itself is very intimate with a lovely pedestrianised area called Via Roma.
FOR FRESH TRACKS
The great thing about Courmayeur is that if it’s snowed the night before, there’s a lot of fresh snow on the sides of the runs, so you can get your powder kick without going way off-piste.
But, if it’s snowed a few days previously and you’re looking for fresh tracks, your best bet is to take the Youla lift. It’s a real ‘where eagles dare’ type cable car: tiny, but will take you to one of the highest points in the resort.
Off the side there’s a great wall where you can put in some fantastic powder turns before coming back to meet the piste.
If you’re feeling more adventurous and have the know-how, there are three off-piste runs off the back of the Arp lift which are drawn as dotted lines on the map. You take the Arp lift after getting off the Youla: again it’s like a little sardine tin: retro, tiny and cramped
FOR A HOON
Youla. You can see ahead, there are no blind corners, it’s wide and has a nice angle which makes it flow brilliantly.
Tell me I don’t know about Cormey. Not a lot of people know about the Toula glacier. Just after the Mont Blanc tunnel there’sa three-stage cable car, which most people take to do the Vallée Blanche from the Italian side – the start is much easier as you don’t have the ridge like you do out from the Aiguille du Midi. So, most people take those lifts and ski down the Vallée Blanche to Chamonix.
But, if you ski the Toula glacier instead back to Courmayeur, you get 2000 metres of descent on wide, empty powder fields. You need a guide, as the terrain can be unpredictable, but the skiing is easy.
THE MISPERCEPTION OF COURMAYEUR
…is that the skiing is easy. You look at the map and there are no black runs, but there’s some serious off-piste.
There’s also heliskiing, which you can’t do on the French side. The flights are short and cost around €200, so you can experience spectacular heli off-piste and be back on the pistes for lunch.
Maison Vieille has everything. It’s by the nursery slope, so if you have kids in tow they can play within view, and you can pretty much spend the whole afternoonthere. They serve great food and have a wide selection of local wines.
If you want fine dining on the hill, I’d head to Chiecco at Plan Checrouit (non-skiers can get the cable car up), which serves top-notch meat dishes.
The Christiania, also at Plan Checrouit, is another favourite. It has a great terrace where the atmosphere is akin to a noisy train station – people always coming and going.
FOR AN APRES -SKI TIPLE
Prive, on Via Roma has great ambiance. It’s small and you get personal attention from the barman. It’s all wood-clad inside, with lovely lighting and the canapés are always amazing. They’ll be doing sushi for the coming season, too. It’s probably worth mentioning that the measures are very generous.
For groups looking for more buzz, try Bar Roma, also on Via Roma. It’s beautiful, noisy and attracts accordingly!
FOR A SPLASH OUT SUPPER
Aria in the Hotel Maison Saint Jean serves great meat dishes – the beef tagliatelli is superb. The owner is a sommelier, so there’s always interesting wine to try. You never feel intimidated by the wine list though, which is always fantastic and very well priced.
PISTES & PASSES
100km runs: 8 blue, 17 red, 4 black
21 ski lifts
Liftpass: from €206 per week
Words: Susan Greenwood