by Cat Weakley and travel writer, The Telegraph, March 6, 2017
The itinerary is packed, taking in the resorts of Courmayeur and La Thuile, two fancy hotels and a brand new revolving cable car that accesses a mass of off-piste runs and close-up views of the 4,810m peak of Mont Blanc.
As our destination is the Aosta Valley in Italy, we’re also going to have some mighty fine lunches. And all over a long weekend.
The plan has come together with the help of tailor-made specialist tour operator and travel agent Ski Solutions. To make the most of a few days, I find it seriously helps to have an expert do the organising.
Courmayeur, on the Italian side of Mont Blanc, is an easy two-hour taxi transfer from Geneva airport. As we approach the Mont Blanc tunnel there’s a hood of cloud smoothing the famous mountain into a soft mound.
A sign of snow, the taxi driver tells us, but there’s no need for signs – huge piles of it are stacked up on Courmayeur’s roofs and the sides of the roads. It’s mid-January 2016 and we’ve pitched up at the same time as fresh snowfall.
Another of the weekend's destinations, La Thuile
There’s little time to admire the welcoming woody confines of the four-star Gran Baita hotel on arrival, as we get into ski wear and head back to the taxi for the 15-minute ride to the new Monte Bianco Skyway lift. However, the skis stay at the bottom – thanks to unstable new snow, our off-piste plans are scuppered.
But we accelerate up the €138 million lift’s two stages anyway, from Entreves at 1,306m to Punta Helbronner at 3,462m in 10 minutes, with a brief pause to admire the futuristic mid‑station.
It’s a thrill ride all the way, watching the lift stations drop away through the floor‑to‑ceiling windows.
However, on the 360-degree viewing platform at the top, Mont Blanc’s hood of cloud is all-enveloping and we can’t even see the mountain.
So far, so not quite to plan. But I’m sure I can still feel the power of the highest peak in Europe, a formidable presence in the fog.
Next day, we’re almost back on track, up early and kitted out with avalanche safety gear in the hands of Aiace “Ace” Bazzana from Courmayeur Ski School.
Although Courmayeur is comparatively small in piste terms, with a 41km network of mainly red runs, its top lifts lead to more off-piste routes – of which the resort claims 59.
We’re thoroughly excited at the thought of fresh snow, but as it’s still cloudy and snowing, our fun must be had lower down.
At first it’s cruddy and windblown, but Ace fires up our enthusiasm, finding fun slots between pistes, short pitches of trees and pockets of flying powder.
We’re all riding high by the time we break for a properly-late, let’s-not-do-much-skiing-after-this lunch. Maison Vieille is a buzzing mountain hut packed with hungry skiers and hung with what looks like several lifetimes of mountaineering souvenirs, photos and paraphernalia.
We lay our kit out on whatever comes to hand – ice axe, cowbell – and pitch in to devour antipasti of local meats and cheese, followed by pasta covered with Parmesan freshly dug from a giant wheel.
Leaving Courmayeur is a wrench, wanting more sauntering and shopping down the Via Roma, more time to sup authentically sophisticated Aperol Spritz and nibble free snacks in the classy Caffè della Posta.
But that soon dissipates after a session in the bubble pools, saunas and steam room of the stylishly modern five-star Nira Montana in La Thuile, a half-hour taxi from Courmayeur. Not to mention hanging out at the bar sampling the roster of martinis and snacks.
It’s good preparation for cruising La Thuile’s gentle miles under blue skies, with clear, impressive views of Mont Blanc this time.
And for speeding down the few dizzyingly steep black runs (used for World Cup races in February 2016), before the cold persuades us inside for a bombardino at the Clotze mountain hut, then to the rustic surroundings of the Coppapan for a sumptuous lunch of polenta and deer stew.
Relaxing finally in the cab back to Geneva after a last day on the slopes, it’s hard to believe we’ve packed so much in. I love it when a plan comes together; I possibly love even more the surprises that come when it goes a little awry.
Need to know:
A four-night trip with two nights B&B at each of the Gran Baita in Courmayeur and Nira Montana in La Thuile costs from £995 with Ski Solutions, including flights and airport and inter-resort transfers.
This article was written by Cat Weakley and travel writer from The Telegraph and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to [email protected].