Mixed luck in Champoluc

ChampolucThere are times, to use the well aired aphorism, when a little of what you fancy really does you good. I had fancied a return to the ski slopes after an unusual absence of two years. My wife, a skier of some poise, had been suffering from a painful foot and didn’t feel forcing it into a ski boot would help. So with her approval I booked a short, solo trip to the Italian Alps, in the hope that a whinging right knee would zip it for long enough for me to confirm I could still carve a moderately elegant turn.

Conditions looked promising. There had been a big snowstorm a couple of days before my departure. I had booked with the excellent Winchester based operator Ski2Champoluc. The package included transport from and back to Milan’s Malpensa airport, half board in a pleasant three star hotel with glorious mountain views from my room, vouchers for light lunches, a lift pass, skis from the firm’s own rental shop, somewhere to park them overnight at the foot of the gondola lift, guides to ski with – and an abundant flow of indispensable advice and assistance. This last proved invaluable, as things didn’t go to plan. For the first two days Champoluc’s lifts were closed by high winds. The operator ferried customers to a much smaller area about 15 minutes away above the village of Antagnod, saving the need to wait for the free buses. Given its customers included a school party from Scotland, this was no mean feat of organisation. 

ChampolucAntagnod’s four pistes – two blue, two red – are served by a single, four seat chairlift. At first a little powder lingered on the upper slopes. But on the second day, after a stodgy ham and cheese sandwich at the area’s modest bar and restaurant, a fierce, cheek scouring wind whipped it away in a few gusts. “I think they’ll close this lift too”, said my guide. She was quickly proved right, but not before we had decided to quit while ahead and beat the crowds off the mountain. The knee had continued to behave itself however, though by now, following a stress test on some icy, unforgiving pitches, it had every reason to complain.

Champoluc is part of the Monterosa ski area which, though its easternmost valley is in Piedmont, lies mostly in the Aosta Valley. Its pistes are predominantly red, suggesting they are best enjoyed by good intermediates. But I’m assured the area offers truly excellent terrain for advanced and expert skiers and boarders, especially after new snow.

Champoluc villageThe village is strung out along a quiet road. From the church and large piazza it is about a ten minute walk uphill to the access gondola. Things may change when (or if) plans to link the funicular at nearby Frachey with the Plateau Rosa above Cervinia, and thus with Zermatt in Switzerland bear fruit. But for the present it’s a pleasant, unassuming place, far removed in atmosphere from Europe’s brasher resorts and relatively quiet except on holidays and fair weather weekends, when the Milanese, who can see the Alps from high points in the city, drive up through a landscape in which every rocky outcrop seems to be commandeered by some brooding castle. 

Despite the lack of crowds it is a gateway to what Simon Brown, who runs Ski2Champoluc’s British ski school, has described as “Italy’s very own three valleys” and “the most underrated skiing in the Alps – both on piste and off”. Which made it all the more frustrating that I got the merest glimpse of it. That came on the third day, with an afternoon departure looming. The wind had dropped. The sky was blue. I caught the two stage gondola to Alpe Ostafa and made the most of the brief time I had left on a lovely red run back to the middle station. Age hadn’t yet prevented me from making a decent turn or two. The ski legs came back. Hotel Bellevue ChampolucSo, for some reason, did the late, great Alan Sherman’s “Hello Muddah, hello Fadduh”, set to the tune of Ponchielli’s Dance of the Hours, whose subject had long days left at camp when the rain stopped. Over a quick lunch at Lo Bistrot in the village – a mammoth cold meat board of ham, air dried beef, salami and the most delicious black pudding that could have fed two but cost only around £12 – it occurred that my short taster on the snow that morning had a certain benefit. It left me convinced that, before I finally consigned my boots to the recycling plant, I would return. And it had proved the truth of that aphorism. It had indeed been only a little of what I fancied – but it really had done me the world of good.  

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Roger Bray

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