Resort Guide: Courmayeur, Italy

Courmayeur is the capital of Italian mountain tourism, dating back to 1908. Situated an hour and a half north of Turin, down the stunning Aosta Valley, it is a sophisticated resort that has endless terrain for snowboarders. If you hate coffee, pizza, powder, wine and smiling, carry on travelling. Chamonix folk can make a day trip across the border via the Mont Blanc tunnel, but while the high mountains and steep terrain are familiar, the cultural contrast couldn’t be greater. Courmayeur is blessedly free of crowds – especially off piste – with more tree runs and, at times, very different weather (it can be cloudy in Cham but sunny over the mountain). This really is the yin to Chamonix’s yang.

Did you know?

Dogged gumshoes and femmes fatales take note: every December the resort celebrates crime fiction and film noir with the Courmayeur Noir Festival.


The Parks

The Courmarider Association has a four-year plan to improve the facilities for its talented young freestylers, starting with putting next year’s snowpark at a higher altitude. This will be a great improvement on last year’s low-lying park that suffered terribly from the bad conditions. Led by the enthusiastic Matteo Ghiazza, their main aim is to include everyone – with rails and boxes, small to medium kicker lines and one of the biggest airbags available at 15mx15m.

You can hit the giant kicker into the airbag for around two euros a go – well worth it for big air thrills without the hospital bills. In coming years, there are plans for a stash area similar to Avoriaz, with north shore, logs, jams and berms. However, there’s nothing set in stone when it comes to snowboarding and the Mont Blanc region is historically maligned for its lack of decent snowparks. Nevertheless the natural terrain offers plenty of freestyle potential – the Absinthe team hit the backcountry here for their 2013 film Dopamine.

The Powder

Courmayeur has an excellent snowfall record, and it’s no surprise that it’s a stop on the Swatch Freeride World Tour.  The breathtaking view is not just a pretty face, and Monte Bianco stops southerly weather systems in their tracks, dumping their fruits on Courmayeur. Like Italian cuisine, the resort’s strength is in its simplicity, and the top quality ingredients here are varied terrain, powder and trees. Due to its relatively low altitude, however, Courmayeur is a dish best served cold. Caution should always be exercised but there is loads of playful terrain accessible from the chairlifts, for example under the Dzeleuna and Plan de la Gabba chairs or, more adventurously, off the back of the Pra Neyron. Unlocking the well-guarded secrets of Courmayeur may take time but that means there are plenty of nooks and crannies for everyone.  There are magical tree runs, pillows lines, chutes and cliffs, as well as long off-piste runs that wrap around both sides of the mountain from the top station, the Arp. A guide is recommended on these backcountry routes from the top, although going with someone you trust and who knows what's up is another option (at your own risk of course - this is Europe!). Avalanche safety is a prerequisite and you'll see many locals with Avalungs and airbags on the big days. Even off the lower lifts you can easily end up bushwhacking, getting lost or, if you're not careful, being helicoptered out of the dangerous forbidden zone. A logical, gradual approach to your exploration will help you get the most out of your time here. Further freeriding possibilities include heli-boarding and taking a guide to the Punta Helbronner on the adjacent mountain – from where you can access the famous Vallée Blanche from the Italian side. Contact the Evolution 2 ski school. 

The Pistes

The pistes are excellently groomed here and this makes cruising, carving and piste jibbing highly enjoyable, especially before mid-March when the sun starts to bake the south facing slopes.

Most runs are wide, smooth and fairly steep, with plenty of side jibs. They only really get crowded in February and weekends. There’s something special about perfect corduroy, and gunning the first line under the Checrouit, knowing that you’ve got all day to hunt down the powder, is a memorable experience. A skiers’ review would say that you could easily ‘do’ it all in a day and might cite the lack of black runs and moguls as negatives, but for snowboarders it’s a top resort, while the scarcity of blue runs just means there are no annoying cat tracks. The Scuola di Sci has proper snowboarders for instructors and they are a fun bunch. Monte Bianco school is also a good bet.

The Parties

Courmayeur is famed for its restaurants and to recommend just three on the mountain, Christiania is handy and fast with great pizza, while the Chiecco and Maison Vielle require more time and cash but are special experiences – great for stormy weather.

The common thread is the Italian schnapps ‘grappa’, and proprietors are notoriously generous with their tasting sessions. The party normally starts here and after an interesting last run down, the après continues all along the main street. Here you’ll find the popular Bar Roma, the welcoming Bar delle Guide (which plays snow flicks) and the Americain Bar for football, food, wine and music. Italian culture revolves around food and in most places antipasti are served with your drinks. This is useful if you are on a tight budget and even makes you look sophisticated. Later on, the Mont Frety outside area attracts some beautiful people and the Privé is reckoned to be the best cocktail and nibbles bar in town.

Many historic restaurants are also found in town such as the Pier Alexis, established in 1877, and the awesome Pizzeria du Tunnel, which has been serving traditional wood-fired pizzas for decades. The ancient food and wine culture really enriches Courmayeur’s nightlife, making it more a journey of discovery rather than a Jaeger-fuelled black hole.