Italy’s Sella Ronda is one of Europe’s ultimate skiing experiences, with overwhelming views across 40km. FRITZ FAERBER reports.
It’s 9am. It’s -12°C. My legs are stiff. A strong wind makes the weather more appropriate for a polar bear. But I’m in heaven, for this is the start of a long-term goal: skiing Italy’s Sella Ronda.
To my right, a massive clump of limestone shoots up more than 600m into the sky, brooding like Sauron’s hideout in The Lord Of The Rings. To the left, mellower hills roll up to more limestone cliffs and ahead, a wide snowy trail plunges straight into soupy clouds. I head down and am quickly immersed in shimmering sparks from the snow, which gain a slight amber tint from my goggles. The cloud of ice crystals starts the day off with magic.
The nearly-40km Sella Ronda circuit includes roughly 25km of skiing in a trek that circles the Gruppo Sella – the massive stack of jagged limestone cliffs that reach an elevation of more than 3140m. Bad weather closed the high passes and foiled my attempt to complete this skiing adventure a year ago, but today, I will prevail.
My fiancée is a beginner snowboarder, so I ski solo. I’m something of a speed demon, and the circuit offers plenty of opportunities to go fast, but many of the runs are relatively short and groomed: no bumps here. The entire circuit is made up of mainly intermediate trails, with a few steep descents. An advanced skier would likely want to take a detour and check out the area around Arabba or Ciampinoi.
There are lots of lifts, tow-ropes and gondolas. As the day wears on, the lifts grow more crowded, which can be a bit frustrating for anyone used to orderly lines. Skiers here don’t seem to respect the idea of lines and often walk all over your skis. There are a few spots where you have to take off the skis and walk across a road to get to the next lift.
Skiing the Sella Ronda is less about the act of skiing and more about the overall experience. The views are stunning: jagged peaks as far as the eye can see, limestone cliffs several hundred metres high that look like they might just crush you, beautiful alpine villages and stylish skiers all around.
Slopeside restaurants serve exquisite food, ranging from pizza with pepperoni and pepperoncini (pickled peppers) to goulash with polenta. Après-ski ranges from a glass of fine wine with red deer sirloin steak to wild dancing with other visitors – mostly Germans in a festive mood – while listening to a techno version of Que Sera, Sera. Selva is located near the Austrian border, a region stripped from defeated Austria after World War I. The residents, however, have held on to their culture and language and it is officially bilingual, Italian and German.
My favourite trail actually wasn’t on the Sella Ronda, but rather a very long run from the top of Seceda, a peak reached by gondola from the town of Ortisei. La Longia has a vertical drop of about 1230m and winds 9km along high ridges, down wide fields and through narrow ravines and past a frozen waterfall.
The gondola out of the opposite side of Ortisei gives access to Alpe di Siusi, a wide open valley with a huge variety of terrain for beginner to intermediate skiers. For the non-downhill skiers, there’s a network of cross-country ski trails, toboggan runs and horse-drawn sleighs. Plus there are nifty features, like timed slalom courses and a straight speed run with a radar gun to tell just how insanely fast you’re going.
If you go
• Sella Ronda is located in northeast Italy, near the border with Austria. To get there, fly into Milan (300km away). Take the train to Verona, about 90 minutes, and another train from Verona to Bolzano, also 90 minutes. In Bolzano, the bus station is about a block from the train station. From here there are hourly buses to Val Gardena, the area encompassing the villages of Ortisei, Santa Cristina and Selva. See www.val-gardena.com for more information.
• When you’re done skiing, Ortisei (also known as St Ullrich) and the nearby towns of Santa Cristina and Selva are loaded with restaurants, bars and shops. There’s a pool complex in Ortisei with whirlpools and sauna. And the local hockey team is worth seeing if they’re playing at the arena in Selva. The local fans are very boisterous, especially after a few glasses of mulled wine.