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Never skied in the Dolomites? You should.

These famous mountains are home to the Dolomiti Superski ski area, one of the largest linked ski areas any where in the world, allowing skiers of all to explore the finest mountain scenery imaginable. And yet it is less known to Brits than other European resorts; a few large commercial companies operate in Selva di Gardena and Corvara making them the most famous resorts for UK holiday makers. But there is more to the area and that is what I want to explore with you.

Why should I go to the Dolomites?

Consisting of sixteen ski resorts, Dolomiti Superski covers a vast terrain which stretching from the Adige valley to Dobbiaco, the altiplane of the Pala di San Martino  to the awe inspiring Tre Cime di Lavaredo. With an estimated 1200km of piste skiing and 1177km of cross country  you will find fantastic runs second to none.

Sassolungo by early morning light.

All of these areas are included in one extremely good value for money ski pass – take a look below for a comparison (prices valid 2017/18):

  • Dolomiti Superski 6 days high season: 1200km of piste, 294 Euro
  • Les Trois Vallees 6 days high season: 600km of piste, 300 Euro
  • Chamonix Valley 6 days high season: 163km of piste, 306 Euro
  • Cervinia-Zermatt 6 days high season: 150km of piste, 316 Euro

Pistes descending to Val di Zoldo beneath Civetta, some great slopes away from the madding crowds.

It is simply one of the most interconnected areas in the world, as you can ski anywhere in the area at this price for the duration of your pass. And that is what the Dolomites are really about – experiencing the mountains through a journey. Whilst your chums will be repeating their favourite runs almost daily in other areas, you can be covering virgin terrain every day, seeing new sights and experience the culture of each of the valleys you pass through.

Stop to eat and water yourself and you will invariably find fantastic quality food at great prices. For example yo can expect a good bowl of pasta to cost 8-9 Euro, a meat main course could be between 12 and 15 Euro and a litre of wine could be as little as 8-10 Euro.

A spot of lunch at the excellent Rifugio Castiglioni situated beneath the ramparts of Sassolungo.

So what’s the catch?

I could say there isn’t one but that wouldn’t quite be true.

Firstly transfers are a little trickier than in other places, especially if you are used to the simplicity of rolling up in Geneva and jumping aboard a transfer bus. We always recommend to our customers to rent a vehicle which can be had for as little as £100 for a small car – the transfer bus to Cortina for example costs 40 euro each and only leaves at certain times, so by the time you pay a  few extra pounds, what you gain is the versatility to travel to other ski areas quickly and easily.

Secondly the area is less snow sure; the particular weather patterns needed for really good snow don’t form some years. As a consequence the area has invested heavily in preparation equipment to top up natural snow levels and when you combine this with grooming far superior to anywhere else I have ever skied you are assured an excellent experience.

Thirdly hotels and apartments are generally not directly on the slopes and you will have to at the very least walk to the lift station. And if you really want to make the most of the area, then a drive of usually around 30 minutes will see you to a totally fresh area, like Falcade which you can’t access by lift from another resort. So you need to be prepared to put in a little more effort by slinging the ski’s in the car.

I’ve heard people say that generally in Italy the lift systems are not as slick as elsewhere – I’ve never found this to be true in the Dolomites, certainly not in the last 12-15 years with the continuous programme of updating and modernisation of the lift system. Once you are away from the honey pot Sellaronda circuit (more of that later) it is rare to queue.

Who’s it best for?

Virtually anybody will enjoy the Dolomites – the scenery is such that even if you are struggling with the skiing, or finding it too easy, there is always something stunning to look at. With the variety of resorts, there is something which will fit the bill; take out local resorts, no more than 10 minutes drive away. Civetta is great for beginners and families, whilst Marmolada/Arabba is perfect for the more advanced skier with many steep reds and blacks and huge amounts of off piste and ski touring.

Crashing down through fresh powder!

But in particular, the more adventurous skier will benefit from the areas diversity. If you ski red runs competently you will have a great time and will be able to access the circular tours which are available – the Sellaronda, the Panorama Tour, the Giro della Guerra and the Hexentour.

If you can off piste ski, even better – there are runs like Val Lasties and Val Mezdi, plus the huge area of glacier skiing on Marmolada. With the help of a guide you can access dream skiing in wild terrain – gullies where you’d have thought only a pro could venture.

 

The tours

The Sellaronda is possibly the most famous on-piste tour in the world; 40km of skiing around the Sella group passing through 4 valleys with utterly breathtaking views which you can ski in either direction. You can join it from anywhere on the round, including from Casa Alfredino. It’s a great days worth of skiing for anyone who can ski red runs happily.

Returning to the Sella Pass shortly before the last lift.

The Giro della Guerra is less known but equally excellent. It follows a route which approximates the WW1 front line and takes in the highest peak in the Dolomites, Marmolada, the Serrai di Sottoguda (a UNESCO world heritage site), skiing beneath the huge Civetta North West face, a 1300m high precipice, the stunningly beautiful 360 view from beneath Monte Averau and the Hidden Valley from the summit of Lagozuoi. It is slightly more tricky to negotiate with two bus journeys and possibly a tow from a horse drawn sledge!

