Off Radar
5 min

Alagna, Italy

Monterosa’s Freeride Paradise
Words by
Leslie Anthony
Photos by
Mattias Fredriksson
December 21, 2023

With record-beating lifts, enormous vertical on The Alp’s second highest peak, huge freeride terrain, high-altitude rifugios and the feel of a true backwater, the biggest question for first-time visitors to Alagna, one of Italy’s most picturesque ski resorts, is “Why haven’t I heard of this place?”

The answer? Access. Remote and underserviced for decades, Alagna-Valsesia may have joined the gigantic Monterosa Ski consortium spread across the southern valleys of Monte Rosa in 2004, but it remains oddly unheralded.

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Alagna is the true freeride paradise in the Monterosa region. The old lifts are replaced, and there are a few more people, but the core of the place remains the same.

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Alagna is the true freeride paradise in the Monterosa region. The old lifts are replaced, and there are a few more people, but the core of the place remains the same.

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With a massive vertical, vast terrain and lots of north-facing slopes, Alagna plays in the same league as La Grave, Andermatt and St Foy.

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With a massive vertical, vast terrain and lots of north-facing slopes, Alagna plays in the same league as La Grave, Andermatt and St Foy.

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Even though Alagna is only a few hours from Milan, it is considered a remote destination in the Alps. The ones that take the trip up the Valsesia Valley are in for a treat.

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Even though Alagna is only a few hours from Milan, it is considered a remote destination in the Alps. The ones that take the trip up the Valsesia Valley are in for a treat.

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The quiet farming life at the end of the valley is still noticeable. It certainly gives the charming village a lovely character.

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The quiet farming life at the end of the valley is still noticeable. It certainly gives the charming village a lovely character.

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Flanked to the west by the massif’s central access, Gressonay-La Trinité, and continuing in that direction, is the triad’s third member, Champoluc-Frachey. While you can easily ski between Alagna and Champoluc in a single day by car, they’re as far apart as you can get in the western Alps — at least a six-hour haul.

Every valley in the Alps is a new adventure, and Alagna is no exception. The only way in is by road from Milano, a journey that features Roman aqueducts and mountaintop forts. As you approach Alagna through ancient Walser hamlets (a Germanic people who once populated the area), you begin to track their preserved, aged-wood buildings which give Alagna — founded in the 12th century — its decided Old-World charm.

Though there’s skiing for all levels, Alagna features one of the world’s most incredible lift-served verticals and plenty of complex steeps. Its range of off-piste descents earned it the nickname “Italy’s La Grave” after France’s marquee off-piste resort. In the early 1990s, La Grave locals called it “Valley X to keep the larger ski world from finding it, so Alagna cognoscenti followed suit by calling their freeride Nirvana “Valley Y”.

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An Backer Wi is a very good wine bar in Alagna and a natural gathering point in the village. The name means “a glass of wine” in Walser dialect.

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An Backer Wi is a very good wine bar in Alagna and a natural gathering point in the village. The name means “a glass of wine” in Walser dialect.

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Back in the day, it took three lifts to rise the 850 meters (2,790 feet) to Pianalunga, but now, it’s a straight shot from the centre of the village on a more modern conveyance. At this point, you can ride another cable car up to the Passo Salati and access Gressoney or jump on the chairlift to Bocchetta delle Pisse, ascending from there to the Punta Indren Glacier and its range of 2,000+ vertical-metre descents. This terrain is why Alagna is an upper-intermediate-to-expert destination; for everyone else, there’s a gentler section, Wold, just north of the village.

For over a century, the most crucial mountain landmark was 140-year-old Rifugio Guglielmina, a historic alpine hut built in 1878 that drew visitors like Queen Margherita, wife of Italy’s King Umberto I, and many other prominent guests. Sadly, Guglielmina burned down in 2011 and was deemed too costly to rebuild. Six remaining refugios serve the area, the most dramatic being Margherita’s eponymous hut, which sits at a breath-stealing 4,554 metres (14,941 feet) on Punta Gnifetti. It gives views of the Matterhorn and Mont Blanc and is Europe’s highest building. Dropped there by helicopter, you can make an incredible 3,000-metre vertical descent back to Alagna.

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The Walser culture dates back to 1200 and is best shown in the local architecture. You will find the same style of houses in Alagna as in the villages in the Swiss canton Valais.

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The Walser culture dates back to 1200 and is best shown in the local architecture. You will find the same style of houses in Alagna as in the villages in the Swiss canton Valais.

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Sign outside the guide bureau Alagna Alpine Guides, founded in 1872.

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Sign outside the guide bureau Alagna Alpine Guides, founded in 1872.

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As a testament to Alagna’s off-piste focus, there are only seven marked trails, none of which matter unless the snow is terrible elsewhere. A pair of skins and a guide (easy enough to find) are more valuable than a map to make the most of the terrain and stay safe.

Because skiing in Alagna takes precedence, there are places to celebrate your descents, but don’t expect any après scene. That holds for Monterosa Ski in general, as even in Gressoney, the only entertainment you’re likely to find is drunken ski bums strumming guitars in the Hotel Dufour.

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On a sunny winter day high above the Walser hamlets in the Valsesia Valley, some of the best freeskiers in the world might be dropping off some of Alagna’s many diving boards.

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On a sunny winter day high above the Walser hamlets in the Valsesia Valley, some of the best freeskiers in the world might be dropping off some of Alagna’s many diving boards.

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The groomed runs in Alagna are easy to count, but the rest of the terrain offerings are almost endless.

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The groomed runs in Alagna are easy to count, but the rest of the terrain offerings are almost endless.

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Tighter ski shot: Alagna is no longer a secret, but it is still not crowded, which is a rarity in the Alps these days.

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Tighter ski shot: Alagna is no longer a secret, but it is still not crowded, which is a rarity in the Alps these days.

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On stormy days, it’s worth dropping over the Col d’Olen to access Gressoney’s superb tree-skiing. Since Italians don’t like to ski when it’s snowing and seem to only run the lifts on snowy days in case the occasional Canadian, American or Swede shows up, you can lap untracked pow there when visibility is lacking in Alagna. If it’s an actual down day in Alagna — as in lifts aren’t running — buy some local grappa and stroll around, checking out the historic central church — where you can always pray to the Walser ghosts that the lifts open soon.

Leslie Anthony is a writer and editor who knows a thing or two about snow. Longtime Creative Director of SKIER, former Managing Editor of POWDER, and author of the book White Planet: A Mad Dash Through Modern Global Ski Culture, the resident of Whistler, British Columbia, continues to appear regularly on the masthead of the world’s top ski magazines. His favorite activity? Skiing powder, of course.
Alagna, Italy
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