A Guide to Freeride Skiing in Courmayeur, Italy

Daniel DawsonJanuary 28, 2019

Situated in the northeastern corner of the Aosta Valley, Courmayeur is one of the world’s premier freeride skiing destinations!

Located at an elevation of 1.200 meters above sea level, the autonomous Italian commune sits at the foot of the Mont Blanc massif. With all of the classic amenities you would attribute to an Italian village – strong and fresh espresso in every cafe, excellent food at every restaurant and a mesmerizing maze of cobblestone streets in between – it is little wonder that roughly one million tourists visit the valley each year.  

However, the freeride skiing is arguably the biggest draw for outdoor adventure seekers to this side of the Mont Blanc massif.

Once you have emerged from the Mont Blanc tunnel into the Aosta Valley, you are likely to notice that there is a bit more snow on the ground. That’s because the unique topography of the valley, which leads to heavier snow falls here than on the French side.

This, combined with sunny days and below freezing temperatures, create the ideal situation for freeride skiing all around Courmayeur.

Whether you plan on spending only a single day here as part of a tour of the larger area or a week exploring this idyllic valley, there are a few useful things that you should know.

That’s why we’ve taken the liberty of compiling a list of the top freeride spots in Courmayeur, along with some other useful information, to take into consideration before planning your next ski holiday here!

Top 3 reasons for Freeriding in Courmayeur

 

Enjoy the plentiful and fresh powder on the southern slopes of the Mont Blanc massif as well as at numerous other points in the commune. Photo courtesy of Peaks Hunter Mountain Guides.

Stunning scenery

The picturesque mountain scenery around Courmayeur makes the commune an attractive tourist destination all year-round. In the winter, when snow blankets all of the surrounding mountains, village rooftops and valleys, Courmayeur is an even more sublime sight to behold.

Heading up to a mountain ridge in a gondola or chair lift gives you a bird’s eye view of the towering mountains, deep valleys, and contrasting evergreen forest. Rushing back down these hills on your skis gives you an even more unique perspective.

Perfect powder

Part of what separates Courmayeur from the rest of the surrounding ski villages is the powder. Plenty of it falls throughout the season as this is one of the wettest parts of the western Alps. Since it is usually deep and sleek, due to the abundance of sunlight that falls on it, freeride skiing is dream-like here.

Heading down for run after run, you are unlikely to hit a rough patch or be interrupted as you glide from summit to valley on mountain slopes facing in every direction.

Plenty of variety

Courmayeur is a one-stop destination for all of your freeride skiing wants and needs. There are steep descents down deep powder bowls; longer treks across mountain ridges and down into what feel like undiscovered valleys; and adrenaline-pumping runs through ravines with terrains that feel like moguls.

Whatever you are looking for out of a freeride skiing adventure, you are almost certain to find it somewhere in Courmayeur.

Where to ski in Courmayeur

1| La Vallée Blanche

 

Located just to the north of Courmayeur and to the east of the Mont Blanc massif, La Vallée Blanche draws thousands of freeride skiers every year for its incredible descents and perfect powder.

From Pointe Helbronner, which may be accessed by the Monte Bianco Skyway, you then get to enjoy a 23-kilometer descent and 2.800 meter vertical decrease in elevation. To say it’s thrilling would be putting it mildly.

The trip is not technically very difficult and the slopes are not overly steep, but the views of the surrounding mountains are unparalleled. The whole excursion lasts about a single day, but with various different routes up and down, you could explore the valley for several.

However, be wary. Always head out here with a certified guide due to the dangers of crevasses and risk of avalanches.


In brief:

Duration: 1+ days

Difficulty level: Intermediate

Top trips: La Vallée Blanche guided ski tour; 1-day freeriding program at La Vallée Blanche


2| Pointe Helbronner and Pavillon Woods

 

Headed down from Pointe Helbronner, Courmayeur is your oyster: there are plenty of different and unique runs back down along all sorts of different terrains. Photo courtesy of Stéphane Monari.

These two destinations are pretty close and also accessed by the Monte Bianco Skyway, with exits at different points along the cable car route. Each one is perfect for a single-day trip, but many guides offer multi-day trips in which you head out and tackle each of them separately.

Pointe Helbronner, which reaches 3.462 meters in elevation, is the starting point for a multitude of more advanced freeride trips. From here there is access to numerous gullies and couloirs that lead to hours and hours of freeride skiing and exploring.

Among the most popular routes are Mont Fréty, the Marbrèe glaciers and the oddly named ‘Canale del Cesso’. Each of these offers steep descents of greater than 40 degrees and are sure to get your adrenaline pumping.

There is also an option to head down several slightly easier routes and return to La Palud, which is just north of Courmayeur. One of these is the Toula Glacier, a fun 12-kilometer descent in which you lose 2.000 meters of elevation.  

The other is via the Pavillon Woods, which can also be accessed independently from a mid-point stop on the Skyway. This route is appropriate for intermediate skiers and sends you winding down the slopes and through the valleys back into La Palud.

From the starting point, it is about an 825-meter vertical descent back into the commune with innumerable different variations from which to choose. It is one of the most isolated routes that you could take in Courmayeur and should keep you busy all day.