The Panorama tour encompasses a route around Val di Fassa. From Casa Alfredino you can access it by following a short part of the Sellaronda, or by driving over to Alba di Penia which is a 20 minute drive, as long as the pass is open. You ski directly opposite the Cantenaccio and the Marmolada south face and finish up skiing the back of the Sella and Canazei areas. It’s a really nice tour, maybe not of the quality of the other too but still very worthwhile.

The Hexentour is probably technically the easiest route and takes you on a journey from the Sella Pass beneath the ramparts of the Sassolungo to meet the snow bus with it’shuge chained wheels which transports you through a forest to the back of Alpe di Siusi. You then take very moderate slopes across to a cable car down to Ortisei, followed by a short walk, then up the Northern slopes of Val Gardena to reach Santa Christina before returning to Sella Pass. It’s still quite a long day but the scenery is fantastic and it’s fun, laid back skiing.

What else is there to do?

Have you always dreamed of heading away from the pistes and skiing the big mountains? With some training, off piste and ski touring can be the most rewarding days you’ll ever spend on ski’s. It requires good experience on-piste and fitness but it will take you to some of the most beautiful places. For example with an IFMGA guide you can access Punta Penia, the highest summit of Marmolada. If you don’t like the sound of all that exertion, there are many easily accessed off-piste areas, which again, with the help of a guide will see you crashing through powder and trees!

Sometimes it’s easier to don crampons and walk a bit. Ski touring is nearly a different sport, but oh so rewarding.

 

Don’t fancy the high adrenaline of downhill skiing? You could go cross-country skiing; as mentioned above there is nearly as many km of crosscountry pistes as there is downhill, making it one of the best places in Europe. Or if you don’t like ski’s, you could try snowshoeing. The beauty of snow shoes is that as long as you can walk, you can use them. Indeed within reason you can get to the same places as you can with touring ski’s so you can get deep into the mountains with relatively few skills.

Approaching Crazy Price, a new WI3+ in Val Pettorina

Do you climb aswell as ski? Well there’s also fantastic ice climbing in the region – indeed our local ice climbing spot is famous for it’s frozen waterfalls. If you want to give it a bash, again an IFMGA guide will be able to help you!

Getting there

And then you have to consider getting there – Casa Alfredino’s closest major airport is Venice Marco Polo; most major airlines fly there but because it is considered out of season for the region, the prices are much much cheaper than over the border in Austria. Below I’ve made a comparison (only valid on the date of publishing!) flying with Easyjet to Venice and Innsbruck, our next closest major airport:

  • Gatwick to Venice 13 Jan – 20 Jan 2018: £52 for standard flights without baggage included
  • Gatwick to Innsbruck 13 Jan -20 Jan : £132 for standard flights without baggage included

Other options include fly/drive to Milan, Verona, Munich and Memmingen. To drive from the UK takes most people two days – it is possible to do it in one, but it’s a tough day indeed. Better to break it up each way with a stop – we often take a look around Strasbourg as by the time you include the crossing, that makes a good stopping point.

Want to do this all but can’t be bothered to arrange it or simply don’t have the time? Get in touch with us – we have access to everything you could possibly need from a ski host, through to a Partnered IFMGA guide, transportation options and package deals!

Want to book?

Want to read more about the various ski areas?

Ski Val Gardena – one of the best and most varied resorts in the Dolomites

Val Gardena is one of the busiest skiing valleys in the Dolomites and for good reason, with a system which is well organised, extensive to say the least, not to mention some fantastic runs. It links easily into Alta Badia, Val di Fassa and Alpe di Suisi with a network of lifts, buses and train links. What’s more, the villages are beautiful, have a great many excellent restaurants and a huge offering in terms of hotels. If there can be any criticism, it would be that it has lost its originality and a little of its charm as the tourism industry has done its stuff.

Back to the skiing. The valley can be roughly divided into four areas:

  • Passo Sella and Plan di Gralba
  • Selva di Gardena and Monte Pana
  • Seceda
  • Passo Gardena

Each provides a days skiing in their own right, before you even start linking one into the other.

Green - Sella Pass and Plan di Gralba Blue - Monte Pana Red - Ciampinoi and Selva di Gardena Purple - Seceda Yellow - Dantercepies and Passo Gardena

Green – Sella Pass and Plan di Gralba
Blue – Monte Pana
Red – Ciampinoi and Selva di Gardena
Purple – Seceda
Yellow – Dantercepies and Passo Gardena

Passo Sella and Plan di Gralba (Green)

This is one of my favourite areas in the Dolomites; there is a mix of mainly easy and intermediate runs in utterly breathtaking scenery, well served by huts and lifts and I have been to some resorts which offer in their entirety as much as this one sector alone, especially when you consider that in reality the Selva Gardena and Monte Pana areas are in reality one with this.

