A view for all skiers: Italy's picturesque Monte Rosa ski area is an Alpine jewel

Ashamed as I am to admit it, I've never been good at recognising mountain peaks. Whenever a guide points out giants such as Mont Blanc and the Aiguille du Midi, or the Matterhorn in Switzerland, I smile knowingly and point my camera in the direction of their finger without really being sure what I'm aiming at. All that changed last spring when I arrived for lunch at the Campo Base restaurant in the Italian ski area of Monte Rosa.

Perched high above the hamlet of Frachey, this buzzy restaurant offered stunning views of the surrounding range, including big-hitters such as the Breithorns (all three of them well over 4,000m high) and that Swiss Alpine icon, the Matterhorn, way off in the distance. Sitting by the window with a glass of Piemontese vino rosso, I had plenty of time to study its celebrated silhouette, the triangular top shaped like a crooked witch's hat.

I'd spent the opening morning cruising immaculate corduroy in the bright spring sunshine, and this high-altitude backdrop topped off what was fast becoming a rather spectacular day. Tucked away in the Aosta Valley, on the mountainous border between Italy and Switzerland, Monte Rosa is one of the largest lift-linked ski areas in Europe, with a whopping 185km of pistes to explore. It's spread across three resorts – Champoluc, Gressoney and Alagna – each with its own valley, so you can pick whichever one matches your mood. And that, in a nutshell, had been my plan.

The previous evening I'd arrived at the Hotel Lyshaus in Gressoney. Here I'd found a cosy room with carved wood walls, and a glass of pink prosecco waiting for me in the bar. Unlike the sprawling French super-resorts, Monte Rosa is made up of bona fide villages rather than purpose-built complexes. So you get clusters of ancient stone cottages and old wooden farmhouses scattered around the hillsides – each of which comes complete with authentic Italian trimmings, including quirky local restaurants and some seriously good wines. Both became recurring themes throughout my week here. After finishing that glass of lunchtime red in Campo Base I followed my guide, Carlo, across to Gressoney.

While Champoluc – the most westerly of the three resorts – is family-oriented, with an array of cruisy reds and blues, Gressoney is the intermediate filling in the Monte Rosa sandwich. It's made up of steeper reds with a few cheeky couloirs thrown in to spice things up.

It was one of these – called the Eagle – that I now tackled with Carlo. Making our way up to Punta Indren (3,275m) with the late afternoon sun casting long shadows on the spring snow, we dropped in to the short, steepish chute, which led conveniently out on to a chopped-up black.

The breathtaking scenery I'd enjoyed at lunch on the Champoluc side continued with us. Cruising back down to Gressoney with the slopes almost to ourselves, I got plenty of time to catch an eyeful of the snow-packed peaks turning milky pink to signal the end of the day.

As you might expect from a ski area that's made up of traditional villages the après scene here is not exactly wild. Instead you'll find family-run eateries serving up delicacies such as chestnut gnocchi with smoked ham and toma cheese (an Aostan speciality) or homemade pasta with wild boar ragu. They're recipes that have been carefully crafted over centuries, with the sole aim of filling up empty legs. And trust me, they work.

It was a good job, too, because the next day I shifted my attention to Alagna – the third and most extreme valley in this Italian trio. This is where the pistes peter out and all that's left is a handful of groomers. My focus, however, was on the steep stuff that surrounds Alagna – the kind of terrain where you have to hold your breath as you drop in.

My leader for this off-piste mission was Andrea Enzio – boss of the Alagna mountain guides' corps, who grew up in the area. We shuffled our way on to the Punta Indren cable car again, which whisked us up from Gressoney and over to the Alagna side. From here, Andrea led us way off into a wilderness as serious as anything in La Grave or Chamonix. It was just us and the mountains, as we set off to tackle the fabled La Balma run: traversing wide-open bowls, popping through tiny gaps in exposed ribbons of rock, and ending in a deserted village where the clocks seemed to have stopped in the 18th century.

But this was not the end. In all we dropped a thigh-burning 2,000 metres in 10km – something that even the likes of Courchevel and Val d'Isère can't match – and it was hairy at times, with stretches where there was no room to turn my snowboard.

My reward for survival was a lunch of bresaola (cured beef), mountain hams and handmade pasta at the Caffe delle Guide back in Alagna. As I sat in the sun opposite a 16th-century church, with the sound of melting snow dripping steadily off the nearby pine trees, I realised that I was missing those epic views. Happily, I was due to spend the night in the Rifugio Guglielmina – a high-altitude hut with an uninterrupted view for 130km, stretching all the way to the twinkling lights of Milan. I sat back to study the surrounding peaks. No excuses now for not knowing their names.

Travel essentials: Gressoney

Getting there

* The writer travelled with Ski Club Freshtracks (0845 458 0784; skiclubfreshtracks.co.uk). It offers a seven-night guided package to Alagna from £1,025 per person, including return flights from Gatwick to Turin, transfers and B&B. Departures are available on 26 February (for intermediates and advanced skiers) and 5 March (for off-piste experts). The trips are available only to members of the Ski Club of Great Britain. Membership costs £56 per person per year. Half-price membership is offered for first-time bookings of the Freshtracks holidays.

