This weekend saw the first big ski weekend of the Italian season – and in Courmayeur it really did start with a bang. Whilst waiting for the cable-cars to open on Saturday morning a rumour filtered through that an early-morning avalanche, caused by the huge early season snowfall, had cut one of the mountain’s key electricity cables.
Luckily the ski lifts all work on a separate circuit so the essential uphill transport eventually got cracking and whisked the early season skiers up into cold, powder-laden peaks. It was eerie to be skiing past completely dark, silent bars and restaurants – it looked as if the owners had got the dates wrong and forgotten to turn up for the big Sant’Ambroggio weekend.
With half a metre of snow in town and nearly a metre and half on the slopes conditions are now fabulous with almost all the lifts and runs open. The swift storm that brought all this snow didn’t of course allow much of base to develop off-piste and in some places there was simply too much snow to make any headway at all. Luckily the steeper descents through the trees provided gorgeous, chilled powder that was a delight to ski – digging yourself out after a freezing cold face plant was however a different matter.
The Courmayeur cable-car company have been very busy during the summer upgrading chair-lifts and building new access pistes that make the trip from one side of the mountain much simpler. For those that know the area, there’s a new green run that slices through the Val Veny forest from the top of the Peindent chair-lift to the brand-new Bertolini detachable quad. It’s a great addition that will remove a lot of the queues at key bottlenecks.
Something else that’s going to change the face of Courmayeur this season is the decision by the lift company to leave the main cable-car from the centre of town open until midnight – every night. Eight of the mountain bars and restaurants will now offer night-time drinks and dinner to anyone wishing to experience an ice-cold aperitivo or a gourmet dinner whilst peering out through a frosted window into the starlit Italian heavens. The places open range from basic pizza restaurants such as Cristiania at Plan Chercouit (a two-minute walk from the cable-car) to the gourmet-recommended Ristorante Chiecco which requires a fast drive on a ski-doo to reach it.
If you fancy an early season trip out to see for yourself how Courmayeur is upgrading itself the resort will be nearly deserted from now until Boxing Day. After that you’ll be in the middle of the frenzied Italian holidays when finding a chair-lift without a queue or a restaurant with a free table will be about as easy as finding a reference to skiing in Shakespeare.