Over the years I have heard Alagna talked about as the place to go for the best freeride ski holidays in Italy. So when the Piedmont tourist board invited me to visit and write a review of Alagna skiing I was more than a little excited.
Alagna, or to give it it’s full name Alagna Valsesia sits below Monte Rosa, western Europe’s second highest, and Italy’s highest peak. It is in the Piedmont (Piemonte in Italian) region of Italy, which can be found in north west corner of the country bordering Switzerland and France. Flight access is easy with Turin Airport and Milan Malpensa only 2 hours drive from Alagna. If you have time it is well worth a visit is the Piedmont regions capital of Turin (Torino in Italian), which was the first capital of Italy and has a fascinating history. It is about a 2.5 hour drive from Alagna, and if you are flying from Turin it makes a good day trip at the start of end of an Alagna skiing holiday.
Review of Alagna skiing: The piste
Alagna is part of the Monterosa ski area which includes the resorts of Gressoney La Trinite – Stafal, Champoluc – Frachey, Gressoney – St Jean, Brusson and Antagnod. There are 180km of lift served piste, with the highest lift reaching 3275m. Red runs make up the lions share of the pisted area but there are a few blacks and a few blues. The single gondola out of Alagna connects to the large Funivia (Cableway), together they take you from 1212m to 2971m in about 20 minutes.
There is just one run back into Alagna, but with a 1700m decent it is a beast. It begins with a long but not too difficult black, followed by a long winding red that is great fun. It is a run that leaves you out of breath, with your legs burning and in a rush to remove your skis. There are a couple of blue runs at the top which connect with the Funivia mid station, but this is not a resort for beginners or nervous intermediates.
From the top of the Funivia you can rise another 300m to Idren, which at 3275m is Monterosa’s highest point and the start of much of the off piste, however this was closed during our stay due to heavy snow. From the top of the Funivia you can access the rest of Monterosa, starting with a lovely long sweeping red towards Gressoney. The snow park is located near the top which has a descent assortment of rails, boxes and kickers. Again it was closed due to heavy snow but our guide assured us it is normally open until 9pm.
In the Gressoney area there are a number of other red runs and a couple of blues. To reach Champoluc, which is the far side of Monterosa, take black run off to the right about half way down to Gressoney. It is not the hardest black I have been on but it ends with a long narrow, slightly steep, track which nervous skiers would hate. This takes you to Stafal, where a chairlift will take you up to Colle Bettaforca above Champoluc.
The run from Colle Bettaforca into the Frachey area of Champoluc is a beauty, taking you from 2727m down to 1992m on a wide red. The Champoluc area has a couple of blue runs but mostly more red runs. Although Champoluc is the end of the Monterosa ski area there are talks of extending it by linking to Cervinia, so you could snowboard from Alagna all the way to Zermatt in Switzerland.
This being Italy mountain restaurants are plentiful, and high quality, but reasonably priced. We tried the Mont Rosa, in Champoluc, whose well cooked, typical mountain fair came with lovely views. On the second day we ate above Alagna in the Rifugio Grande Halte which is on the right of the red run back into town. The food was more regional and exceptionally good, the owners were also very friendly.
Best freeride ski holidays in Italy?
It was only in the last 10 years that Alagna became a pisted resort, prior to that it was called ‘Freeride Paradise‘ and was renowned for providing the best freeride ski holidays in Italy. On our second day, we had a mountain guide who kitted us out with avalanche safety gear in anticipation of some off piste action.
This season has been one of Monterosa’s snowiest, and in the few days before our arrival it had dumped a lot of snow. If anything too much snow, as the highest areas were closed and many off pistes areas had very high avalanche risk. Unfortunately for our day of guided off piste visibility was terrible, but with our guide we were able to make the most of it playing in some safe areas of knee to waist deep powder close to the piste and visiting two safe areas away from the piste.
The first off piste area was on the Gressoney side of the mountain which had the better visibility (as you can see above!). From the top of the Funvia we took the red until the black run branched off towards Stafal. A short distance later we hopped off the side of the piste into a steep tree lined valley. Towards the bottom the valley narrowed and trees thickened and we followed a fun, but very narrow, track beside a stream.
For our second off piste foray we headed back to the Alagna side of the mountain. We took the black towards town and cut off the left hand side. I would like to say we went through a gully but visibility was so poor I am not really sure! What I do know is the powder was waist deep and when you could figure out which was was down it was a lot of fun. I much prefer to be able to see when off piste but I was very pleased to have sampled some of the freeride on offer.
Christian was not just an awesome guide but a great source of knowledge about the freeride skiing. He talked enthusiastically about the off piste available, with many routes being whole day affairs, requiring a short hike with skins, and visiting remote villages. With a massive vertical and a lot of unpisted territory to access I think that Alagna could provide not just some of the best freeride ski holidays in Italy but the whole of Europe.
