Spring was in the air and that means time for some springtime skiing. For this years trip we ventured to a rather unknown ski area, the “freeride paradise” of the Monte Rosa. The Monte Rosa is a huge mountain between Switzerland and Italy with its highest peak, the Dufourspitze, being the second highest peak of the Alps, at 4,634 metres (15,203 ft). The Monterosa ski area covers three valleys with the highest cable car reaching Punta Indren at 3275m. We discovered quickly, that this area is a meeting point for freeriders from around the world. The sparse forest at the bottom and the huge bowls at the top lure daredevils and film teams when the conditions are right. And right they were! After a foggy start we glimpsed a bit of the mountain on our first day, the following day we woke to heavy snowfall and a fresh base of almost two feet of the lightest powder you can imagine. The top of the mountain remained closed for two days while the hoards of freeriders raced through the forest like ghost warriors in the Lord of the Rings.
My son Stefan and I rented fat long free ride skis and joined in the chase, and what an experience that was! The forests on the northern side of the Alps are much thicker than in the Monterosa, and they are protected so normally skiing through them is forbidden. In the Monterosa there is plenty of space to make fast turns between the trees one just has to watch out for the numerous buried rocks that love to strip you of your gear and turn you into a gasping snow diver.
The third day found us exploring the Champoluc area with some beautiful deep powder bowls while we all hoped for the sun to come out. The sun came out the following morning and there was a special electricity in town as the sounds of a helicopter and explosions echoed from the top of the mountain. We all waited and hoped for the top of the mountain to open up for we had reserved a local guide in anticipation of a last day of glorious skiing. At promptly 8:45 we met our local guide Jimmy at the bottom of the hill. He was a very charismatic guy, known to almost everybody in town, and we immediately took a liking to him. He proved to be an excellent guide and we followed him without reservations for our first amazing run down the mountain. After our initial warmup we discovered that the top of the mountain had opened up and we headed there to begin a day of indescribable freeriding in the amazing landscape.
Sheer dark granite faces lined the winding road as our small car climbed the steep incline up the narrow route that led us to our skiing destination in Northwestern Italy in the remote Gressony Valley of Gressoney-Saint-Jean. My husband, our son, and I had made our way from Austria via Switzerland over the San Bernardino Pass and we had made a small detour around the picturesque Lago Maggiore. The lake is known for its beautiful gardens and the camellias had just burst with vibrant shades of pink and spring was definitely in the air. We stopped for lunch in the quaint town of Cannero Riviera that was decorated throughout with yellow and orange ribbons and lemons. The town was beginning a weekend Citrus Fruits Festival to welcome the coming of spring by celebrating the acidic fruits of the region such as lemons, mandarins, oranges, and grapefruit. We enjoyed a special menu for the day with house pasta specialities and topped it off with a delicious lemon tiramisu. http://activitieslakemaggiore.com/whats-up/citrus-fruits-festival-2014/
As we entered the the Valle di Gressoney-Saint-Jean we were greeted by the characteristic gray stone houses nestled in the valley floor that had been settled by the industrious trading people known as the Walser from nearby Switzerland. The Walser people are of Germanic origin in custom and costume and speak a distinctive “titsch” dialect http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Walser. Within the valley a mixture of French, German and Italian is spoken called Valdôtain and the signage and food reflects the melding of the three cultures. Gressoney-Saint-Jean is a charming small town nestled along a sparkling river with the snowy high peaks of the Monte Rosa (4634m) referred to as “His Highness” that hold the snowy treasures we had come to experience. The Monterosa ski resort attracts international skiers beckoning them with over 180km of skiable area complete with the highly sought after free ride and glade skiing terrain http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aosta_Valley.
A few highlights of the town that I found of interest was the regional fauna museum, the Alpenfaunamuseum Beck-Peccos that displayed an eccentric but interesting collection from the region and an anomalous hunting and horn collection. Another historical tour was of the stately castle that overlooks the valley, the Castel Savoia built by Queen Margherita of Savoy and King Umbetto I of Italy in 1899. The royal couple were avid hunters and nature seekers and made their holidays in the valley and it was to become a fashionable destination for the high society.
The food of Gressoney-Saint-Jean is simply magnificent. We wined and dined ourselves through some of the best restaurants in the town such as The Nordkapp https://it-it.facebook.com/pages/Nordkapp/156303271136763 and My Hostaria https://www.facebook.com/pages/My-Hostaria/601500593295445 reveled in the robust bounty of the region. The food combines the Italian, French, and German cuisine into flavorful dishes fit for a king. We enjoyed antipasti appetizers with local salamis of beef and chamois and local cheeses such as Fontina, Toma and Seras complete with rustic beads. A speciality dish is Valpelline which is a type of breaded soup with cabbage and cheese, polenta of all varieties, and tender local beef steaks and beef cheeks.
One wine we enjoyed with our evening meals was a local Donnas made from the Nebbiolo grape. The highlight of our culinary Aosta adventure was in celebration of my son’s twenty fourth birthday. We booked a table at Punta Jolanda at the top of the mountain and it just happened to coincide with the highly anticipated heavy snowfall. And snow it did. We were met at the base of the mountain in a blizzard of snow with an enormous snowcat that transported us up to the top of the mountain in an unusual mode that was noisy but fun despite the almost white out conditions. The restaurant was a cozy enclave with a commanding view of the valley below that unfortunately we could not see but admired nevertheless. We enjoyed a delicious meal, began with a fruity prosecco and our main course was an enormous 2 kg of florentine beef paired with a lovely rich Piedmont Barolo. We topped our meal off with lovely desserts of fruit, mousse, and crème brûlée. A wonderful meal, in a wonderful place, for a wonderful son. Life does not get better.