La Rosière roaming | Freeride skiing on the France-Italy border

two skiers, at the top of a mountain, skis on backs, boot downhill looking over a huge mountain view

Hot on a local enthusiast’s heels for some lift-accessed freeride shenanigans in La Rosière

Photos Penny Kendall
Words Eric Kendall

What is it about the colour red? I’m with an apparently deranged man (in red) who’s keenly loading onto a chairlift – without cover – in a hurricane. He’s clearly not seen the YouTube video of someone looping the loop on one of these things in a gale (it doesn’t end well) nor – despite being French – can he be overly concerned about his complexion: ice crystals are blasting our faces. They really sting. But the truly deluded bit is that he seems to think that just beyond the top of the chairlift all will be calm and we’ll carry on with our ski day as if everything’s alright.

The thing is, it is and we do.

two skiers look small in against a huge mountain vista in a very snowy environment

Welcome to the quite odd climatic world of La Rosière, which has two distinct guises: sunny south-facing balcony or – as today – gripped by a powerful Foehn wind.

When the latter applies, La Rosière has an ace up its sleeve in the shape of neighbouring La Thuile, just the other side of the mountain, in Italy. Nicely connected by lift, all on the Espace San Bernardo pass (154km of pistes and counting), and – crucially – calm when it’s windy in La Rosière, and vice versa, nine times out of 10.

So convenient that it’s a bit suspicious, though I can’t for the life of me come up with a plausible conspiracy theory that might encompass controlling the weather on this scale.

an ESF instructor in red uniform makes a great turn in virgin snow, a lift line in the distance behind
Clément, in action, on said worryingly skinny skis

Back to the man in red, Clément, a member of La Rosière’s ESF and a freerider. He’s turned out on worryingly skinny skis but is still brilliant even in breakable crust. Grrr. And he’s young and dashing. Grrr grrr.

Just for a warm up, from the top of the aforementioned Fort chairlift, we slide past the 1892 Fort de la Redoute Ruinée on the Col de la Traversette to climb a hillock with an impressive cornice and streams of spindrift blowing off it Everest-style; by the time I clamber to the top, I’m feeling very mountainous indeed.

We peer 400m down a steep face, which disappears into snow-swirling gloom and Clément confirms this is not an option today – he’s a shrewd judge of snow and utterly un-macho. Which is ideal. After storms like this, wind slab should be spelt with a capital W-S.

Pushing on La Thuile-wards, via linking piste and lift, it’s as if someone flips a couple of switches. Wind off, sun on.

an ESF ski instructor in red makes lovely fresh tracks, arms out to the side, along a shadow line in fresh snow

Now that we can see we head cross-country to make gentle turns across the broad slopes of the Petit St Bernard pass. It’s perfect starter-off-piste: no scary drops and so wide that the consequences of an inability to turn would be nil for a kilometre or more; and you can keep looping round again and again, which today’s snow might tempt you to do. It has survived the worst of the wind and, though not light and fluffy, is very skiable; and there’s certainly lots of it.

I’ve driven the pass in summer and recognise the gaggle of buildings we slide past, with the road about a metre beneath our skis. Before descending further into Italy, Clément takes us to the top of the Piccolo San Bernardo Express lift and suggests we put skins on, adding: “It’s good for you?” I think he’s asking us if that’s OK, though maybe he thinks we need the exercise.

In fact, it’s probably a test, to see if we’ve remembered our skins. The short rocky ridge leads us past another military ruin to reach Mont Belvedere in just a few minutes, from where we can see we’re barely higher than the top of a nearby lift.

a photo of two ski tourers is taken through the small window of a small, snow-crusted mountain refuge
In the frame: testing our skins on the climb to Mont Belvedere

The summit is Clément’s first proper opportunity to display his encyclopaedic knowledge of the peaks of the region. It’s like having that mapping app on your phone, which you aim at the horizon and press a button to overlay the skyline with the names of peaks. And he’s not making it up like I would; checking the map that night it’s clear he nailed it.

Into the La Thuile domain from here is mellow, rolling and wide open, steepening the lower you go.

Above treeline is playful and unthreatening, with huge views, including of the Ruitor glacier to the south-east.

Down into the trees it gets interesting, and there’s plenty to go at.

The east-facing aspect from top to bottom means even the upper sun-exposed slopes are powdery, and dropping into the trees you get 50% extra from what’s been sieved out by the branches, along with the odd twig – the only hint that the wind was here before it moved across the border.

The mountainside above La Thuile is a whole side of valley rather than of one or two peaks, with multiple roughly parallel lifts, leaving space between pistes for lots of lines.

