Our family hike in Pila during the past summer holiday
Last season we’ve had a holiday in the mountains, staying in Courmayeur. We tend to go to the Aosta Valley every winter, and we’ve passed by Aosta coming back from Lake Como a couple of times, but we never went up the mountain up from Aosta. My kids are very keen of Pila, as it is the very first resort where my youngest learnt how to ski, and the first European resort where my oldest skied. Pila is just on top of the city of Aosta, the capital of the Aosta Valley, in the border of Italy with France to the West and Switzerland to the North.
This week we have chosen to stay in Courmayeur was a bit unsettled, you had nice weather in the morning and torrential rain in the afternoon, so we needed to choose the gap when to go up in order not to get soaked!
We went in the morning, Pila is 30’ through the motorway from Courmayeur, and 40-45’ if coming through the scenic national route. We went through the nice route and left the car in the parking lot of Pila by the train station in Aosta.
My kids were really excited, and so were my husband and myself, to get into the 18’ Leitner gondola ride up the mountain. It is weird to see all the mountain without snow, and weirder to see the landing of the gondola full of grass and nicely piquet fencing to direct the ‘pietons’ up or down the mountain.
We’ve started by going down to the start of the Chamolé chairlift. Walking down it seemed much shorter than going on skis – which I find weird, but I guess that not having to pass by all those ‘Interskiers’- (as we call the kids that come with Interski to Pila in the winter) who barricade the exit of the gondola, makes it a smoother walk down.
We took the quad lift which I’ve found high; you have to expect that without the snow pack in the bottom, the chairlifts are higher. There were people to help our kids reach the chair as well. It was lovely going up and seeing the bike stadium with the bikers coming down the hill through piste number 2. Piste 2 is a lovely ski run between trees, and now they’ve managed to build a zig-zagging bike run down the piste and between the trees on the trail’s sides. Mountain biking seems amazingly fun – a pity that I am not even a cyclist to start even imagining going down the mountain on a bike! But I could see myself – if I were younger, really getting into it. Now I am thinking too much in all the bones I would break just trying!
On the top we came down and thought we go and say hello to the owner of La Baraka – the little bar/restaurant on the arrival of the Chamolé lift. Freddy Pierallini is a character, he looks like one of the Beatles and you could tell he is or was a party animal. It is one of those people that his character is larger than life – when we go skiing to Pila, we always stop for a hot chocolate there, and listen to some good old blues while there.
Now with our kids we came for a massive burger – we definitely should have asked two burgers for the four, as these were really massive! But we had some nice time hanging out in the terrace, and then it was time to go, more because the rain was coming! There are two options when you go hiking on this side of the mountain in Pila in the summer, from the Chamolé lift – one is walking a traverse from the rim of la Baraka to the bottom of Couis 1, and then take that lift up and walk across to Capanna Arno and down all the way to the Leissé chairlift. The view from the top of Couis 1, at 2,700 meters is incredible, you can see the resort of Cogne that is behind Pila. I’ve heard that there is a plan, not sure for when, to connect Pila with Cogne and making a much larger ski area.
Just as doing all this circuit was going to take us at least more than three hours, and not thinking we were having such a long time without pouring rain, we’ve decided to do an easy walk to the Lago Chamolé, the Col Replan and the Sentiero delle Marmotte. This is an easy track surrounded by wildflowers and with beautiful views of the valley. The ski season before last, unfortunately, there was a large avalanche on 7th April 2018, that caught a group of skiers going up to the Rifugio Arbolle and killed two. One was found at the frozen lake we went today.
I did not tell anything to the kids to not ruin their experience, but noticed some chopped trees, that must have been caught by the force of such avalanche.
We managed to get in time to the Chamolé lift back down to the bottom and walked up to the top of the gondola, and then up further to what is the actual base area of Pila, where the Scuola Sci Pila is located and many restaurants. We went to la Maison de Jean, where we tend to go during our ski holidays for a snack, and then to the bottom of the surface lift, that had some bouncy castles and frames for the boys to waste their energy.
After a nice afternoon, we managed to take the gondola down in time to go for dinner to our favourite restaurant – actually, my kids’ favourite restaurant in Pont Suaz: Millenium, outside of Aosta, but we’ve realised it was a Monday and it was ‘chiuso’ (closed!) – Ah, the disappointment! But anyways, we remembered we went once to another one down the same road and we had a lovely dinner before a quick ice-cream downtown Aosta and driving the 40 minutes back to our home for the week in Courmayeur.
I could see myself in a hiking holiday in Pila as there are so many tracks to take, and beautiful views of the Mont Blanc, Monte Cervino (Matterhorn) and the Monterosa. With time, I would maybe even attempt to do some biking – or e-bike. Food is great, you have the beautiful city of Aosta – the “Rome of the Alps” in the bottom, with lots of options to shop or eat, or even ruins to visit, so what more do you need?
More info on Pila.
You can see more ideas of what to do during summer in the mountains here. If you can splash some money, I recommend a helicopter fly to see the majestic Mont Blanc. There is also a post of our last summer family trip to the mountains and beach combined.
You can see our ski holiday in Pila of two seasons ago here, and the final phase in Courmayeur.
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You can start thinking about your trip, by reading the articles on the Planning your Ski Trip tab. Or how to pack for your family ski trip. If taking your furry friend abroad to the continent, read about the new Pet Travel Scheme update from DEFRA. Self-drive skiers also need to plan for Brexit. Check out our tips for driving to the mountains. If flying and renting a car in Europe, beware of the extra charges they will pass to you if you want winter tyres, snow chains or ski racks. If driving, check the winter tyres news for Europe and North America. You can see how our last family ski holiday was not as expected, even though one plans it to be a success, but how we could do the most of it.
Also for those interested in how resorts deal with the risk of avalanches, you can check the interview to Coco Torres, former Head of Operations at Valle de Las Leñas in Argentina, a highly avalanche risk resort.
Featured Image: On the way to Lago Chamolé with the family. Our family hike in Pila during the past summer holiday.