The reason I’ve split them is purely as its too much to write about in one chapter!

From Casa Alfredino, the easiest way to access the area is to drive for about 25 minutes over Passo Fedaia when it’s open and to park at Campitello di Fassa. Alternatively you can drive (if you have a Dolomiti Superski pass) to either Lupo Bianco or directly to Sella Pass. From Campitello a cable car whisks you directly to Col Rodella, the top of the range. In this part of the world Col means hill, so you are deposited more or less at the summit of a mountain which affords immense views of Sassolungo, Sass Pordoi, Marmolada and south to the Fassani mountains.

From the treeless runs at the pass one can take an enormous and very easy uninterrupted run all the way to Selva di Gardena. It’s great for beginner skiers, but I wouldn’t recommend this for snow boarders as there are quite a number of flats spots and instead there are a number of easy deviations you can make, to either make this longer or more difficult.

From Casa Alfredino, the easiest way to access the area is to driver or about 25 minutes over Passo Fedaia when it’s open and to park at Campitello di Fassa. From here a cable car whisks you directly to Col Rodella, the top of the range. In this part of the world Col means hill, so you are deposited more or less at the summit of a mountain which affords immense views of Sassolungo, Sass Pordoi, Marmolada and south to the Fassani mountains. The opening run from here is truly great – it could just be longer! It drops quite steeply, although if you pick an outside line can be skied by less able skiers quite comfortably – it’s bark is certainly worse than its bite. For those keen on side country, head just to the left of the return chairlift and tackle the excellent and steep run down beneath the lift. The first time I discovered this, there was deep powder and I spent a quarter of a day just going up and down that section on its own taking different lines.

Sassolungo by early morning light.

Sassolungo by early morning light.

At the bottom of this slope be careful. If you have only bought a single area ticket, don’t ski down into Val di Fassa as you won’t be able to get back up from Lupo Bianco. Instead, there is a short lift which delivers you back to some slopes just above the Sella Pass. From here swoop down past the grandiose new 4 star hotel at the pass (excellent food if you’re there about at lunch) and past a small hut on a long and flattish blue run. Make sure you keep up your speed on this section as it can be a long walk if you don’t and take care of your snowboarding buddies. It leads down into the woods and to a short lift up leftwards. Here you can either continue on the blue down to Plan di Gralba, or take the lift which opens a variety of possibilities. Indeed if you pile out and ski back down the line of the lift, shortly bearing left, you will find my favourite red of the entire resort, Falk. Given heavy snowfall and low visibility, the contrast provided by the trees makes this into a deserted quasi off piste paradise! Even in more normal conditions, this rolling run, with its steep sections broken by nice breaks is just good fun.

Jump back on the cable car lift to the top of Piz Sella and you have access to the meat of the sector. The black you’ll find at the top here if you leave the right hand side of the lift house, is steep and narrow and often icy. Not for the timid, and in my opinion just not that good. Better, take the red or black to your left which gives really wide sweeping runs back to Plan do Gralba. In the bowl at the bottom of the first section there is an excellent restaurant, Rifugio Comici with different levels of culinary excellence at different price tags. Indeed this bowl is somewhat of a playground. Usually bathed in sunshine until the early afternoon, these runs are dwarfed by the mighty walls of Sassolungo, and there is a snow park, and often timed courses, or slalom runs. It’s packed full of easy blues. Lastly, from Rifugio Comici, there is a little known run which heads over the pass down towards lift 21. This is a special run, as you ski right beneath the North Ridge of Sassolungo which is quite one of the most impressive places you can ski in these parts as it towers some 1000m above the screes. It also links to Monte Pana and can provide some fun skiing through the trees.

Sassolungo Monte Seura

The huge Sassolungo North face from Mont de Seura, in the tucked away Monte Pana ski area.

 

Monte Pana (Blue)

I’ll quickly talk about the small area at Monte Pana – it’s worth a trip as there are some nice runs there, and it also provides access to the back of Alpe di Suisi. From the bottom of lift 21 simply continue along the easy and in places flat blue. This brings you shortly to a bowl in the shadow of Sassolungo. If you aim to get to Alpe di Suisi, head to the car park where you will find a bus stop – usually they leave every half hour or so. It’s a great trip along a back country lane – the buses are equipped with huge snow chains and the road is absolutely not navigable normally. It’s a really nice outing and can be made into a tour. I’ll write another blog sometime detailing it.

But back to Monte Pana. There is an area of blue runs served by ski tows, probably only of interest for larking about or letting the kids loose in a small area on their own whilst taking a break yourself. However, take the lift back to the top of Mont de Seura and you will find two superb runs back down through the trees, a black and a red. They are often pretty much empty as this is a bit of a back water and a little tricky to get to, but well worth the effort. When you want to return, take the lift up to Mont de Seura and return to lift 21 which gets you back into the previous area quite quickly.

Selva Gardena (Red)

So, the last area on this side of the valley is utterly fantastic. You can either access it by skiing all the way down to Selva di Gardena on the return run, or from the top of lift 21. I will describe the later as I suspect it will be the most interesting for our guests. The ski map is a little confusing here and could really do with some arrows to help you work out what’s up and down!

