From Which ski guide:
The main mountain access is by cable-car across the river gorge. This takes you up to Plan Chécrouit, a sunny plateau from where, annoyingly, you have to plod a further 75m to the foot of the lifts. At the end of the day you can take the cable-car back down, with skis and boots left in lockers at Plan Chécrouit. The alternative is to ski down to Dolonne and take a ski bus back across the river to Courmayeur. The mountain can also be reached by cable-car from the hamlet of Val Veny.
Extensive investment in snow-cannon has done much to improve skiing on the lower slopes down to Plan Chécrouit, Dolonne and to Val Veny. However, the skiing is not satisfactory for everyone: the pisted runs are mainly short and lack challenge. Advanced skiers will be more interested in the separate off-piste area, reached by the three-stage Mont Blanc cable-car at La Palud, near the village of Entrèves on the tunnel side of Courmayeur. This also provides access to the Vallée Blanche on the Chamonix side of Mont Blanc.
The easiest slopes are somewhat hazardous, with those at Plan Chécrouit cramped by buildings and crowds of skiers descending from the main pistes. The main nursery slope is situated at the top of the Maison Vieille chair-lift. The baby slopes at the top of Val Veny and Dolonne are quieter.
The east-facing Chécrouit Bowl has many short intermediate runs served by a variety of lifts including a six-seater gondola. There are some surprisingly steep and narrow passages, even on some of the blue runs. The wooded, north-facing Val Veny side of the mountain is linked in a couple of places with the Chécrouit Bowl; the Val Veny side has longer and more varied pistes with two red runs and a black trail following the fall-line through the trees.
The pistes served by the Gabba quad-chair at the top of the ski area and to the west of Lago Chécrouit keep their snow well. The off-piste run underneath them is testing. The Youla cable-car above Lago Chécrouit provides access into a deep and sheltered bowl, which serves a single, uncomplicated red run with plenty of space for short off-piste excursions when snow conditions are good. Courmayeur has neither terrain park nor half-pipe, but the off-piste at Cresta d’Arp makes for some excellent freeriding.
Queuing for the Plan Chécrouit and Mont Blanc areas is much worse at weekends, when the crowds arrive from Turin and Milan. Quad-chairs at La Gabba, Aretu and Zerotta have eased some of the other bottlenecks on the mountain, but the Youla cable-car can still be a problem.
Opportunities for cross-country skiing are enormous here, with a major Nordic centre at Val Ferret, a 15-minute drive away at the foot of the Grandes Jorasses. The centre offers four loipes totalling 30km, which wind through spectacular scenery.
Courmayeur is a good base from which to explore the substantial amount of skiing available in the Aosta Valley. A joint lift pass extends to La Thuile and La Rosière in one direction, and to Champoluc, Gressoney-La-Trinité and Alagna in the other.
The top of the two-stage cable-car at Cresta d’Arp is the starting point at 2,755m for some serious powder runs. Avalanche safety has been improved, but the service of a guide is still advised. One route takes you down 1,500m vertical to the satellite village of Dolonne or to the river bank near Pré-St-Didier; the other brings you through the beautiful Vallon de Youla to La Balme, a few kilometres from La Thuile.
From the nearby hamlet of La Palud, the Mont Blanc cable-car rises to 3,462m at Punta Helbronner, giving easy access to the Vallée Blanche by avoiding the dreaded ice steps. Alternatively, you can cruise the 10km back down the Toula Glacier to La Palud; it is steep at the top and involves a clamber along a fixed rope and the hair-raising negotiation of an exposed and awkward staircase. Heli-skiing on the Ruitor Glacier and from the ridge at the head of Val Veny is spectacular.
Tuition and Guidance
We continue to receive mixed reports of the Scuola di Sci Monte Bianco. The standard of spoken English has improved greatly in recent years, and the general verdict is that private instructors and guides are first rate, but that group instructors are often jaded: ‘our instructor gave the impression that he wasn’t interested in our skiing at all. He was never enthusiastic or encouraging’. However, the strong presence of Interski, a British tour operator that has been allowed to establish its own private British Association of Snowsport Instructors (BASI) ski school for a mixed clientèle of adults and schoolchildren, has served to raise standards.
Food in Courmayeur is taken just as seriously as skiing. In our experience there is nowhere you can eat better for less money in a greater variety of mountain restaurants than in Courmayeur. The prices are actually lower than in the resort itself. One reporter commented: ‘it is hard to ski when you could be eating. The atmosphere in the huts scattered around the mountain is an integral part of our annual visit here’.
Rifugio Maison Vieille at Col Chécrouit has a large wood-burning stove and a great atmosphere (‘it’s worth coming to Courmayeur just to have lunch here’). The Christiania at Plan Chécrouit is also singled out for special praise: ‘good meeting-point for families, great pizzas’ and ‘the freshest seafood I have ever tasted; the owner comes from Elba and obviously pines for home’. The Chiecco, situated just above Plan Chécrouit, serves full meals and ‘heavenly desserts’. La Grolla at Peindeint on the Val Veny side merits a visit (‘expensive, but worth it and difficult to find – thank goodness’). On the Mont Blanc side there are bars at each lift stage. The Rifugio Pavillon at the top of the first stage of the cable-car is reportedly superb and has a sun terrace. Rifugio Torino, at the next stage, is also said to be good.
Chamonix (France) on the other side of Month Blanc is the original extreme capital of Europe.