Italy, Europe

Aosta Valley Off-Piste and Freeride

This week is based in Courmayeur, located in the upper Aosta Valley on the south side of the Mont Blanc massif. We aim to ski in many of the resorts and areas accessible from Courmayeur.

Courmayeur ski area is relatively small, however the high lifts of Youla and Arp offer long north facing descents where powder snow lies long after a snow fall. The tree skiing is fabulous and especially on cold snowy days it's possible to get fresh tracks all day.

The south side of the Mont Blanc massif holds acres of skiing potential from long glacier runs to steep couloirs and some fabulous heli-skiing from Val Veny. There are steep runs and couloirs to ski on the Glacier du Toule, accessed by the Skyway Monte Bianco at Punta Helbronner. We also explore the ski touring options at Punta Croce above the Colla San Carlo and tree skiing aplenty from less well-known lift systems further down the Aosta valley near the Grand St. Bernard.

The week is six guided days, aimed at advanced off-piste skiers with previous ski touring experience.

Below is a sample itinerary but alternations may have to be made depending on the weather and snow conditions.

Day Itinerary

  • Travel to Courmayeur.

    Welcome meeting and briefing with your guide at 7pm in the hotel.

  • A warm up day skiing in Courmayeur, there is lots of great off piste in the trees and long runs available from the Youla and Arp cable cars.

  • A day skiing from the Skyway Monte Bianco, the new lift to Punta Helbronner at 3462m. The Glacier de Toule offers a long open glaciated run, in powder snow its one of the best but also just as good in spring conditions.

  • Touring day from the Collo San Carlo to Punta Croce. This is a great ski tour to a peak overlooking the Aosta and La Thuille Valley's.

    A short drive takes us to Arpy on the Colla San Carlo, a tiny hamlet and cross country ski area. From here there is a 2hr climb to the summit winding first through the larch woods, passing the Lago de Arpy and on to the summit ridge. This is lined with old war defenses and offers an amazing view to the Mont Blanc range.

    The route down can be mellow or steep depending on the snow conditions, there steep larch trees offer some great skiing and a fast descent back towards the lake.

  • Today we return to the Skyway lift and aim to make a descent of the Vallee Blanche from this Italian Side. The typical route is to descend via Combe Virage into the Val Noir, past the ice fall and down to the Salle a Manger. We return to Courmayeur via the local bus service.

  • We head back to the Courmayeur ski area and take the lift to the highest point of the Arp at 2755m.

    From here we can ski some long descents into the Val Veny and return to the lift at Zarotta. There are also some fine day tours to be found towards Mont Fortin by crossing over the Col du Youla.

  • We return to the Skyway Monte Bianco and aim to make a descent from Col d'Entreves, this is a short ski tour from Punta Helbronner skiing the Glacier d'Entreves back to the mid-station of the Skyway.

    Touring possibilities also exist into Combe Maudit under the towing peaks of the Grand Capucin, Mont Maudit and the Arete de la Brenva

  • Depart after breakfast

The price includes: all guiding fees & expenses, 7 nights B&B hotel accommodation on a twin share basis and local transfers to ski.

The price does not include: uplift costs, evening meals, lunches, beverages, equipment hire, travel to/from Courmayeur.

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This is an extensive list of the recommended clothing and equipment you will need if you are coming on one of our Off-Piste Adventure trips.  On all our weeks you’ll be staying in comfortable catered chalets or hotels. When skiing you need to carry just a day pack, which contains your safety equipment and any personal items or extra clothing layers you may need.

  • We continue to see big changes in ski, boot and binding design and technology, which make off-piste skiing and ski touring much more accessible. For our Adventure courses we prefer you to ski with” freeride” skis, ski touring boots and ski touring bindings. If you have your own skis but they do not have ski touring bindings but are suitable for off piste then you are welcome to bring them with you. Downhill boots are also acceptable but please bear in mind that you will do some touring on ALL our Off-Piste Adventure courses so you made need to hire suitable skis and boots in resort.

    Skis
    There are many ‘all-mountain/freeride’ skis to choose from and we highly recommend skis from Dynastar, Movement, Black Crows, Trab Skis, Scott and Volkl. Look for a ski that is the right size for you height, typically the tip of the ski should be somewhere around your nose height. As for the width of the ski or “side cut” a mid-fat ski – 90-110mm under the foot is a good place to start; this offers plenty of flotation off piste, while remaining suitable for day tours and they should also handle reasonably well on piste and mixed terrain.
    Dynastar Skis: www.dynastar.com
    Movement Skis: www.movementskis.com
    Black Crows Skis: www.blackcrows-skis.com/
    Trab Skis: www.skitrab.com/en-us/
    Scott Skis: http://www.scott-sports.com
    Volkl Skis: http://www.voelkl.com

    Boots
    For our Off-Piste Adventure courses its best to have a pair of ski touring boots – they have great skiing performance and with the vibram soles they are much safer for scrambling around on rocky or icy ground. However standard downhill ski boots are also acceptable. We do not recommend you come on a trip with brand new boots.

