Ski France & Italy 2013-14 Part 3

To the north and west of the city of Trento lie the Dolomiti di Brenta. To the north and east, the main Dolomites mountain range is tucked up right in the furthest corner of Italy. The mighty river Adige divides the two, but both ranges are similar limestone mountain formations.

We've skied one range and now we don't have to travel far to get to grips with its bigger, more famous cousin. While the ski areas dotted all around the Dolomites are not all linked, you can use one pass in this region to access an incredible 1,200kms of slopes and 450 lifts!

The snowfalls arrived a little later in this part of Italy compared to further west, but the winter was getting into full swing as we arrived in the region.

Latemar mountains from Pala di Santa 11.01.14
On the way up from Trento we spent a half-day on the Latemar range, one of the more southerly of the Dolomiti ski areas above the Val di Fiemme.

Ski Center Latemar
Altitude - 1,550 - 2,500m
Lifts - 18
Runs - 50kms

Ski Center Latemar has a bit of a family feel, but there is easily enough variety and challenge to keep all skiers and riders busy for a couple of days.

All the ski lifts here rise up towards the impressive Latemar range making this a scenic ski across, around and under the mountain range and back.

The little village of Obereggen is one access point to the ski area at 1,550m altitude. This area is full of conifer forests and tree-lined slopes (and an incredible lift-accessed toboggan slope!).

Pala di Santa from Passo Feudo 11.01.14
The middle lifted areas are more open and have short cruisey slopes. That is, apart from the runs up on the Pala di Santa. Black pistes are the order of the day on this incredible rock plateau which soars up to 2,500m, as well as some good off-piste options.

A variety of runs drop down to the village of Pampeago, and up the other side there are lots of nice red runs among the rocky outcrops.

After a sunny pizza lunch high up at the viewpoint at Passo Feudo, you can ski down the warm side of the mountains towards Predazzo. From Predazzo you can make your way back across this great scenic ski area, or take a few rides on the rollercoaster-style luge first! Its a great taster and intro to what the Dolomiti are all about.

Val Gardena
11-17 January 2014

That afternoon we drive back down into the Adige valley near the city of Bolzano (or Bozen) and head deeper into the southern Tyrol (what was once Austria not that long ago) and into the heart of the Dolomiti.

The Val di Fassa from Sass Pordoi 12.01.14
Turning off the Brenner motorway once again as the steep rocky valley narrows, we head up into the Val Gardena. The valley opens out wide and broad after a winding steep climb.

The first of the valley towns, Ortisei, greets us with fairy lights, tourist shops and magical ice sculptures.

Val di Fassa
Altitude - 1,420 - 2,423m
Lifts - 87
Runs - 120kms

We stayed for the week in the pretty village of Santa Cristina Valgardena (1,428m altitude). The ski lifts were just a few minutes walk away from our apartment accommodation. The Saslong lift in particular gave us access to multiple ski areas and endless skiing around the Sella Ronda, a legendary ski route that loops and links the ski areas around the Sella range of mountains.

The busy Val di Fassa is one such area, with enough variety to spend a few days there alone. Its about an hour on skis from the village of Santa Cristina.

The view from Sass Pordoi 12.01.14
Fast, open and wide runs are serviced by quick lifts, and there is some easy, fun off-piste terrain to the sides and between the pistes.

The Canazei/Campitello ski areas of the Val di Fassa are on the Sella Ronda and are split by a wooded valley with long runs down each side to the bottom, and gondolas back up to the tops.

From Passo Pordoi you can take a cable car up to  the summit at Sass Pordoi (2,950m). The views of the distinctive pink-tinged limestone Dolomiti are incredible! There are unmarked trails for advanced skiers down from here.

Its much busier around here than the smaller ski areas in nearby Trentino, and much more international with many holidaymakers from around Europe who have congregated here for the great skiing and food.

Val Gardena
Altitude - 1,200 - 2,453m
Lifts - 79
Snow Depth - 65/165cms (17.01.2014)

We took advantage of a continuing run of warm, sunny days to explore, to get to know our way around the different ski areas before our friends arrived to stay with us. Such splendid scenery around Val Gardena.

Stunning Sassolungo 3,181m 12.01.14
A favourite place in the morning was under the stunning pink Sassolungo where there was lovely hot chocolate and sacher torte (or apple strudel) in a traditional Tyrolean eatery.

This gentle area had some nice short runs to start the day before exploring farther afield.

Nearby Piz Seteur is also the link to the Val di Fassa, from where you could explore another ski area, or ski back to cosmopolitan Selva and Santa Cristina on lovely easy trails.

Closer to these two villages is the Ciampinoi area and the Saslong World Cup slopes, where steeper, fast runs up high lead to long downhill pistes through the forests and into the villages.

There is a lot of apres-ski around Val Gardena as most people here are staying for a week or more. Actually the apres-ski often appeared to start at lunchtime at all the on-mountain bars!