I always feel that other skiers are a good barometer for the type of resort. Probably in part due to the amount of fresh snow when we were in Alagna it was rare to see a bad skier, a skier without an avalanche pack, or a skier without fat powder skis, telemark skis, or skis with skins. So if you like to freeride ski you will be in good company in Alagna.
Of course the best freeride ski holidays in Italy are also suitable for snowboarders. Check out this review of Alagna snowboarding holidays if you are more inclined to travel sideways.
Review of Alagna skiing: The town
Alagna is a small traditional town that has been modernised without compromising on its look and feel. It is pretty, quaint and has a friendly vibe. Located in the Valsesian valley, a number of small hamlets make up Alagna with the main town being the focal point of the community.
Alagna was colonised in the 12th-13th century by the nomadic Walser people who were Germanic in origin. The existing land owners were happy for year round colonies to be built here as they only used the high pastures in the summer. In the hamlet of Pedemonte, a short walk from Alagna, there is a Walser museum which is well worth a visit.
If culture is not your kind of thing, then perhaps you would prefer ice carting? The Rosa Ring is just outside Alagna, it has a circuit for ice karting plus a large circuit for driving cars on ice which is also used for international competitions. They provide lessons in ice driving and of course ice racing experiences.
Alagna is not a ski resort for those looking to party hard, but there are more than enough bars to enjoy a few drinks. We tried the Bar Lo Chalet which is near the cross country ski track and the Vineria An Bacher Wi in the town centre which was busy and had a relaxed Après vibe. Apparently there is also a bar on the mountain at the base of the snowpark, as the lift stays open to 9pm you can have a few drinks, or a few runs through the park before skiing back into Alagna.
Review of Alagna skiing accommodation
My digs for the weekend, 4 star Hotel Cristallo, were considerably better than I am used to. The hotel is in the Alagan town centre, its not far from the gondola but in ski boots it takes 5-10 mins.
The bedrooms in the Hotel Cristallo are huge, very nicely decorated with everything done to a high standard. The staff were always happy to help and were very welcoming. In the basement Hotel Cristallo has swimming pool, a sauna, and a spa and wellness centre to help alleviate some of the skiing aches and pains.
The rooms include a buffet breakfast which was very good. It included a couple of hot dishes, breads and pastries, a selection of meats, cheese, fruit, and cereals. If you want to have one of the best freeride ski holidays in Italy then staying at the Hotel Cristallo in Alagna will get you off to a great start.
Although I did not stay there I visited the Montagna di Luce hotel and had a nosey around their rooms. It is more in keeping with the upper ends of my normal ski holiday accommodation. It is a Walser building that has been renovated in the style of a mountain refuge but with all the comforts of a hotel. It would make a great base for a big group with their own transport as its a little too far from the gondola.
Review of Alagna skiing: Eating out
Contrary to my pre holiday expectations the food I ate in Alagna was not the typical pizza and pasta. The Wasler influence is blended with hearty mountain fair, in an Italian style, leading to dishes rich in flavour and menus full of diversity.
One night we ate in Mollia a few minutes outside Alagna, in the restaurant Unione Molliese. The evening started with the owner translating the entire menu from Italian to English, and then recommending we try a bit of everything on a sharing platter – a good recommendation as it was all lovely. I would recommend the savoury profiteroles filled with cheese and bacon, and the local Gattinara wine.
The next night we dined at Locanda La Stuba, which Trip Advisor ranks as the best restaurant in Alagna. Although the menu was in English, the owner personally talked us through the food and wine options imparting his obvious passion for the food. The food was hearty and exceptionally good, I had a delicious lamb dish but I would recommend everything.
On the last night we tried the Montagna Di Luce which is in Pedemonte at the hotel of the same name. They produce delicious dishes from local ingredients. I particularly enjoyed the deer ragu, which came with wide pasta that was more like Japanese udon noodles.
All of the restaurants had very different menus without a lasagne or pizza to be had in any of them. All of the food was very good, very rich, and very filling – the perfect food when you have been exercising in sub zero temperatures. The cost of eating out is reasonable, but cheap compared to France. Of course if you do fancy pizza or pasta there are also restaurants offering standard Italian dishes.
Review of Alagna skiing: Final thoughts
If you are into your off piste and powder skiing then Alagna is a great alternative to better known freeride skiing destinations. But its not a resort for beginners or intermediates, or for those who are not serious about their skiing. Looking good here is about having an avalanche pack and safety equipment rather than the latest outfit. And partying can be done when you are back home, as it would be a waste to lose even one day of the best freeride ski holidays in Italy to a hangover.
As a lover of freeriding the biggest testament I can give in concluding this review of Alagna skiing is that I want to go back to experience more.
I would like to thank Piemonte Tourism for arranging this press trip to Alagna and Marta and Marina from the Alagna tourist office for the warmth of their hospitality.