    If you are going to be getting into off-piste and ski touring, then rather than having a pair of downhill boots and a pair of ski touring boots, we strongly suggest that you opt for a good pair of ski touring boots. With advances made in plastics, moldings and materials in recent years you can now get a ‘hybrid’ touring boot that offers as much downhill performance and stiffness but they come with a walk mode and good flexibility for the uphill too. Many boots fall into the category "hike & ride" so a 3 or 4 buckle boot, walk mode, vibram/grippy sole and possible Pin binding compatible.
    It just makes more sense - not only are they much more comfortable to walk in compared to ordinary ski boots, they are great to ski in too.

    Scarpa have lead the way in touring boots for many years but they have been joined by other manufactures like Dynafit, Salomon, Scott, Black Diamond, Dalbello and K2; all producing their own versions of a ski touring boot.
    • Scarpa’s Freedom boots are their Hybrid offerings, great ski performance, a walk mode and vibram sole. Their Maestrale (men’s) and Gea (women’s) boots are also highly recommended.
    • The Scott Celeste and Cosmos boots have stood the test of time and are good all round choices.
    • Salomon’s Quest Max series offer boots with a walk mode in various flex’s with good downhill performance.
    • Dynafit offer the Mercury or Vulcan boots plus a range of lightweight options like the TLT6.
    The best of the rest are:
    Fischer - Transalp
    Black Diamond – Quadrant and Factor
    K2 – Pinnacle boot
    Dalbello – Lupo or Sherpa
    Langue – XT series offer a ski boot with a walk mode in various flex options

    Boot Liners
    These days many manufacturers offer ‘thermo-fit’ liners as standard equipment. You may also want to consider a custom liner. Heated and moulded to your foot and boot for a perfect fit, they can make all the difference especially if you have trouble finding really comfortable
    ‘off-the-shelf¹ boots. Zipfit liners are a great option for anyone seeking total customisation in fit and comfort. They will replace the original liner.

    Custom Footbeds
    Essential kit – to provide additional comfort and ski control. If you want to get footbeds made or a pair of new boots fitted then we suggest you visit somewhere like Profeet for a professional fitting. Don’t forget if you have footbeds in your downhill boots but need to rent touring boots then you can bring the footbeds with you and put them in the hire boots.

    Bindings
    We prefer you to have ski touring bindings on your skis for our adventure courses but if you have downhill bindings mounted on your skis then this is perfectly acceptable. The new touring bindings are every bit as safe for downhill as alpine bindings, yet you have the additional advantage of being able to walk uphill with them to access the real off-piste. Fritschi Diamir and Marker both have great bindings which can be used with ski touring boots and downhill boots. Many more people are seeing the advantage of the “pin” binding system now offered by a number of manufactures; they are light and offer ever improving security despite their minimalist looks!
  • Although our Off-Piste Adventure courses rely heavily on the lift systems in resorts, access to and egress from runs sometimes involve climbing and walking a short way and you may undertake 1 or 2 day ski tours, for this reason its best to have skis with ski touring bindings, skins and ski touring boots.

    • Ski Skins – these are skins which, now made of artificial fabric, stick to the bottom of your skis and allow you to walk up hill. They must be cut to fit your skis exactly, so if you are bringing your own skis you must provide your own skins.
    • Ski Crampons (aka Couteaux) - most ski touring bindings have ski crampons specifically designed for the binding. We always carry these just in case. Again if you are bringing your own skis and touring bindings you must provide your own ski crampons.
    • When skiing on glaciated terrain you will need a harness and occasionally boot crampons and possibly an ice axe. Your can guide can supply you with these items if you do not have your own.
  • The “Safety Trilogy” - applicable for all our off-piste courses and ski tours.

    Avalanche Transceiver/Beacon 
    Snow shovel
    Avalanche probe

    Avalanche airbags/rucksacks – if you wish to ski with one of these on our courses you are welcome to do so, they are not mandatory but we always support the use of available safety items.
    You can hire avalanche rucksacks in a lot of resorts, makes are usually Snowpulse/Mammut, ABS or BCA Float sacks. Prices vary from shop to shop and resort to resort but a guide line price would be from €20-30 per day or around €100-120 for 6/7 days.