In brief:

Duration: 1+ days

Difficulty level: Intermediate to advanced

Top trips: Courmayeur, Toula Glacier guided freeride skiing; Mont Blanc Massif guided freeride skiing


3| Dolonne couloir

 

Long ravines leading into deep powder bowls define the appeal of the Dolonne couloir. Photo courtesy of Peaks Hunter Mountain Guides.

Located a bit to the southeast of Courmayeur, the Dolonne couloir is one of the most popular of a plethora of different possibilities.

Heading out from Dolonne, you will take the Cresta Youla then Create D’Arp lifts to 2.755 meters and begin your adventure from here.

The northeast facing slopes down the couloir generally have plenty of snow throughout the season and are ideal for people coming in March or April, but excellent for the rest of the season too.

The route involves a long descent with a 1.500 meter decrease in elevation and takes you back down to Dolonne, making for a spectacular half-day trip.

If you’re feeling adventurous, you could also head east and make a backcountry freeride trip down into Pré-St-Didier or an even farther trek, down through the he Vallon de Youla all the way to La Balme.

These both take a little bit longer, but with the excellent views and skiing along the way, are well worth it.


In brief:

Duration: 1+ days

Difficulty level: Intermediate to advanced

Top trips: Mont Blanc Massif guided freeride skiing


4| Vesse couloir

Heading up the Crested Youla lift, the same one that takes you to the Dolonne couloir, you can also access the Vesse couloir and even head further afield to Arp Vielle.

Instead of heading east, this route goes northwest, taking you through a narrow ravine before opening up into a large powder bowl and descending 2.600 meters. Along the way down, you will get impressive views of the Val Veny and Glacier du Miage further afield.

This side of the mountain tends to get more shade during the afternoon making it a bit chillier, but also making the powder a bit moire fresh. This comes in especially handy if you are visiting later in the season.

One of the best parts is that once you have finished the descent, there’s an easy shortcut back to the lifts, meaning you could do it again or head out to Dolonne couloir.


In brief:

Duration: 1+ days

Difficulty level: Intermediate to advanced

Top trips: Mont Blanc Massif guided freeride skiing


Best time to go there

 

Snow is plentiful on the slopes around Courmayeur for about half of the year. Photo courtesy of Francesco Ratti.

Most guides recommend heading to Courmayeur for a freeride skiing trip in between December and April.

During these winter months, average daily temperatures are around -7 °C to -3 °C and can drop below -10ºC at the highest elevations. Temperatures will hit the freezing mark and rise to slightly above freezing later in the season.

This area is one of the wettest parts of the western Alps and there is generally snow for about half of the year at higher elevations. There tends to be snow for a bit less of the year farther down toward the valley floor though.

How much does a guided trip cost?

 

How much a guided freeride skiing trip to Courmayeur costs depends on a number of factors, including how long you are going for, what is included in the trip price and how many other people you are going with.

However, you can expect to spend about €300 for a solo, single-day freeriding trip. This price usually only includes the guide fee and tends to go down based on how many other people you are going with. For example, a group of four could expect to pay closer to €100 per person for this same trip.

Longer trips are also offered. You could expect to spend about €400 per person for a group of three or more on a three-day freeride skiing trip. This price generally also only includes the guide fee.

For those of you looking for a more immersive adventure, there are week-long, all inclusive options for groups of five or more that cost right around €1.200 per person. This price generally includes the guiding fee and expenses, accommodations, half-board meals and transport during the trip.

Remember that every guide prices their trips differently and includes different things. Always be sure to confirm a price quote with your guide as well as check what is included before booking a trip.

How to get there?

 

Whether you are looking for a fast and furious freeride experience, an idyllic woodland traverse or both, Courmayeur has what you need. Photo courtesy of Stéphane Monari.

In spite of its location on the French and Italian border, the international airport in Geneva, Switzerland (GVA) is actually the closest major airport to Courmayeur.

From here, the resort town is only a 1.5 hour drive away in a rental car. There are also numerous shuttle services that will take you directly to your hotel door, including Aosta Express, GVA airport transfers and Alpybus.

There are also public transport options, such as bus and train, but these take longer and require a transfer from the town of Aosta on to Courmayeur.

Renting a car is probably the easiest and most freeing though, as it allows you easy access to other resorts and popular ski touring areas in the region as well.

Flying into the international airport in Turin, Italy (TRN) is another option. However, this airport will have fewer direct flights from non-European destinations.

From here, Courmayeur is about an hour and 40 minutes away in a rental car. There are also shuttle options from here, but fewer than from the airport in Geneva. Public transport, either in train or bus, to Aosta is your best bet, followed by a transfer on bus on to Courmayeur.

Overall, again, renting a car is probably the most straightforward option from Turin.

What to do in Courmayeur besides freeriding?

 

When you are finally finished with your freeride skiing adventure, take some time in this picturesque region of the Aosta Valley to explore other excellent winter outdoor activities too.

There are plenty of other ski touring options from the slopes of Monte Rosa to the minor summits of Mont Blanc. Heliskiing is another popular option that allows you to sample many different ski touring opportunities all around the region.

The options for winter fun are nearly endless here.

When viewed from above, you can’t help but think, why would I ever leave Courmayeur? Photo courtesy of Peaks Hunter Mountain Guides.

 

So what are you waiting for? Book your next freeride skiing holiday to Courmayeur and get ready for some excellent snow, stunning scenery and small-town Italian charm!

 

 

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