So, take the run down from 21, or join it using the previously mentioned tricky black from Piz Sella. This is sometimes a little bumpy, especially as the day progresses. At the bottom there’s a nice little hut for lunch. Continuing from here will return you to Plan do Gralba. Instead take the lift just uphill of the hut, no. 22 which takes you up to Ciampinoi. Here the fun starts. This is an extremely busy area and it’s easy to lose each other, so come up with a plan before you start. In front of you you will see a steep “end of the earth” black – great for those looking for a short challenging slope with a long run out. Right, a flat link leads across to the other piste, in particular the famous Sasslong, which is used every year during the FIS season as a downhill run.

Indeed as you schuss down the first drop, think about the racers straight lining this section and reaching 100kph along the relatively flat section. The Sasslong is quite possibly the most fun black I’ve ever skied. It’s not desperately steep at any point and rolls and winds it’s way down the mountain. Try skiing it in one go and your legs will be on fire during the steep sections with just enough rollers to give you a rest. Invariably when you get to the bottom, you will be dismayed by how slow you were compared to last years winners whose time is posted above the arrival arena.

High above Val Gardena, spotting the way to the trees!

High above Val Gardena, spotting the way to the trees!

If you don’t fancy the black? Well there is an excellent red which runs parallel to the Sasslong and passes the beautiful Casetllo Wolkenstein. From this arrival arena, you can take the subterranean train towards the Seceda area, but more of that later. Taking the lift back up to Ciampinoi, there are three alternatives (once you’ve done the Sasslong AGAIN…)

Ski down the slope towards Selva di Gardena and you will find a red and a black run. Both of these are excellent. The red splits, one going towards Plan do Gralba and lift 22, the other rejoins the black further down the mountain. Both these runs are great fun, my preference being for the one to Selva which is steep and twisty. Indeed, the black is only slightly harder. It’s a very quick route down and puts you in a position to go towards Passo Gardena.

The final alternative from Ciampinoi is a red which descends beneath lift 22 – be careful with this one. It is narrow, exceedingly busy and because of its shape allows snow to build at the edges in quite large moguls. It is quite normal to see beginners and intermediates spread eagle across the slope, and descending at speed will land you in trouble. The aforementioned return to the bottom of 22 in my view is a much better way and is far less frequented. Unless it’s early in the morning I’d avoid it.

Seceda (Purple)

Let’s pick up in Santa Cristina in the Sasslong arena. As previously mentioned, here you will find a train link housed in a larch clad building which will take you up hill to a bubble lift. Seceda is great for easy, sun drenched skiing with grid views. It’s not stellar skiing, and because of its sunny position often softens up considerably in the afternoon and snow cover can be a bin thin in a dry year. That said its less busy and is worth a visit. It allows you to ski over to Ortisei where you can link by lift to Alpe di Suisi as part of the Hexentour.

Fro Col Raiser, a short linking run takes you leftwards to a further chairlift  takes you to the top of Seceda. To access Ortisei, facing downhill ski right wards where you will find a red valley run. It curls around the mountain through the trees. It’s long and pleasant with little requirement for a break as its a pretty easy red. You will pass a cable car house which allows you to return to Seceda if you wish or continue all the way down to the town. I’ll save how to link to Alpe di Suisi for another day.

If you want to return to Santa Cristina simply follow the reds back downhill beneath the chairlift. Be careful about side country around here – it may look silky smooth and thick but it’s often just a skin which will leave you with a repair job that evening!

Dantercepies and Passo Gardena (Yellow)

It’s been a long blog so far – keep with me for this last area as its a good one! Having arrived in Selva Gardena from Ciampinoi, you will ski pretty much into the centre of the village. Take your skis off, walk over the road on an overpass and you’ll find a sneaky lift hidden behind some buildings. This is only a short lift which delivers you to the Dantercepies bubble cars. This in turn takes you to the top of Passo Gardena. Check out our blog about Alta Badia to learn about the far side!

If you want to return to Selva, there are three runs; a blue, a red and a black. The blue is a long easy cruise, great for tired legs at the end of a day, or beginners who want to see the sights at the top. The red is a little harder than the blue and indeed it joins it two thirds of the way down. Not many steep sections, although the ones there are are quite fun. But the stand out for me here is the black which takes the line to the furthest right. It has some good, sustained steep pitches and is by far the most interesting run of the sector. Great as part of a Sellaronda in the green direction!

Returning to Val di Fassa

Be careful – this is a HUGE area and it is easy to get carried away and end up at the far end of the range, stuck. It’s an expensive taxi ride back! Set yourself a cut off time when you need to head back. From Ciampinoi it takes a good hour to get back, so you need to get on the lift in either Santa Christina or Selva Gardena most likely 1.5 hours before the last lift to make it back before they close the slopes. The lift down from Col Rodella is the easiest way to return to Campitello, although you can ski down the valley run to Canazei. I’ll explain in a minute.

