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Going Euro: Alagna/Monterosa

Features
posted: 03/28/2005

Top elevation: 10,696 feet
Vertical drop: 6,719 feet
Marked trails: 46 miles
Population: 440
Six-day ski pass: $250
More info: +39-0125-303-111; monterosa-ski.com

The Resort: If an alpine village's authenticity is measured by the number of chickens within a hundred yards of its gondola station, Alagna is the most legit ski town in Europe. Weekends do see an influx of wealthy Italians from Milan- many of whom don't ski-while during the week this tiny, anachronistic village sees just a handful of church-going, full-bearded men walking the streets. But Alagna is also home to some of the continent's toughest skiing. From the top of the rickety tram at 10,696 feet, you drop 3,000 vertical feet-all 45-degree chutes and steep-walled valleys-before you meet a groomed piste. Still, even Alagna isn't immune to gentrification. This winter, a new cable car links it directly to the enormous Monterosa Ski complex-connecting Old World Alagna to two valleys' worth of modernity in Gressoney and Champoluc. A single ticket covers 29 lifts and some 20,000 acres of terrain.

On-Piste: Alagna's only groomed run is an icy cat track winding down to the village-and it sucks. Strike out instead for the Gressoney Valley, where pistes including Delle Marmotte ("of the marmot") roll over to 40-plus degrees as they scream back to the base area.

Off-Piste: The Malfatta Valley hides its secrets well. But after a short rappel and sidestep, you enter Alagna's powder stash nonpareil: 2,625 vertical feet of wind-protected, 30- to 40-degree fluff in a mile-wide valley. A guide (see Andrea Enzio) is highly recommended.

Aprés: An Bacher Wi, which opened two years ago in Alagna's 300-foot-long "downtown," is a favorite haunt. Locals also drink hot spiced wine at the Guglielmina or Vigevano mountain huts-but be advised: Skiing with a buzz down the 5,500 vertical feet of bumps and cat track back to Alagna is no easy feat.

Shelter: Alagna's first hotel, the 155-year-old Monterosa (from $55; hotelmonterosa-alagna.it), sits with an air of decaying splendor next to the village's 500-year-old church. Closer to the gondola is the Residence Mirella, a pastry shop and guesthouse run by the friendly, multilingual Prato family (two-person studios start at $490 per week; residencemirella@hotmail.com).

The Tip: The scapin, the traditional slipper of Alagna's Sesia Valley, is the closest thing to a ballet shoe a man should even consider wearing. For $60, the laundry lady at Lav-anderia Stella Alpina, just off the main drag, will sew you a pair in the color and fabric of your choice.

Must-Know: The direct line for heli evacuations throughout the Italian Alps is 118.

Timing: To avoid getting stranded in Milan, reach its airport by 4:00 p.m. Schedules for the convoluted bus-train-bus trip from the airport to Novara to Varallo to Alagna are found at stnnet.it and trenitalia.com.

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