More information

* Alagna tourist information: guidealagna.com

Refuge Guglielmina: rifugioguglielmina.com

Suggested Topics
Arts & Entertainment
A stranger calls: Martin Freeman in ‘Fargo’
tvReview: New 10-part series brims with characters and stories

News
peopleActress speaks out against historic sexual assault claims, saying things have 'gone quite far now'

Arts & Entertainment
Shaun Evans as Endeavour interviews a prisoner as he tries to get to the bottom of a police cover up
Review: Second series comes to close with startling tale of police corruption and child abuse
Sport
Raheem Sterling and Luis Suarez celebrate during Liverpool's game with Norwich
football Another hurdle is out of the way for Brendan Rodgers' side
VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Life & Style
Guests enjoy food and cocktail parings by Chefs Jimmy Bannos, Jimmy Bannos Jr, Daniel Rose and Mindy Segal with mixologists Josh King and Alex Gara at Bounty & Barrel: A Jack Daniel's Single Barrel Dinner Series at Heaven on Seven on April 9, 2014 in Chicago, Illinois.
news Sprinkle Palcohol 'on almost any dish' for 'an extra kick' firm says...
Arts & Entertainment
Charlotte Brontë, the English novelist, poet and the eldest of the three Bronte sisters who lived into adulthood, has been celebrated with a Google Doodle depicting her most famous novel, Jane Eyre.
arts + ents "Reader, they doodled her".

Arts & Entertainment
Schwarzenegger winning Mr. Universe 1969
arts + entsCan you guess the celebrity from these British Pathe News clips?
News
Portrait of Queen Elizabeth-II by David Bailey which has been released to mark her 88th birthday
peoplePortrait released to mark monarch's 88th birthday
Arts & Entertainment
The star of the sitcom ‘Miranda’ is hugely popular with mainstream audiences
TVMiranda Hart lined up for ‘Generation Game’ revival
Life & Style
The writer, Gerda Saunders, with her mother, who also suffered with dementia before her death
healthGerda Saunders on the most formidable effect of her dementia
Arts & Entertainment
Oxegen in Ireland has been axed as promoters decide it is 'no longer viable'
arts + ents Promoters have axed the event as it is 'no longer viable in current form'
News
The troubled star is set to give fans the biggest insight into her life away from the headlines
people Star made the announcement during the final episode of the programme, entitled Lindsay
News
YouTube clocks up more than a billion users a month
mediaEuropean rival Dailymotion certainly thinks so
Arts & Entertainment
The original design with Charles' face clearly visible, which is on display around the capital
arts + ents
Arts & Entertainment
‘Self-Portrait Worshipping Christ’ (c943-57) by St Dunstan
books How British artists perfected the art of the self-portrait
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    NGO and Community Development in Cambodia

    Unpaid: Kaya Responsible Travel: There are many small development projects in ...

    Sports coaching volunteer jobs

    Unpaid: Kaya Responsible Travel: Kaya Responsible Travel offer a variety of sp...

    Turtle Nesting and Coral Reef Conservation in Borneo

    Unpaid: Kaya Responsible Travel: Volunteer with Kaya in Borneo and work on a p...

    Elephant research project in Namibia

    Unpaid: Kaya Responsible Travel: If you have a passion for elephants and want ...

    Day In a Page

    Rubin ‘Hurricane’ Carter: The man who could have been champion of the world - and the Bob Dylan song that immortalised him

    The man who could have been champion of the world

    Rubin ‘Hurricane’ Carter and the Bob Dylan song that immortalised him
    Didn’t she do well?

    Didn’t she do well?

    Miranda Hart lined up for ‘Generation Game’ revival
    The Middle East we must confront in the future will be a Mafiastan ruled by money

    The Middle East we must confront in the future will be a Mafiastan ruled by money

    In Iraq, mafiosi already run almost the entire oil output of the south of the country
    Before they were famous

    Before they were famous

    Can you guess the celebrity from these British Pathe News clips?
    Martin Freeman’s casting in Fargo is genius

    Martin Freeman’s casting in Fargo is a stroke of genius

    Series is brimming with characters and stories all its own
    How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe: Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC

    How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe

    Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC
    Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy attacked as 'sinful'

    British Muslims's Happy video attacked as 'sinful'

    The four-minute clip by Honesty Policy has had more than 300,000 hits on YouTube
    Church of England-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith

    Michael Williams: Do as I do, not as I pray

    Church of England-raised Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith
    A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife

    A History of the First World War in 100 moments

    A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife
    Comedian Jenny Collier: 'Sexism I experienced on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

    Jenny Collier: 'Sexism on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

    The comedian's appearance at a show on the eve of International Women's Day was cancelled because they had "too many women" on the bill
    Cannes Film Festival: Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or

    Cannes Film Festival

    Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
    The concept album makes surprise top ten return with neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson

    The concept album makes surprise top ten return

    Neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson is unexpected success
    Lichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines

    Lichen is surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus

    Emily Jupp discovers how it can give a unique, smoky flavour to our cooking
    10 best baking books

    10 best baking books

    Planning a spot of baking this bank holiday weekend? From old favourites to new releases, here’s ten cookbooks for you
    Jury still out on Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini

    Jury still out on Pellegrini

    Draw with Sunderland raises questions over Manchester City manager's ability to motivate and unify his players