Returning to the Sella Pass shortly before the last lift.

Returning to the Sella Pass shortly before the last lift.

So, leaving Ciampinoi, ski down towards Selva for a few yards then take the red to the right to Plan di Gralba. Take a small chair no 45 back to Piz Seteur, then a small blue linking run (skiers lift, passing diagonally beneath a chairlift) to lift no 49. This takes you to a very flat blue – it’s not at all ideal for snowboarders so make sure you get speed up out of the lift station and DONT stop or catch an edge. It’s a long trudge at a critical time of the day! This will take you back to the Sella Pass.

Here, if you need to continue, catch 55 to the top of the range, and then either ski all the way to Lupo Bianco, or Canazei. If you parked in Campitello and opt to ski to Canazei you will need to walk for about 5 minutes down to the main road through town to catch a bus from the central plaza back to Campitello. Alternatively, avoid this by catching either 151 or 152 (often 151 is not operating) back to Col Rodella. It’s a nice apres ski spot as there is a round tent bar with awesome views to Piz Pordoi – well worth resting your bones there and watching the sun go down before catching the last lift…

Guest Blog: Pete comes ice climbing

Last year at the end of January, I hosted a weeks ice climbing at Casa Alfredino. Amongst the guests was Pete Derrett who some of you may know from Dicks Climbing in Bristol. It was his first time in the Dolomites and I asked him to write a guest blog about his experience.

Months back we at Dick’s Climbing ran a promotion with Casa Alfredino in the Dolomites and at the time it was mused that we should head over and check it out ourselves, with promise of roadside Ice climbs and long mountain routes the seeds were definitely sown for me. I finally had a chance to head out and see for myself.

Excalibur

The mighty Excalibur. Falling 3 pitches from the South side of the gorge, this famous route is one of the plum lines of the gorge. Floodlit by night, this route is as spectacular by day!

Casa Alfredino is located in Col di Rocca, a couple of hours drive from Venice Marco Polo airport and consists of three floors all fashioned into their own individual lodges with their own community areas and bedrooms coupled with a shared, attic drying room. Fifteen minutes walk or two minutes drive away is Italy’s hidden Ice Climbing gem, Serrai di Sottoguda, a monstrous cleft with water ice routes pouring down along it’s whole length. It had been a funny winter in the Dolomites, no snow meant that several routes which look monstrous in the guidebook simply weren’t there, yet others forming on natural, high volume watercourses were fully formed and ready to go. What this meant in practice was that we had plenty to go at, with plenty more to look forward to next year. There will definitely be a return visit in order!

Catedrale Centrale is a line through the wide expanse of ice you find halfway up the gorge. It has no less than 4 main lines on it with a great number of variations on it and is over 100m in length!

Catedrale Centrale is a line through the wide expanse of ice you find halfway up the gorge. It has no less than 4 main lines on it with a great number of variations on it and is over 100m in length!

 

Jason Bailey starting up Excalibur. Vertical for 40m, 2 different lines and fantastically mushroomed ice characterise this climb.

Jason Bailey starting up Excalibur. Vertical for 40m, 2 different lines and fantastically mushroomed ice characterise this climb.

 

Equipment-wise, it’s your standard ice rack; pair of technical tools, nice stiff pair of  boots and crampons, monopoints were popular amongst our party, and finally as many screws as you can muster, don’t worry too much about the stubbies, you’ll be sinking 22cm screws full depth most of the time, the ice is that fat – I took thirteen screws and was finishing some forty to fifty metre pitches with just one left! Whilst I did sling a V-Threader and cord in my pack, it was soon clear that bolts and tat tied off around trees were de rigueur.

Cascata del Gelato, a short WI3 perfect for warming up or indeed your first cascade ice lead.

Cascata del Gelato, a short WI3 perfect for warming up or indeed your first cascade ice lead.

If you’ve got a mixed bunch of abilities Sottoguda is the perfect location to start; short WI2 ramp routes lead into two of three pitches of WI3 to the top. These give a great introduction to ice and by the end of a week trip I imagine many first-timers will be happy to have a go leading these given the large volume of training they will have been able to pack in. Talking of training do what the Italians do and set up top-ropes and run laps on the routes if you  really want some mileage!

The first WI5 in Italy, Spada is one of the most striking lines you could imagine. 45m and plumbline vertical.

The first WI5 in Italy, Spada is one of the most striking lines you could imagine. 45m and plumbline vertical.

Once feeling a bit more confident there’s several routes of WI5/5+ routes to get your teeth into. Long routes …
Some times though, 100m multi pitch routes just won’t cut it, it’s then time to head out into the mountains.

