Dolomites Val Gardena: Winter WonderlandInspiration
Adventure guide to South Tyrol
Dolomites Val Gardena: Winter Wonderland
What is it that visitors find so profoundly appealing about Val Gardena in South Tyrol? The deep traditions of the Ladin culture, or perhaps the wood-carving craftsmanship the area is so well-known for? For some, it’s the mountain ingredients that go into the region’s unique food; for others it’s the old churches that dot the landscape, pointing to the sky with their spires. Perhaps it’s the thrill of riding through the dramatic mountain scenery or the wide programme of events throughout the year. These elements of Val Gardena linger long in the memory, even though most people come for a different reason: skiing. But this is the beauty of a winter holiday in Val Gardena: you come for some of the world’s best skiing, but you leave with memories you never expected.
In association with South Tyrol, the northernmost region of Italy, Sidetracked brings you the winter adventure guide to Val Gardena.
ON THE PISTE
Val Gardena is a valley located among the most dramatic scenery of South Tyrol and the Dolomites, the ‘Pale Mountains’ designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The sharp mountain peaks reach to the sky like long-nailed fingers clawing towards the sun. There are cliffs so steep that even the abundant snow can’t cling to the faces. And it is among this natural drama, wrought by tremendous tectonic pressures, where skiers find some of the best runs of their lives.
Skiers can connect to more than 500km of pistes, all accessed with the Dolomiti Superski Skipass. The pistes in Val Gardena itself can be reached with efficient and modern lift systems that operate from December to April. Every slope is prepared the evening before thanks to the use of over 300 snowcats, and it has some of the safest uphill lift facilities in the world. No wonder, then, that between December to April the pistes and descents of this marvellous region act as a magnetic lure for winter sports enthusiasts, and have done for many years.
The history of skiing was, to a large degree, written on the valley’s slopes and hills. Some of the world’s greatest ski champions have excelled on these pistes, including Isolde Kostner, Werner Perathoner, and Peter Runggaldier. And the World Cup takes place every year just before Christmas on the legendary Saslong slope, which has an elevation difference of 839m over 3.4km. Connoisseurs also consider Mont de Sëura, with two super slopes beneath the northern wall of the Sassolungo/Langkofel, one of the most beautiful places to ski in the area.
In addition, Val Gardena has five Alpine skiing schools and two mountaineering schools whose instructors welcome enthusiasts of all ages every year and offer fun activities both on and off the slopes.
No wonder, then, in the last few years, Val Gardena has received numerous recognitions – including five stars as ‘best skiing area’ by the hugely influential German website skiresort.de. The travel portal TripAdvisor awarded Selva Val Gardena sixth place out of the top ten most voted in the annual ‘Travellers Choice Award’ where tourists vote the best holiday destinations at any time of year. It placed just after the cities of art and beach locations.
Another great attraction in Val Gardena is the world-class cross-country skiing. This Nordic discipline offers the best way to explore this breathtaking scenery around the Dolomites and up into the Alps. The Val Gardena-Alpe di Siusi cross-country skiing areas cover a total of 115 kilometres of perfectly prepared slopes, including the Monte Pana cross-country centre, the circuits of Vallunga, and a connection to Alpe di Siusi. The Vallunga slopes near Selva in particular, have an unbelievable location in the heart of the Dolomites Puez-Odle Nature Park.
On the Monte Pana plateau in S. Cristina, another cross-country centre was created at 1,636m with five loops covering between 2.5 and 7.5km. Each winds its way against this exquisite natural backdrop, ideal for both beginners and experts, classical or skating technique.
VAL GARDENA ACTIVE
Val Gardena Active is a winter programme that offers a daily assortment of activities, including a night walk with torches, a snowshoe excursion, and a climbing course for beginners. There’s plenty inside too – such as local dessert cooking and wood carving – ensuring there’s something for everyone. Guests of participating Val Gardena Active hotels are entitled to a discount or free event attendance. For more information visit: www.valgardena-active.com.
VAL GARDENA HIGHLIGHTS
The steep-sided valley of Vallunga begins from St Silvester’s chapel, and gets steeper as you walk up through the forest, eventually narrowing to the end point, the Pra da Ri plain. It’s a wild and romantic path, perfect for a snowy excursion away from the slopes.
St Jacob’s Church (dlieja da Sacun in Ladin) is situated above Ortisei in Val Gardena and can only be reached on foot from the hamlet San Giacomo. It’s the oldest church in Val Gardena and distinguishes itself with its beautiful Gothic frescoes – which date back to the late 15th century – and a richly decorated high altar with figures built by the famous local sculptor Vinazer. In an apt coincidence, the church is dedicated to St Jacob, the patron saint of travellers and pilgrims.
Be the first to leave marks on the freshly groomed slopes on a sunrise adventure from the 2,300m Dantercepies mountain, probably the best point in the Dolomites for seeing the sunrise. Enjoy a wonderful breakfast in the Dantercepies Mountain Lounge and then be the first experience the Dantercepies slope that day.
A professional ski instructor from the Ortisei ski school will join you on your first ride of the day, offering valuable tips and advice while skiing down the famous Longia piste, a 10km-long ski slope at Seceda.
FOOD AND DRINK
In addition to the region’s individual language, customs, and traditional clothing, cooking is also a significant feature of the Ladin valleys. Traditionally, Ladin cuisine was uncomplicated but renowned for the very high quality of its ingredients. Today, the cookery of the area around Val Gardena is known for its combination of local flavours and Italian cuisine – something that can be found in mountain huts, local restaurants and, more recently, interpreted in Michelin-starred restaurants.
In rustic wooden houses in the Ortisei ‘Christmas Village’ you can find prized regional products such as traditional wood carvings as well as gastronomic specialities. Everything is rounded off by a rich programme of events that varies daily.
Children will especially enjoy the Christmas events over in the ‘Magic Town’ of S. Cristina. They’ll love decorating the Christmas tree, building wooden snowmen, and ice carving. The highlight of the market is the alpaca zoo where children can meet up close with these fascinating animals.
The Saslong course in Val Gardena is among the world’s most notorious racing tracks. Each December it’s the venue for the annual Men’s Super-G. The course starts on the Ciampinoi mountain above Sëlva/Wolkenstein at 2,249m, and extends for 3.5km down to the finish at S. Cristina. This all takes place beneath the imposing Sasso Lungo/Langkofel Dolomite massif – called Saslong in Ladin, the language of the valley, from which the course takes its name.