Skiing in the Dolomites region of northern Italy offers some of the most stunning winter scenery in the world. The ski resorts in the Dolomites are surrounded by jagged cliffs and plateaus as well as some interesting and challenging ski slopes.
Visitors who are new to the area should note that there can be three very different languages spoken by locals: German (the South Tyrol is largely German-speaking); Italian (the national language and that of families who have moved to this area over the past century); and Ladin, which is a Romantic tongue and the native language of the majority living in many of the ski resorts in the Dolomites.
So it is not unusual to see two or three different names for the same location. For example, ‘Sëlva’ (Ladin), ‘Selva’ (Italian) and ‘Wolkenstein’ (German) are different names for the same place. (In this article the place names used are usually the most popular version used by English speakers!)
Selva di Val Gardena
The Val Gardena (‘Grödnertal‘) is a long and winding valley which heads east up into the mountains from the main north-south motorway between Brixen (‘Bressanone‘) and Bolzano (‘Bozen‘). Ski areas are scattered all up the valley, with the lovely Seiseralm area above St Ulrich (‘Ortisei‘) being a favourite area for downhill skiers, cross-country enthusiasts and snowshoe hikers.
Santa Cristina is renowned for the classic World Cup ski race held on the Saslong course, with the testing ‘Camel Bumps’ – an Austrian champion once jumped 88 metres over the challenging section.
But the most popular of the areas is that above Selva di Val Gardena, which offers access to the famous Sella Ronda ski circuit. This 42 kilometre round trip on skis links the resorts of the Val Gardena with those of the Alta Badia, Arabba and the Val di Fassa and can be skied clockwise or counter-clockwise.
Selva is an attractive village with plenty of chalet-style accommodation and slopes on both sides of the valley. The connections lead to the Alta Badia area (in a clockwise direction on the Sella Ronda), to the skiing above Canazei and Campitello (in a counter-clockwise direction on the Sella Ronda) or down the Val Gardena to the ski slopes above the neighbouring village of Santa Cristina.
The skiing in Val Gardena and associated ski areas around the Sella Ronda is covered on the Dolomiti Superski ski pass.
The Alta Badia refers to the upper part of the Badia valley in the Dolomites (‘Abtei‘ in German). The ski area of that name includes the resorts of the Badia valley, including Corvara and the higher hamlet of Colfosco, which links over the Gardena pass to Selva.
The villages in the Alta Badia are probably the most traditional and ‘Ladin’ of the Dolomites ski areas, especially the quieter settlement and slopes of Badia itself.
Corvara is the main centre and ski connection onto the Sella Ronda, with lifts up to the Piz Böe and the link to the ski runs above Arabba. To the left of the road up the pass is the main ski area above Corvara and La Villa, with plenty of flattering intermediate runs with the easiest links into the Badia valley.
San Cassiano is a little bit off on its own and is actually the nearest to the famous Dolomites ski resort of Cortina d’Ampezzo. There is no direct lift access to that ski area, although a popular long off-piste run from the Lagazuoi in the Cortina area actually finishes near the San Cassiano lifts.
Arabba is a lovely village on the Sella Ronda circuit. Many skiers who are hurrying around the route rush through this area on their way up to the pass above Canazei.
The village, with its traditional core of Ladin architecture, is at a relatively high altitude for Italy at just over 1600 metres. It hosts some of the most challenging runs in the Dolomiti Superski area, especially the north-facing slopes below the Porta Vescovo.
But not only is there interesting skiing around Arabba, the village offers a great side trip down to a completely different ski experience on the Marmolada glacier.
The lifts from the hamlet of Malga Ciapela rise to nearly 3300 metres at Punta Rocca and offer a leg-draining red run to the valley floor over 1800 metres below.
Val di Fassa
The ski resorts of Canazei and Campitello are both located in the upper section of the Val di Fassa and are links in the Sella Ronda circuit.
The ski lifts at Canazei rise to the Passo Pordoi area and the easy motorway runs down to Arabba, while those at Campitello link into the slopes above Selva at the Passo Sella. Many skiers on the Sella Ronda circuit do not descend to either village and speed around the route using the runs at Pian Frataces.
But there is plenty more skiing to be had in the Fassa valley. Alba di Canazei is a little higher in the valley and, as well as a cable car up to the Sella Ronda links it also is part of the Ciampac ski area which links up with the slopes lower down the Fassa valley above Pozza di Fassa.
A little bit further down the valley, side valleys offer access to the separate ski areas at San Pellegrino and Carezza.
Cortina is one of the old traditional ski towns of the Dolomites with its elegant hotels and renowned ski slopes above the bustling valley. The ski resort offers numerous options for any intermediate skier, with two larger areas easily reached from the centre of Cortina and three more smaller groups of ski slopes a short bus ride away.
The Tofana ski slopes are the best-known of Cortina’s ski areas. This is where the World Cup ski races takes place between the intimidating rock faces of the Olympia delle Tofane course, one of the loveliest on the racing circuit.
Over on the other side of the valley is the Faloria ski area, a high plateau which is reached by a cable car from the town. This area also links into the smaller area served by chairlifts under the Forcella peak,
Outside the town, the Cinque Torri lifts on the way up to the Passo Falzarego offer interesting if limited intermediate skiing. They also link in to the area at the pass, with the cable car up to the Lagazuoi peak, with its memorials to the fighting here in the First World War.
A red run leads back down to the base of the cable car or skiers can test themselves on one of the most famous runs in the Dolomites: the 8.5 kilometre descent to Armentarola. From here it is possible to take a bus back over the pass to the Cortina area or to head further down the valley into the Alta Badia.