Jason Bailey high on Cascata Nevere in Val Corpassa on the flanks of Moiazza, a 5mm WI3+

Jason Bailey high on Cascata Nevere in Val Corpassa on the flanks of Moiazza, a 5mm WI3+

Less than an hour hour away, my final day was spent in Val Corpassa heading up hundreds of metres of outrageous virgin ice (be aware that ascent lines are marked in dotted red lines, with descent routes in solid green …) On these routes all the alpine tricks should come out; get ready for some healthy walking in and out, simul-climbing and soloing and an early start to get back before nightfall and into the pub in time for last orders. A real full value day out was had and the views from the top as dusk set in were magnificent, again full marks to Mike from Casa Alfredino for suggesting a top class day out.

Searching out the route.

Searching out the route.

View 1

Looking out towards Sass Bianch after a long day climbing the casacades.

View 2

Approaching the foot of Moiazza after out ascent.

With copious Pizza and Italian wine consumed sadly the trip drew to a close and I took up Mike’s kindly offer of a drive across Western Europe home, Vodafone welcoming me to Austria, Germany France and finally back in the UK. Recharged by time spent amongst the snow and ice, it’s now back to relative normality.

So who would enjoy a winter trip to Casa Alfredino?

Anyone.

– Pete –

Serrai di Sottoguda conditions report 19/12/2015

After a long journey down from the UK I went up the gorge today to take a look at how things are shaping up for early season ice. Thus far the snow is utterly dismal – all the slopes have been made up with artificial snow and its a rather bizarre sight – white pistes descending through the brown and green fields. So what does this mean for the ice? The weather has been unsually warm thus far with the jetstream coming either from the Carribean or hooking north too early to provide the moist warm winds required for snow in Italy. The temperatures have been a little odd too – for example yesterday whilst driving over the Sella pass the temperature was 8 degrees at over 2000m, whereas as we drove through Sottoguda at 1300m it was 2 degrees. Anywhere consitently shaded is considerably cooler. Secondly, the complete lack of snow and the extended period of dry weather experienced during October and November has left the slopes above the gorge bone dry. This is evidenced in the gorge by lines formed by seepage being underdeveloped or absent at the moment.

All that said, the cold temperatures in the valley have helped for quite number of lines well, with quite a few being climbable and others being maybe a week away. The high volume drainage lines are the ones to go for at the moment.

Cascata del Sole.

This is complete to the end of the main difficulties. The final section to the ledge is thin and looks somewhat fragile. With this in mind the belay inside the cave to the left of this section could be used to retreat should you find it in poor condition or too thin for you liking. Given a snow fall and another week to form it should be pretty climbable if at the upper end of its grade.

2015-12-19 13.36.33

 

Clessidra

After a thin start above the stream, this looks good all the way to the chains. Sure it’s not spectacularly deep ice at the moment but it does look in good fettle. 

next to Spada

Spada nella Roccia

Meanwhile the great Spada is almost ready. There is just a short section of about 1m at the top which looks thinly verglaced. The rest is thin and featured but very nearly ready. I think given another week it will be ready to go.

spada nella roccia

 La Catedrale

The main event is looking to be in good shape. The central falls are a little thin at the top and need another week. Left seems complete and as solid as it needs to be, whilst right is also complete although a little thin on the pillar. The furthest right options for the second pitch have not yet touched down but the ottom tier looks emminently climbable just about everywhere.


Catedrale

 

Cascata delle Attraversate

The initial pitches were being climbed today with the left hand line looking etter than the right, the opposite to the situation last year. It’s thin but all there. The pitch up the pillar, ramp and then the second pillar look pretty well formed, maybe a little thin at the start. Again another week should see it in good condition.

traversate

Excalibur

This seems to be the best option at the moment. Whilst the third pitch thins at the top, it seems complete. The first is quite vertical on the left hand line at the moment and a climber with considerable cohones had climbed it with just 4 screws. Whether this was because these were the only options I’m not sure but it certainly looked pretty impressive!

Excalibur

Further up the valley, Arbre Magique looks thin at the moment maybe another 2 weeks to go for that one. Over the next week I’ll try to bring you more info about outlying areas. I suspect Digonera and Laste are well on their way to being in good condition. Hopefully I can get up high to take a look at some of the routes on Marmolada too as the pistes are now open affording a ski descent to get to their start. The Couloir Serauta looked to be dry but Tre Magi had snow in most of the gully.

The Civetta ski range – something for everybody

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Civetta is our most easily accessed large resort and its really really good. Before we bought the house I’d never had the opportunity to ski the range so it was with some trepidation that I set off to explore – what would it be like? It looked good but would it match my expectations?

Just for starters you are skiing in the shadow of one of the mightiest faces in the whole of the Alps, the NW face of Civetta – it’s an utterly mind bending wall, bigger than the far more famous El Capitan in the US, with climbing routes of 1400m+ on it. You can’t help staring at it and wondering what it would be like to be stood half way up it surrounded by an ocean of rock, as you gently swing in your cabin on the way up from Alleghe. Luckily though this severity is not transposed to the slopes as the Civetta (or owl) range is a really varied collection of runs with something for everyody. And once you’ve reached the summit you realise that the area above Alleghe is only the start as you can cross over into two completely separate valleys to Selva di Cadore to the north and Zoldo to the east. I’ll describe what you will find on the Alleghe side first as it’s a logical place to start.