Runs under Sassolungo from Piz Sella 13.01.14
The run of warm, sunny weather came to an end on the night of the 13th January as a fresh storm brought new snow across the French and Italian Alps. From 20-50cms of snow fell across the southern Alps until the 14th, with ski areas such as Madesimo (290/380cms) in Italy scoring big again.

In Val Gardena we had about 20-40cms. This meant freshies for early starters! We headed up a tired little two-seater from Santa Cristina to Monte Pana where a fast covered quad lift services two long tree-lined runs.

Nobody was there and the grooming had been done before the snow - meaning laps of powder turns down the wide black and red runs before anyone else arrived!

From Monte Pana you can get a skibus that braves a snow-covered single-lane road up to Saltria (1,700m) high up on a beautiful plateau of alpine meadows far above the town of Ortisei. At this time of year it is the centre of the Alpe di Siusi, a whole other ski area (23 lifts, 60kms slopes). The vibe up here is relaxed and completely different from its more illustrious neighbours.

Altitude - 1,610 - 3,334m
Ice Bar at Ciampinoi 16.01.14
Lifts - 27
Runs - 60kms

After the snows we saw a return to sunny, clear conditions. That meant is was time to take on the famous Sella Ronda!

This incredible ski route was supposed to take most of the day to do (just to get around one-way) and not having done it before we weren't going to take any risks getting stuck hundreds of kilometres from our apartment!

So we joined the well-signed Sella Ronda at Ciampinoi and skied across to the Val di Fassa once again (our homework has paid off!). After Passo Pordoi we entered new territory as we arrived in the ski area of Arabba Marmolada.

You entered the ski area from the top of the valley on nice and easy, long blue trails. Further down the lifts rose up the side of the valley for some challenging skiing between here and Marmolada (3,342m). Apparently you can take the diversion to Marmolada if you're quick, but adding another five lifts and three cable cars seemed to be pushing it for first-timers!

Alta Badia 15.01.14
At pretty Arabba you need to take off skis and walk a few minutes through the town to continue the tour.

It was very busy in the village with lots of people doing the Sella Ronda the other way round passing those like us going towards Corvara.

There looked to be lots of interesting skiing up here around Arabba, but we didn't have time as we were heading across to the next ski area for lunch!

Alta Badia
Altitude - 1,324 - 2,778m
Lifts - 53
Runs - 130kms

Alta Badia is a massive ski area in its own right spanning between some resort villages in another valley over towards Cortina, and the village of Corvara that is right on the Sella Ronda.

Selva Val Gardena from Ciampinoi 16.01.14
A lot of the centre of the area consists of open, bright, rolling hills with blue and red runs and great views across to the peaks of the Dolomiti. Its relaxed and the food is great in the sunshine!

Near the villages the runs get steeper and there is some fun terrain.

From the pretty village of Corvara, a series of lifts take us up across the narrow Passo Gardena and from there we ski back into Selva in the Val Gardena on a long tree-lined run.

And that was the day we had the incredible experience that is the Sella Ronda in the Dolomites! And apparently, its more challenging to do it the other way around ... next time maybe!

Val Gardena
Altitude - 1,200 - 2,453m
Lifts - 79
Snow Depth - 65/165cms (17.01.2014)

Col Raiser, Selva and Gruppo Del Sella from Seceda 16.01.14
The snow began to fall again on the 16th January in Val Gardena. After revisiting some favourite areas on the Sassolungo side of Santa Cristina, we made our way to the northern side of the village for the first time in the whole week.

An underground funicular from the bottom of the Saslong World Cup course whisked us up to Plan da Tieja, where another gondola lift took us up to Col Raiser (2,103m).

The area around Col Raiser is wooded and pretty and there is a great restaurant there with a massive St Bernard that pushes its way in and out of the doors as it patrols around.

Up above the Col are snow-covered alpine meadows dotted with shepherd's huts, which makes for a scenic ski down. Another lift takes you up across a big, wide area until you reach Seceda (2,518m).

Seceda is the top of a steep escarpment and the top station of a cable car from Ortisei. It is also the start of a long, long, LONG run all the way down to Ortisei at 1,236m, a vertical drop of almost 1,300m.

Alpine Chapel near Col Raiser 16.01.14
Its a brilliant run with lots of variation. Open at the top, a little steep and fast into the valley, then a cruisy glide winding down past houses, streams, cafes and little canyons above the town.

We could have done the run twice if we had the time! Another option from the bottom at Ortisei would be to cross to the otehr side of the town and get the cable car up to the Alpe di Siusi. An alternative day tour could involve a loop back to Santa Cristina - so many options with so much skiing available!

The snow continues into the 17th January, turning the villages white again after the mild, sunny days. It really starts coming down in the afternoon as a week's fabulous skiing in the Dolomites comes to an end.

