‘Unfortunately, I don’t think we are going to fly today’ says Rudy Perronet, Sport & Adventure Manager at CampZero, the Italian ski area of Champoluc’s brand new and rather impressive 5-star mountain resort.
He’s talking about heliskiing, which was on the cards this morning, but thanks to 60mph wind gusts and poor visibility is now unlikely to be an option.
‘But don’t worry, at CampZero we always have a plan B!’
Plan B was exploring Monterosa’s vast off piste terrain with Rudy, who is one of Italy’s highest qualified Mountain Guides and Stefano Percino, President of the Alpine Guides Society. Our first route took us from the top of Colle Bettaforca, the highest point on the Champoluc side, down to Gressoney in the other valley. The open face at the top had a little wind crust making it a bit challenging but as we funnelled down into the first couloir the snow became grippier and easier to control, which was just as well given the increased gradient.
Just as we began to drop in Stefano stopped us and pointed up to a patch of rocks.
‘Ibex’ he said. Neither of us could see anything.
‘Where there is a triangle, look up to the two rocks, then look left’ there it was, its long horns moving back and forth as it attempted to grab tiny bits of vegetation sheltered between the icy rock face above us.
Carrying on down to the tree line the terrain got steeper, but the snow was in remarkable condition considering they had been through a bit of a dry patch.
‘Chamois’ Stefano shouted, pointed above us again. This time they were obvious, 5 or 6 of them in the trees foraging.
‘He can see them fast because he is a hunter’ Rudy said, adding ‘Cacciatore!’
Stefano winked and carried on into the forest.
It’s not the last wildlife we see today, a bright green woodpecker drops down in front of me and begins pecking at a tree truck on a trail and then later Rudy and I try to zoom in to see a group of large animals climbing the wind packed slopes across the valley. ‘Could be wolves’ he says.
Surrounding the Monte Rosa ski area is an amphitheatre of 4,000m plus peaks including the Matterhorn, Lyskamm, Dufour, Castore, Breithorn and Punta Gnifetti with impressive glaciers hanging high above the valleys. It’s certainly one of the more spectacular ski areas I’ve visited.
A short amount of gliding on the cross-country ski trails saw us arrive at Gressoney lift station. As we boarded the lift towards Alagna Rudy pulled out his phone, ‘I’m calling the pilot, maybe the weather is better now’. A few minutes later it was pretty clear that it wasn’t any better, with the main cable car running painfully slow in the increasing gusts of wind. ‘Sorry, but we really can’t fly, too much wind, lets enjoy the pistes and the food and aperitivo instead!’ Rudy suggested. Always a silver lining!
Heliskiing in monterosa
Fortunately for inclement weather days there are plenty of other options, The pisted area is a decent size and the resorts have put in touring trails up the sides, meaning you can do a bit of skinning in the safety of the patrolled area. With three ridges between Champoluc & Alagna there are countless off piste itineraries available and even more with touring skis, which we haven’t needed so far on this route.
Turning back towards Gressoney we stopped in at traditional alpine Rifugio Gabiet with its painted red and white shutters for a quick coffee. Rudy grew up in Champoluc, and having done all his guiding and mountain rescue training here, clearly knows almost everyone we meet on the mountain, and chats with the owner about the conditions.
Espresso done, we continue down the immaculately groomed pistes at speed, with the slopes almost entirely to ourselves. It’s fun to follow Rudy who is clearly enjoying some time on the hill despite the weather. A chairlift up and we are back on the Champoluc side. ‘Lets go off piste again, its always more fun than the piste!’ he proclaims, and I follow him off the edge into a steep couloir that narrows in the middle. The snow grips perfectly, and despite not being fresh is immensely fun. A few more drops and ridges and we are back on the piste.
‘Let’s do a fantastic black run!’ he shouts. ‘Fantastic’ and ‘black run’ not words I’d generally use together but none the less I follow him down. He isn’t wrong! It is steep, narrow and technical but incredibly smooth and fun. ‘Rudy! That was indeed a fantastic black run!’ I tell him at the bottom. ‘The best!’ he replies ‘and now let’s get an excellent lunch’ full of enthusiasm as always.
At the top of the lift we reach Campo Basso, a mountain restaurant whose owner has spent plenty of time in the Himalayas, evidenced by the prayer flags, photos and décor inside. They even have Tibetan specials on the menu. We opt for Ragu which is followed by Tiramisu, ordered by Rudy since he told me I have to try it!
After lunch it’s a fast blast down a red run back to Champoluc, again the piste is in prime condition and very quiet. At the bottom of the lift one of CampZero’s fleet of Jeeps and minibuses is waiting to take us back to the resort.