Piani di Pezze is where the first lift kicks out and is the central hub for this side of the mountain. All runs end here apart from the return to the valley, so it’s useful as a rendezvous point should anybody get lost or you decide to split up. It’s a pleasant spot to have lunch being in a cosy bowl which catches the sun all day and plays host to there huts to eat at. In addition there are all sorts of family amenities here – you’ll notice as you ski down from the first lift that there is an air bag for practising jumps, a freeride park for boarders and skiers with rails, table tops and all the usual accoutrements and a ski school area for toddlers and youngsters.

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From here another long Gondola (down to skiers right) continues to the summit of the hill, Col dei Baldi. The top is special, with views to the south wall of Marmolada, the other world famous precipice in the area, Monte Pelmo and the Sella massif in the distance. There is another restaurant here, a little basic but the tuck is good. Facing the lake in Alleghe there are a number of returns to Piani di Pezze which get harder from left to right. The blue which contours the mountain numbered 15 takes you gently down and away from Alleghe. Indeed this is the key to accessin Val di Zoldo but we will come to that in a minute. After 1km or so it turns right onto no 8 and from here its a pretty steady affair with one steep pitch which can be avoided by a chicken run to the left. It’s a little narrow, but certainly preferable if your kids are new to skiing.

The next blue round, no 14. is at the top of the grade and is continuously steeper than 8. Its a fun run and pretty direct – it rejoins 8 most of the way down it. I’d not advise it for total beginners who will find its continuous nature tough. Then there is a really nice red which starts just over the brow of the hill to the right of the lift station before you reach some blues again which run down to a col called Pra della Costa. From here there are a number of reds and a black back to Piani di Pezze – really good, steep technical runs which require good short turning skills – either that or a strong constitution. But you can also reach Col Fioret which gives a long blue back, mostly easy but which can get some bumps forming by the end of the day. It also gives access down to Selva di Cadore – this area I’ve haven’t yet managed to ski – it will be my first priority this winter!

To Pecol and Zoldo

Back at Col dei Baldi, and you can make your way along the very leisurely run 15 and take this route all the way to Pecol. It’s a good long run and for the most part is extremely easy. However, it must be said there are two sections which are steep, one which makes it tricky for beginners and is the last section of a steep red run. Here your ward will need to do some long zigzags to arrive at the base of the steep pitch. The final steeper section as you roll into Pecol is easier and wider but can get bumpy through the day. It’s a really nice run to do with your kids once they’ve gotten the hang of linking turns. There is a large hut at Pecol which can serve as a pit stop – it does get very busy at lunch though so you might want to get there early or avoid it around that time! There is a button lift to take you back up to repeat the last section or a chair to take you onto the return journey back to Alleghe. This chair also leads to two excellent red runs back to Pecol. Both are at the upper end of the grade which steep skiing and are really rewarding runs which are often empty. Then of course you can  ski down to Zoldo – as you descend to Pecol there is a piste off to skiers right. This is a little steep and narrow in places but not hard considering this. In around 1km you reach the village where there is lots more skiing to be had. I’ll cover this in another blog once I get a chance!

Back to Alleghe

Lastly, you have to return to Alleghe – you do this by skiing from the top of the Pecol lift or Col dei Baldi back towards Piani di Pezze. However, before turning off onto the last schuss to this area there is a small piste which leads left. If you miss this, then you can get back to it by taking a short button lift next to the Board park. It must be said that this run back is not for the faint of heart. For a red it is consistently steep and technical. I would certainly not recommend it for small children at the end of the day who are more than likely going to be tired and a little strung out until they are really happy on all reds. It can be icy AND bumpy at the same time – so even as an adult it can be testing. If this is the case, make your way back to the lift from Alleghe at Piani di Pezze and catch the lift back down.

That said, if you catch this run in good condition, either soon after it’s been groomed in the morning, or its been snowing, this is an outstanding run. If you’re happy on the bumps and steeps it’s a thoroughly enjoyable leg burner which will leave you quivering and wanting to go around for more! It brings you straight back to the bottom of the lifts in Alleghe and a short walk back to the car. Alternatively of course, if you know where there is a sneaky cut through at one of the last  flat sections on the right before you come into the town where you can schuss down to the apres ski bar the Granda Guerra – well worth a stop!

Ice Climbing Meeting 2016

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Every year, Sottoguda hosts an Ice Climbing Meeting, an opportunity to go climbing in the fantastic Serrai di Sottoguda, and to test gear at the same time made by many of the best manufacturers out there. This year Black Diamond, Camp, Cassin, Scarpa and Edelrid will be in attendance and it’s taking place between the 15th and 17th January!

For more information about some of the excellent ice climbing in the area, take a look at our information page where you will find links to our UKClimbing destination guide to the area, a destination guide to the the Dolomites by our friend, guidebook writer and photographer James Rushforth and of course should you decide to come, then feel free to contact us about accommodation!

