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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…

Ice climbing in the Serrai di Sottoguda

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The “Serrai di Sottoguda” or quite literally the “narrowing of Sottuguda” is such an appropriate name for this deep slash in the bottom of Val Pettorina. Relatively unknown to Brits, Sottoguda has long been a firm favourite with Italian climbers. At 150m deep in places this gorge doesn’t catch any sun for several months of the year and really retains the cold. Even in summertime the temperature drops and the air becomes dank and moist as you walk into it. Quite the most perfect conditions for forming the best fat ice one could possibly hope for. Add the huge elevation on either side creating a huge catchment area for water, trees to hold that water allowing it to gently seep as the winter sets in and you are left with a super regular ice climbing venue with a plethora of falls. As the gorge was at one time the only way up to Passo Fedaia, a track was built, needing regular rebuilding after the spring spate. That all changed when in the 50’s and 60’s, an enormous power generation scheme was constructed. The old road became impractical and was bypassed with a series of tunnels and bridges up the valley above the gorge, leaving the gorge free of all but pedestrian traffic and the odd bike.

Parking at the top of the village of Sottoguda leaves one with a 5 minute walk to the first baby ice fall. Not much further on, as the gorge deepens, the falls become taller and more spectacular until you reach the Cathedrale – the unmistakably enormous cascade on the right. It doesn’t stop here – rounding the corner after the beautiful little chapel dedicated to those who died in the war, there are more falls. At worst, it takes an easy 15-20 minute walk to reach your chosen climb from the car park – with the beautiful cascades, it’s hardly a chore!

With free standing pillars, gentle flows, overhanging fronds of icicles you won’t fail to find a challenge. There are routes at WI2 through to WI6+ aswell as a number of modern mixed lines and from 20-25m through to 100m, 3 pitch behemoths, there’s enough climbing here to last anybody for a while. Some you abseil off trees or fixed anchors at the top, others you finish at the upper new road! Typically climbers will need a large selection of ice screws – it’s doubtful that traditional rock gear would be of any use at all, although it never hurts to take 4-5 wires just in case. The ice is usually thick and fat, and stubby screws will be of little use and instead we’d recommend mainly 16-20cm screws with maybe a couple of 22’s for Abalakov/Andreson threads and a main belay screw. Usually we’d suggest 12 screws would be about right, but obviously you will have your own preferences. It’s also useful to have a variety of types – where possible hitting deep ice is best and often the type of screw with a small hanger and a bent wire winding handle like those make by Grivel are invaluable, allowing you to achieve extremely strong placements without chopping away surrounding ice. Of course these are not as neat to rack, so a good mix is what we generally use.

As mentioned above, some retreats are from fixed anchors, but often a single rope will not get you to the ground, so it’s best to carry 5-7mm cord to install Abalakov/Anderson threads. If you forget it or run out, you can get more easily at the local shop, De Grandi sport in Boscoverde, who also hold in stock screws, extenders, crampons, axes etc and also rent equipment should you require it.

For information on routes a great place to start is in the UK Climbing logbooksAs we climb them we will bring you more blogs to let you have the low down! We have also compiled a fairly complete list of ice climbing venues within a reasonable drive from Cas Alfredino:


 

Skiing the Arabba Range

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Val Pettorina is a stones throw from the massive Arabba and Val Badia ski ranges. These offer vast amounts of varied skiing with Arabba mainly offering great steeper skiing and Val Badia having something for everybody especially beginners and intermediates. Accessible either from the 3 chair lift from Malga Cipela, or by a 20 minute drive from the house, Arabba is a small village nestled at the centre of the range, with runs extending up to Passo Pordoi in the west and Passo Campolongo in the north, its a great place to start. Each of these passes give access to yet more skiing, Val Badia  and Corvara accessed from Passo campolongo, whilst going over Passo Pordoi brings you down to Canazei and the huge possabilites there.

Arabba – an area of two halves.

Lets deal with Arabba first. The core of this range is on the southern side of the valley and is served by two main lifts running from the same lifthouse – an older cable car lift that takes you directly to Portavescovo and the other which is a detachable cabin lift with a mid height station before the top, a few hundred metres from the older station. This cabin lift is in my opinion the more efficient of the two, as people tend to pile into the old lift as its the first in the lift house, so whilst it might be faster once you’re on board, there is usually a longer wait. From the top, a steep and usually bumpy red run leads to the main areas and you have the choice of 2 red and 2 blacks – as I said – great for those looking for steep challenging skiing!

Arabba

To get to Passo Pordoi, follow piste 1 and then 36, a super long red run which leads you to a fast 3 man lift on the other side. The ride up is great – if you’re cold these lifts have a shield to protect you from the wind as it’s a long ride up. At the top, the area is really fun, lots of steady reds, especially down from the Belvedere hut, with great offpiste on either side of the run, especially on skiers left where you will find a natural halfpipe! Down right, be careful not to wander too far from the runs as you’ll end up with a walk back, but its nice moderate terrain if you’re just starting to ski the sidecountry. Of course with the Superdolomiti ski pass, you can take the runs over to Val di Fassa and Canazei and beyond on the Sella-Ronda, the circular tour that takes you all the way around the Sella Massif. But that’s a whole different blog! Returning to Arabba you have two options, either a super long blue run – boarders make sure you keep you speed up through the trees as once you grind to a halt it can be a pain to get started again, unless you happen to have a handy skier tow machine with you! Or ski down to the road and rather than crossing it to continue the run down, jump on the relatively new lift which delivers to back up the mountain to join a red run which bypasses the worst of the flat areas of the previous option.

Crossing the road to the north of Arraba takes you towards Passo Campolongo. Here the terrain is significantly easier with mainly blues and reds. Whilst these are really mainly linking runs to get you to Val Badia, they are fun in their own right, the blues being nice cruises back to the village, or onwards to Bec di Roces. Just be aware that the run back is red if you are with novice skiers, although in my opinion it’s not a despertely hard run, very much at the lower end of the grade with only a couple of steeper pitches. Lastly for complete beginners and kids, there is a nice little learners area right by the village with the ski school at the base of these runs.

Sking to and from Val Pettorina

Getting to Arabba couldn’t be easier from our valley. If you drive up the valley from the house (or catch the ski bus), you will come to the Padon lift on the left as you approach Passo Fedaia – if you reach the hairpins you’ve gone too far! The lift delivers you quickly to Passo Padon; the run down the far side is quite a steep red run, so if you are with beginners, be aware of this – it’s a little narrow to start with but soon opens out, although it’s steep for quite a way! Once at the bottom, another lift brings you right into the middle of the Arraba area, but again, as these are harder runs, make sure your group feels comfortable with this sort of skiing. If you’ve come here on the lifts from Malga Cipela, getting back is a little less obvious. From the main Arabba lifthouse, take the cabin lifts and jump out at the mid station – a chair lift on the left as you come out of the station takes you to a gentle blue run and then to a lift back to Passo Padon. The red which descends to Val Pettorina is pretty amenable – over all the ski back is easier technically if harder to find.

Alternatively for those with a stronger constitution, take the cabin lifts to Port Vescovo, duck under the barriers and ski towards Lago Fedaia. Pick your route carefully – ski straight down and you end up at the western end of the lake with a long walk back towards Val Pettorina. However ski left and over a shoulder and this takes you back towards the lift system and you should be able to make it without the walk! Just be careful as these slopes are prone to avalanche after heavy snow, being south facing and treeless.

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