‘Now you have to relax and enjoy the hotel! I’ll see you later for climbing’ Rudy says as we load our kit into the shiny new ski lockers with individual heaters for gloves, helmets and boots.
CampZero is like nowhere I’ve stayed, on one hand it has all the luxury trimmings of a 5-star hotel, on the other it has indoor and ice climbing walls, a mountain library and a heli landing pad right at the front door. It’s like a BC or Alaskan heli or cat skiing lodge, except you have loads to do if the weather isn’t great and the Monterosa ski area on your doorstep.
Back in the room it’s pretty easy to relax. For one the place is totally silent, a combination of good sound proofing and its position in the forest away from anything else. The split-level suite pairs local untreated pines and hardwoods in a modern style with elegant lighting, smart TVs with Bluetooth soundbars, an Illy espresso machine and in the bathroom rather nice granite and hardwood finishings. Alltogether it is sophisticated compared to the over the top or twee furnishings found in some luxury hotels.
A quick change and I’m headed down to check out the spa, which has its own lift so you don’t need to wander through the lobby in your towel. Down on the ground floor the spa has full panoramic windows that look out into the forest and mountains beyond. A full length 25m pool is a real treat for active guests, and it is set aside from the rest of the spa so you can concentrate on your technique. A hot tub, steam room, ‘emotional showers’ (which spray mint or lemon essence on you) and sauna are on offer and for the brave a ‘Killer Pool’ with water just above zero degrees that will shock those tired legs back into life!
After relaxation it’s time for something a little more energetic, and Rudy has arranged a climbing lesson for me with one of the resort’s instructors on their own indoor wall. I’m not much of a climber but the shouts from below are encouraging so I manage to tick off three routes. On certain days of the week the hotel opens up the wall for locals too and several of them chat to me and offer to belay. For an added challenge, CampZero also has a spectacular two-storey ice climbing wall outside on the end of the building. Fitted with top ropes, it’s a safe way to learn how to use crampons and ice axes to scale frozen waterfalls.
It’s an excellent facility for down days and a great spectacle to sit and watch while enjoying the floating fireplaces in the lounge with a drink from the aptly named Boulder Bar. It’s also a great informal place to relax and chat about your day’s adventures with other guests, surrounded by walls decorated with ice axes, crampons,climbing helmets and shelves filled with books on the mountains.
Climbing at CampZero
CampZero has two restaurants including Summit their more intimate fine dining experience with set menus from €75 and Cliffhanger’s Grill which is a little more relaxed without compromising on the excellence of the food.
During my stay I had a delicious Aosta blue cheese gnocchi with sockeye salmon roe and coffee, which added a wonderful smoky aroma, risotto Milanese with bone marrow, a pizza Bufala, which featured a whole ball of cream fresh Buffalo mozzarella and a traditional steak and polenta dish. The desserts are beautifully crafted, from white chocolate cannelloni to their signature Monte Rosa raspberry meringue with chestnuts.
Where possible the kitchen opt for KM Zero ingredients (locally produced, sourced and sold) and the menu has notes for those with allergies or intolerances. For families it is nice to see that they have made an effort with children’s options, using the same locally sourced ingredients to make kids favourites.
DINING at CampZero
The wine cellar is also excellent, I was treated to a glass of Maison Anselmet Chardonnay en fute de Chen from one of the oldest vineyards in the Aosta valley which paired perfectly with the gnocchi. There is an emphasis on regional wines from the local area and the rest of Italy, France and Germany but with over 500 wines in store, the sommelier is guaranteed to find something to suit your palette.
The Michelin star chefs Luca Gubelli & Davide Bonetti are perfectionists, every dish arriving perfectly cooked and exquisitely presented. The staff are attentive and friendly without being overbearing, as is the case in some higher end restaurants. The use of natural materials continues in the restaurants with plenty of wood and granite. The attention to detail that carries through the mountain theme includes custom made lampshades in the shape of stags, exploded coppe di amicizia and copper polenta pots, again it has the feeling of being stylish rather than fussy.
Breakfasts were also fantastic, with a wide range of high-quality cereals, fruits, yoghurts and bread on offer plus cooked items available to order. Perhaps the most impressive, and very Italian, part of the buffet was the plethora of incredible cakes and pastries, including one of the finest Sachertortes I’ve ever tasted, but a little full on for my British breakfast appetite.
As I packed for my return British Airways flight to Gatwick, the sky outside had become a heavy grey and snow was softly piling up on my balcony outside. The drive down the valley was interesting, at least a foot had fallen already and showed no sign of stopping, despite the conditions we got to Turin airport in just an hour and a half.
The phone buzzed in my pocket, a message from Rudy, ‘You have to come back, the heli skiing will be amazing with all this snow!’
Next time Rudy, next time!