Ski Touring in the Dolomiti, Italy, 4-2014

As we closed the doors of our car at the end of the narrow valley near San Vigilio di Marebbe in South Tyrol we entered a landscape seemingly out of the minds of fantasy movies like Lord of the Rings. Sahara sand had blown from North Africa and left yellow patches everywhere which gave the scenery an even more otherworldly appearance. It is rare that there is so much snow this far south at the beginning of April. This winter had been bad for ski resorts north of the Alps, but it delivered huge amounts of snow in the south. South Tyrol is a great mixture of Tyrolian “Gemütlichkeit”,  Italian food, and culture. The valley we where in was one of the few areas where they speak “Ladin” in addition to German and Italian. The so called Pederü hut was a newly built Alpine hotel with all the amenities, great food, wine, and hospitality. We spent the first night in anticipation of scaling the mountains the next day.

Breakfast was at 6:30 am, an hour later we got into our touring ski boots and strapped the skins onto our touring skis. It was cloudy in the morning and we followed the road up the hill which led to another couple of huts which was  to be our destination the following day. Quite a few other skiers were on the same path, but we hung a left up a steep ravine higher up and were soon alone. Higher and higher we climbed until we got to a saddle with a breathtaking view of the surrounding peaks. At the same time the sun came out to complete this spectacular scenery. The snow got soft very fast.

Dolomiti1Another narrow slope and we had reached the highest point of the day. We took a break to enjoy some of the tea we had brought in our thermos that morning.

We took off skins, tied our boots down, fixed our bindings in the skiing position, and off we skied down the other side of where we had just ascended. The snow has breaking up and there were a lot of half frozen tracks from other skiers, and it gave us no pleasure to ski whatsoever. Further down, however, the slope widened and we moved to a trackless expanse. The snow there was soft at the top, and we could carve our turns leaving a signature for all to see. The altitude – we got up to almost 3000m – and the skiing made us breathe hard as we were descending to a high plateau. Our next goal was still another hut, so when we reached the lowest point we put our skins back on and trudged uphill once more. It was really warm by then and the snow had a distinct mushy quality. After another couple of hours of going up and down we finally reached the Sennes hut where we had some well deserved pasta and lots of liquid to replenish our fluids.

Now it was time to descend into the narrow valley below back to our hotel. It felt more like descending into hell, the canyon got very narrow and we ended up on what felt like a twisting bobsled run. The road we ended up on was a military road built in World War I. South Tyrol was the location of heavy fighting between Austrian and Italian soldiers. Both sides dragged cannons up high into the mountains and battled each other in every manner they could think of.

IMG_3954The next day we packed our belongings and headed higher to the Fanes hut. Here we stayed in a room for eight, with a shared  bathroom and a shower outside in the hallway. The sky was cloudless, which also meant that the night had been colder. We could expect better snow conditions, especially on slopes facing north. We left some of our belongings at the hut and headed to our mountain of the day, the Monte Castello. An initial climb of 150m high, we later ended up on another plateau with our intended peak visible in the distance. The Dolomiti mountains remind me of the American Southwest, with large blocks of rock rising from snowfields.

Another short downhill later we traversed a side valley, then put our skins on for the final ascent, this one took it all out of us for the next 2 1/2 hours. But we were rewarded with breathtaking views at the top and no other skiers in sight.Dolomiti2After a long break we skied down on wonderful snow, ascended back to our plateau and skied back to the hut for some welcome libations. An excellent dinner completed this amazing day.

The next day was my last, so we went on a ski tour with southern exposure. On the way up the snow was hard, but a couple of hours later in the hot sun it was soft like silk. My last run down was on an untouched carpet of snow. The road back to the Pederü hut followed, then I packed it up for the exit from this fairytale location.


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