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The West Ridge of Marmolada VF4D – a Via Ferrata not to be missed!

Of all the peaks in the Dolomites, Marmolada is perhaps the most varied. Not only does it have its famous south wall, an 800m high, 2km wide precipice, but on its northern slopes, the largest glacier in these parts and its long crest with its jagged skyline. What’s more, the activities which it can host are just as varied, with glacier piste skiing and off piste, ski touring, ice climbing, rock climbing, pottering in the high altitude cable car station, investigating the WW1 relics… but perhaps the most interesting for many of us are it’s two Via Ferratae. The Eterna is one of the longest Via Ferratae you will find anywhere, whilst the West Ridge is the only truly Alpine route of its type in the Dolomites, where crampons and an ice axe are an essential part of the equipment you take with you.

 

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The ridge is of modest technical difficulty, but don’t be fooled, to undertake this route you must have a good head for heights and be mountain savvy. The narrow descent slopes is not somewhere you would want to practice your ice axe arrest for the first time and the crevasses in the lower glacier slopes are real enough. If you are prepared though this is one of the most rewarding days you can have here. The exposure as you climb the crest of Punta Penia, Marmolada’s highest summit is simply exquisite, with the northen slope curving away to a virtual infinity, the southern side such a savage drop it would make the most seasoned scramblers head spin. That said, the equipment is in excellent condition, the cable mounted like a hand rail for much of the route to help during early season when some of the route will be buried beneath snow, preventing the cable from being entirely submerged. As a rope should be carried for the glacier travel,  you could also be able to use it to protect a leader across buried sections if you attempt it under these conditions.

 

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The approach commences at the western end of Lago Fedaia. Here there is a large carpark by the ski lift, it can get very busy during the summer but you should be able to find a spot, especially if you are making an early morning start. Of course if you choose to do this you add a substantial height gain to your day as the lift will not be running. Usually the lifts only start after 8.30am, so if you prefer to be on your own routes, you need to add a good hour and half to your day at either end. Of course there is also the alternative – spending a night at the Rifugio Pian dei Fiacconi, allowing for a more leisurely start in the morning. From the lift and hut, descent westwards on a waymarked path, a little tricky to follow across the screes that brings you around an imposing rock buttress. You drop some 150m in height to reach this point. Once around this you will see a small glacier ascending to the beginning of the cables. Cross the glacier to the right bank of a gully – a fairly easy route in which much of the snow can be avoided by following a rocky ridge in it’s middle. If you have poles it’s questionable whether you will need crampons on to make this crossing as it’s never particularly steep and if you are accustomed to snow travel you shouldn’t struggle.

 

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On reaching the cables you will find new equipment which leads steeply to a col overlooking the mountains to the south. A couple of staples have suffered from the cold on this section with the resin holding them being a touch loose so watch your step a little. At the col there are the first remnants of the war, an old dug out shelter with the left overs of bunk beds – this route was first equipped by the Austrians as it formed the front line between Italy and Austria. There is evidence all up the route, with old pegs to which they fixed their ropes and telegraph poles for communications. That people lived here all year round is just astonishing, let alone with the primitive equipment issued to the troops.

 

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The route climbs to a shoulder and then via many ladders and pegs up onto the ridge with breathtaking views at every step of the way – Gran Vernel to the West, Cima Vernel to the south, the Cantennacio, Sassolungo and the Sella Massif in the distance – you’re spoiled for choice. All too soon the ridge rears in a final flourish before the summit. Here you can either don crampons and cross the glacier or in late season the ridge may be exposed allowing you to walk and scramble most of the way to the top. Here there is a cross for the obligatory photo’s or pull ups on the cross if you dare, and also the highest hut in the region where you can take refreshments or use perhaps the most extreme kharzi you will come across in your life!

 

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Descent is relatively straight forwards, first down a snow ridge, although be careful not to wander too far right in a white out. Soon the ridge steepens and runs to rock where a set of cables lead down and right down a set of grooves and to the lower glacier. As this is the normal route to the summit, it can get very busy, with quite literally every man and his dog coming up – this can make for some exciting maneuvers and you may get to witness some interesting tomfoolery; you’ll know when you see it. Once back at the snow, skirt the bergshrund carefully and then head back to Pian dei Fiacconi, the hut and your egress back to the car park – don’t forget to stop for your summit schnapps though!

Ice Climbing Venues across the Dolomites

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Hi everybody, tonight I compiled a fairly extensive list of ice climbing venues within a reasonable drive from the house, no more than 1.5 hours. Its in the form of a Google map – the plan is to add more layers for Via Ferrata’s, Sport climbing, major climbing venues etc, so that you can appreciate the spread of what there is on offer! Hope you enjoy it!

Here are the individual crag logbook pages on the website:

Serrai di Sottguda

Digonera-Laste

Caprile

Val di Fassa

Val di Gares

Val Torcol

Mezzocanale

Val Corpassa

Val Gardena

Vallunga

Alta Badia

Armentarola

Civetta

The Sassolungo Group

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