Leaving a very snowy Val Gardena, we drove down into the Adige valley to the Brenner motorway. Passing Bolzano (a good city to visit for an afternoon) and then Trento again ... spying all the ski resorts we had been to over the past two weeks.

Shepherd's Hut Col Raiser 17.01.14
By Verona, the snow has gone and could only be seen on the tops of the mountains to the north. It was raining though, which meant the storm was continuing nicely for several days across Northern Italy.

To get to our destination for our final week we drove all the way back across the north of Italy, past Brescia, Bergamo and Milan again, back into the province of Aosta.

Monte Rosa
18-24 January 2014

Altitude - 1,212 - 3,275m
Lifts - 33
Slopes - 200kms
Snow Depth - 130/260cms (24.01.2014)

After a long but fast drive across Italy we arrived back in the central Alps again at Monte Rosa - the second-highest mountain massif in Western Europe after Mont Blanc.

Gressoney-La-Trinite 21.01.14
The climb up into the valley from the Autostrada is steep and winding, then the road relaxes and only climbs slowly and steadily. This is fortunate as there is lots of snow on the road as the storm continues through the weekend.

By the time we reach Gressoney-Saint-Jean (1,387m) the snow cover is complete and snow walls are forming on the side of the road.

Our accommodation is at Orsia, a collection of buildings even deeper up the valley at over 1,700m altitude. There is over a metre of snow in the fields and gardens - it reminds me of Japan.

From the Thursday night through the weekend about 50-80cms of fresh snow fell across Northern Italy, making for excellent skiing conditions.

The Monte Rosa ski area is spread across three distinct valleys, but it is very different from the Dolomites or Chamonix ... wilder and it feels more remote, while still being distinctly Italian.

Stafal and Monte Rosa glaciers 22.01.14
We were based for the week handily in the middle valley where the ski lifts start at Stafal (1,818m) and at Gressoney-La-Trinite (1,637m). Its a very narrow valley and the rocky walls are steep and close, with the houses strung out along the winding road.

There was incredible powder skiing in the forests on the 19th January while the visibility was still poor as it was still snowing. Tree skiing is allowed here, and is mostly located below Punta Jolanda above Gressoney-La-Trinite and Sant' Anna above Stafal - we could hear the whoops all morning!

Starting from Stafal the skiing is on both sides of the narrow valley - take your pick. On the west side you can ski down from the Colle Bettaforca (2,727m) on wide and long open pistes, then descend back into the village on some steep sections or through the trees. There is heliskiing up to the Monte Rosa peaks and across to Zermatt in Switzerland from here.

On the east side of Stafal, two gondolas take you up slowly to the Passo Salati (2,971m), From here there are wide red runs back down to Gabiet, the halfway point, or lots of off-piste itineraries for advanced skiers from Punta Indren (3,275m).

Alagna 21.01.14
From Gabiet, you can also join up with the pretty wooded area above Gressoney-La-Trinite with its beautiful scenery and fantastic eating and drinking in great mountain restaurants. A nice trip is to link up the runs from Passo Salati all the way down to Stafal or Gressoney.

Passo Salati is also the connection to Alagna, the wild valley to the east known for its off-piste skiing.

Basically, there is only one piste all the way down from the top into the Valsesia. Its a black run to start, but its not too hard when its freshly groomed. Halfway down the run becomes wide and red, and then it continues all the way down to the pretty village of Alagna Valsesia (1,212m) for a 1,759m vertical drop on one run.

To the west of Stafal is another valley, the Ayas valley, home to the towns of Frachey and Champoluc. Each of these resort townds has its own ski area above it, and they link up to create one big area with lots of lifts and runs.

Frachey and the Matterhorn 20.01.14
There is bit more variety around Champoluc compared to the other valleys which tend to attract a lot of very adventurous expert skiers. Above Frachey there are some stunning views to Monte Cervino (The Matterhorn) and some great skiing.

The run down from Colle Bettaforca is wide and fast and you can go off-piste either side.

Taking the lifts back up, Frachey consists of a lot of nice fast groomed runs and some fun and fairly easy off-piste in the trees.

There are great eateries and cafes all across this mountain. The owners and staff are fantastic, welcoming and friendly, with the food ranging from traditional to modern. Lots of pasta and mountain soups!

A run of sunny days made our last days in Italy a delight. Early skiing and touring gave way to lazy afternoons spent having a drink, and basking on the decks and sun loungers.

Champoluc 20.01.14
Monte Rosa seemed like a bit of a secret place, slightly untouched still. A place for the adventurous.

So the tour came to an end not far from where it started ... a loop from Milan into France at Trois Vallees, then to Chamonix, across the Italian Alps to Lombardy, then Trentino and the Dolomites, and finally back to Aosta before a drive to Milan again.

What an amazing trip! It was really a dream of a holiday staying in such great accommodation, touring the ski resorts on the mountain roads and snow in our little 4WD Fiat Panda with snow tyres.When can we do another one!

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