Above treeline is playful
and unthreatening, with
huge views… down in the
trees it gets interesting

As we funnel down we’re eventually sucked into the resort’s mega-steep Diretta black run – definitely a place for fresh edges and slalom skis. Having neither, I make it crab-wise to Le Petit Skieur restaurant at the bottom, counting myself lucky to be standing. A calming pizza before more of the soft stuff in the trees seems a good plan.

sunset (or perhaps sunrise) casts a golden glow over snowy roofs of a mountain village

Back in La Rosière at the end of the day it’s still blowing. Clément delivers us to the piste-side Hôtel & Spa Alparena, with instructions for tomorrow: “Same time, same place, same smile!” before skiing off backwards, leaving us to enjoy the sunset from the rooftop hot tub, then hitting the restaurant L’Ancolie for some proper Savoyarde cheesiness.

Wandering the car-free snowy streets it seems all the lodgings have underground parking at this eastern end of town – a nice touch whether you’re on foot enjoying the atmosphere or heading for home and not having to dig your car out of a snowdrift at 1,850m.

Saving the best til last

Day Two

Still windy but less savage, so we can explore the best bits Rosière-side. There’s enough visibility to be able to see this is the kind of place with endless between-piste lines, much of them in relatively featureless open terrain, but with some rocky cliffy spines to follow that today give definition.

One of the best routes in current conditions is south-west along the ridge from Roc Noir, the ‘Grand Zittieux’, which sounds explosive; it’s wide rather than a knife-edge, with lumps and bumps like a toned-down terrain park. Some massive slabby blocks have broken away halfway down – in places the wind has drifted the snow to be many metres deep – but it’s all manageable and gets even more fun as we drop into trees before reaching piste and lift.

Over a warming lunch in L’Antigel, Clément moves on from mountains to monoskiing. He’s so keen he’s even got a split monoski, which he takes apart for skinning uphill before snapping it together for the descent. I’ve a feeling this might be a French joke, but later research confirms that they exist. I knew he was a bit mad.

two skiers stand at the top of a ski area by a huge sign signalling a freeride zone
La Rosière freeride

Saving the best until last, we ride the Mont Valaisan chair, built in 2018 for easy access to a vast bowl – now the resort’s ‘freeride zone’. Previously it involved a significant climb, and from the top of the lift there’s still a ridgy scramble to reach the 2,892m summit itself, which gives further options of up to 1,500 vertical metres, into Italy once more or into another bowl that feeds back into La Rosière’s domain. We boot up the ridge in the late-January light – it’s not cold, but has that cool remote quality that comes from being high on a mountain towards the end of the day.

Clément has mostly given up naming mountains, though he can’t resist pointing out the distinctive cloud above Mont Blanc: “We call it Napoleon’s Hat”, then asks, “You’ve heard of the warrior Napoleon?”

two skiers made fresh tracks at the top of a very white mountainscape, skiing in the shade
Even on an international border this is no place for politics, just sublime skiing

This is no place for politics and Waterloo remains unmentioned. It’s time to lose ourselves in the moment – pointless to try to put it into words, but anyone who’s stood on a remote peak at sunset, or on a beach a long way from anywhere, will know the feeling.

Finally, we snap back to reality: we have to get down.

Clément-the-Prudent kicks in and decrees a retracing on foot of part of the ridge rather than taking the direct line from the very summit. But we’re soon clicking into our skis to head down the middle of the freeride terrain. It’s not perfect powder – that blew all the way to the Hebrides over the last couple of days – but it’s soft enough and still a superb bit of mountain to ski.

Hundreds of turns later, Clément delivers us back to base, job done.

“Same place, same smile, who knows when?”

We’ll be there…



  • The nearest train station is Bourg St Maurice (20km transfer by bus or taxi). La Rosière offers discounted lift passes to guests arriving by train, as part of their green travel initiative
  • Nearest airport – Chambery
  • Cool Bus offers two-hour transfers, or an optimistic three hours from Geneva
  • Altibus has direct coaches from Geneva.


  • Hôtel Alparena offers doubles from €170 per person per night, B&B (two sharing). The modern Alparena is made for skiing: ski straight out of/back to the ski room; spa, with pool and rooftop hot tub and sauna; in-house ski shop/servicing


  • ESF La Rosière half-day private off-piste or touring from €232
  • Ski day pass in La Rosière €49.50
  • Day pass for the Espace San Bernardo (which includes La Thuile) €55.50
  • For more info visit