    Remember it is not enough just to carry this equipment; you have to know how to use it.
    How about joining one of our specialist avalanche courses – check out http://mountaintracks.co.uk/discipline/winter-mountaincraft

  • Good pair of goggles – essential. Useful to have 2 pairs on powder days in case of head plants! A pair with a lens for low light is essential in the event of snow and poor visibility
    Good quality sunglasses – UV factor category 4 recommended
    20-30 liter rucksack is usually suitable for most off piste skiing. Key features are a method of attaching your skis in either a A-frame (one either side) or both together on a diagonal ski carriage; easy access into the main compartment without having to empty the sack to get something at the bottom; separate pocket for avalanche shovel, handle and probe; small top pocket for items like wallet, sunglasses/goggles etc; an ice axe loop and possibly a built in rain cover and a secure method of attaching/stowing a ski helmet (if you use one). It’s essential that the pack has a good hip/waist belt and adjustable shoulder straps.
    Avalanche airbag rucksacks can be used but please remember that they are heavy, adding somewhere between 5-8kg just for an empty pack with cylinder in; so unless you are sure you can carry it and fit all you need in, we do not recommend you use one.
    1-1.5 Liter water bottle – we don’t recommend hydration-systems (e.g. Camelbaks) as these often freeze in winter
    Suncream and lip salve (factor 30 or higher recommended.)
    • A good quality pair of ski trousers. They must be made from a waterproof and breathable fabric like Gore-Tex or similar. It’s useful to have some venting zips on the legs either inside or outside thigh or full length side-zips. Integral snow gaiters and some pockets for handy items are good features.
    • An outer shell jacket made of waterproof and breathable material like Gore-Tex or similar with a built-in hood. We advocate the ‘layering principle’ and so a shell is recommended rather than an insulated jacket.
    • Comfortable underwear with good wicking properties. Very popular at the moment are the wool based layers from companies such as Icebreaker and Smartwool. They are comfy, breathable, warm when needed and can be worn for days without your friends catching a whiff!
    • Several thin (rather than fewer thick) layers between your skin and the outer shell - an approach that gives better heat retention and good flexibility. These tops are known as ‘mid layers’.
    • Insulation layer like a down or Primaloft jacket is a good item to have ready to wear in the event of cold weather, it can live in your rucksack as a spare layer and can come in very handy for sudden changes in the weather.
    • Roll neck rather than a scarf. We use and recommend the ‘Buff¹ ¬ a light, stretchable tube. Excellent despite the name! They do both a fleece/cotton version for warmth or just a cotton one (to keep the sun off).
    • Headwear to include warm hat and sun-cap or wide-brim hat for extra protection from the sun. Mountain Tracks fully supports the wearing of helmets for skiing, although not mandatory for any of our trips we do recommend them.
    • Good quality, ski gloves or mitts if you suffer from cold hands and 1 thinner pair of gloves made from a soft shell or fleece material if the weather is warm. These are particularly useful if you do any ski touring or hiking on the trip as thick gloves quickly become too hot.
    • Silk inner gloves can be useful if the weather is cold and you suffer with cold hands.
    • Technical Socks - Investing in good quality ski socks will improve fit, warmth and feel when skiing for long periods. Bring along a few pairs.

Italy in Western Europe had a long Mediterranean cost.  Bordering France, Switzerland, Austria and Slovenia.   

It's capital city is Rome, home to the Vatican and many other famous landmarks and ancient ruins.  The country has influenced Western culture and cuisine greatly in its history.

With a population of around 59 million people (2103).  Its famous cities of Rome, Florence and Venice plus landmarks like the Leaning Tower of Pisa and the Italian Lakes attracted many millions of tourists each year.

Sharing Mont Blanc with France as its highest peak on the Italian/French boarder.  The Gran Paradiso is the highest peak solely in Italy at 4,060m.

  • It is a condition of booking that you are insured for your chosen activity and the cover must include medical expenses, personal accident, personal liability, third party risks and rescue (including helicopter rescue). You are strongly advised also to take out cover against cancellation and curtailment.

    For UK residents Ski Club Travel Insurance may be a suitable option.

    For more details and to purchase a policy online visit http://www.skiclubinsurance.co.uk/
    If you need assistance arranging your personal insurance please let us know.
     

  • To get to Courmayeur we suggest you either fly to Turin airport and take public transport or a car hire and drive the 2hrs to Courmayeur. Alternatively flight to Geneva are an option and onward travel by shared minibus transfer, please contact our office for more information on this option.

    You should aim to arrive in Courmayeur sometime in the afternoon. There will be an initial briefing with your Mountain Tracks guide on the first evening. This is an opportunity to meet the guide and the rest of the party, to discuss the plans and objectives for the week and to ask any questions you may have relating to the week’s itinerary.

  • Our Off-Piste Adventure courses are run by our team of IFMGA Mountain Guides led by Olly Allen, Matt Dickinson and Nick Parks.

    The guide to skier ratio is 1:6 and we can run with a maximum of 2 groups on the same week.

  • We stay in a comfortable hotel in Courmayeur village on a bed & breakfast basis, meals can be taken our in the many restaurants that are in the village. Accommodation is provided on a twin share basis, if you wish to have a single room then please ask but they are subject to availability and usually there is a supplement.

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