Scoping my lines: The off-piste advantage of spending a summer in a ski resort
The Italian Dolomites, or the Dollies, as they’re affectionately known as, is a place that I hadn’t heard much about before stepping foot there. I did, however, know that they were in the north of Italy and I did know that they were an extension of the same line of rock that sculpted the Austrian, French and Swiss Alps which, considering I had visited all of these areas before, I thought would be much the same as in Italy. But it’s safe to say that I was wrong.
Nothing could have prepared me for the cruel reality of these mountains. Their distinctive colouring, endless jagged cliffs and monumental presence made for a mesmerising place to be. In fact, these impressive mountains are fast becoming one of the largest ski areas in the world – almost rivalling the Trois Vallées!
Upon my arrival there was only one thing missing: snow! I had, in fact, decided to do a summer season up in the mountains and at this stage it was looking like it could be a rather long summer for this skier without her planks! But after the initial shock, it turns out that there is actually a huge variety of activities on offer in the Dolomites during the summer season. So to keep our ski-itchy feet at bay (just) we focused our energy on hiking up Via Ferrata (translated as ‘iron road’) and glacier treks, which certainly kept us busy enough!
Although despite us being busy with work and play, I just couldn’t help but try to imagine these mountains with snow. Those of us who enjoy deviating from the pistes in winter will tend to just turn up when the snow’s already fallen and ski without much thought as to what lies beneath. But in this case, ‘popping off piste’ is not such a simple luxury.
It needs to be said that even a little more knowledge about the mountain beneath the snow could help prevent potential avi risks, injury and equipment damage – which your ski hire shop will be sure to thank you for! Without the snow I was able to see potential risks such as the long intimidating scree slope that might create an unstable base mid winter and the fences that could easily catch an unsuspecting skier off-guard.
I suddenly became aware of the opportunity that I had to get to know a ski resort better than I had done before. Here, I had the ultimate advantage to scope my lines! There were three lines that particularly caught my eye and which I am already planning on tackling when I head back to the Dolomites – this time with my trusty pair of skis!
SASSONGHER –VAL SCURA
Sitting above the town of Corvara where I was working and watching over like a silent giant, this mountain was undoubtedly my favourite. The walk up from the village consisted of over a thousand meters of ascent and large areas of protected path (with wiring to hold onto to assist climbing). This giant beauty has even had some screen time with her tribute in the ski movie made about legend Shane McConkey as he skied down half of the couloir, only to then deviate to the snowy plateau on the left hand photo above and ski base jumped off of it.
Whilst I was there I also hiked up to the summit, passing the entrance to the Val Scura on the way up. It has certainly earned it’s name, which translates as ‘dark valley’, because it almost never sees the sun. This makes ski conditions difficult at best and it is rarely actually ever in a skiable state. However when conditions are right it is meant to be a fantastic run for the advanced technical skier. It even has a short abseil half way down… Ehem.
Cinque Torri, meaning five towers, is one of the most iconic features of the Dolomites. Standing alone above the Falzarego Pass, these enormous standing stones look like they’ve just fallen out of the sky. In the summer they are a rock climbers’ mecca with hundreds of bolted routes in and around the place. They are even littered with trenches due to its strategic importance for the Italians during World War 1. They used it as their main base when fighting the Austrians for dominance of the area of South Tyrol. In the winter they become capped with snow and a popular place for snowshoers and skiers alike as there is a ski lift adjacent.
Then there’s the big guy… at 3342m the Marmolada stands as the Dolomites’ highest peak. Even during the summer it keeps its snow at the top and boasts a glacier which attracts both skiers and hikers. It has a dark history due to the First World War as it was the site of much fighting and loss of life. Many men succumbed to the exposure and the glacier only recently made news again when it presented the remains of some poor soldiers who were lost to the ice.
Many hikers that wish to summit this peak hire a local guide for the day to make the ascent. There are a number of options to choose from when making the climb, including trekking up the glacier itself. It even has one of the Dolomites’ famous Via Ferratas that can be used to climb the west ridge. Yet the summer months and receding snow line highlights some hidden dangers. Exposed crevasses, open ice slabs and boulder fields all become that little bit more apparent and make you think twice about deviating from the piste…
So there you have it! Plans are in place and now all we need is snow. In the meantime maybe it’s time to scrape off the hibernation wax, sharpen those edges and enjoy the warmth of your ski jacket as you wear it around the house in anticipation! Winter is coming!
– Beth Lloyd