When life gives you no snow, make mountain days!
FEW. It’s snowed!!!
It was getting a little tense there, the green slopes were hard to ignore and as good as the skiing was, it just wasn’t looking like a winter ski resort here in Corvara (The Italian Dolomites). It was getting to the point that you hardly had time to introduce yourself at the airport before someone pinned you down and demanded to know how the snow was. Guests had been nervously watching their webcams and were apprehensive about what was to become of their holiday.
That said, the snow making here in the Dolomites has been exceptional. When nature wasn’t providing, the resort staff were throwing down on a nightly basis in order to create the network of pistes that the maps promised. As a result we could assure anyone who was looking pale at the prospect of paying for their lift pass that it would definitely still be worth it. The pistes were not only there but they were good, better than this time last year when natural snow had already fallen, according to returning staff and guests. Every morning presented fresh corduroy and the pleasant conditions lasted long into the afternoon.
There were some advantages to the lack of snow too. Getting around was still easy in the resort and transfer vehicles, no snow chains needed yet! It was warm enough to sit outside at lunchtime and soak up some sun between skiing and the walks and climbs that many of us on the team had become familiar with during the summer were still in condition. In many ways it felt like spring skiing –T-shirt weather!
Rach and Chris on Via Ferrata Cia Spitz.
On a particularly sunny day off a few of us even managed to head up one of the local Via Ferratas. This was a frequent pass time for us during the summer season but not something I expected to be doing much of in the winter! However, free of ice and snow and with sunny skies overhead conditions were ideal.
Translated roughly as “Iron way”, VFs are one of the best ways to access the mountains without the need of complicated gear or technical climbing ability. All you need is a harness and a set of tails (Two carabiners attached to you by a piece of rope or safety cord), a helmet (just in case) and a good pair of shoes. As long as you have a good head for heights these routes can get you into places that would be impossible to hike normally. You get the achievement of a big mountain day without as much difficulty as an actual climb.
The Dolomites have one of the world’s largest networks of VFs due to the areas involvement in WW1. Soldiers would use them as a way of transporting ammunition and supplies up into the mountain posts and high grounds that were so strategically important. Now they are mostly frequented by tourists looking for exposure to the mountains!
Usually a popular summer activity, these routes are graded using two simple scales. 1-5 (The technical difficulty of the climb itself in terms of exposure, hand and footholds etc. Sometimes the scale will extend to 6) and A-C (The remoteness of the VF in terms of aid, escape routes etc). Cia Spitz, the one we were climbing on this particular day is one of the entry VFs and graded as a 2A.
After skiing the short distance to the start of the walk in and leaving our skis and boots hidden in a clump of trees and bushes we changed into our walking boots and scrambled up a small gully to the wire. The climb itself has enough exposure to make you pay attention, it feels airy to the beginner and isn’t to be taken lightly. This is something to consider with any via ferrata, never describe one as easy just because it’s less difficult than another. One person’s easy could be another’s challenge. To an experienced climber it’s a short and enjoyable ascent, if a little polished in places due to its popularity.
When you reach the top the views are expansive and rewarding, with only enough room to sit a handful of people. The descent is a mixture of wire and scrambling down an adjacent gully to the first. All in all it takes approximately 1-2 hours. We collected our skis and went in search of somewhere for lunch. Good day, well spent, even if it did feel like summer again!
Days like that are a great way to pass time until the winter conditions arrive, but it didn’t mean we weren’t all watching the snow forecast closely.
And all will be pleased to hear that now the snow has finally arrived! Although the skiing was good before, now the temperatures have dropped and snow has covered the mountain side. The Dolomites are looking the part. So now we wait for the base to be good enough to click into the touring skis and climb the peaks in an entirely different way!
Written by Beth Lloyd