Editors Watts and Gill start a three-week trip taking in Kronplatz, Cortina, Arabba and Canazei

9th March 2019, by Dave Watts

The view over Cortina from the top of the Faloria cable car

The view over Cortina from the top of the Faloria cable car

Editor Gill and I have just finished a week exploring the Italian Dolomites researching resorts for the new Where to Ski in Italy book, to be published in Autumn 2019. Gill will be staying on for another two weeks, checking out other resorts in eastern Italy.

We started off in a resort where I spent my second ever ski holiday and Gill his third, way back in the dark ages before snowmaking. Indeed the resort, San Vigilio di Marebbe, had the first snow machine in Europe the year after we visited – imported from the USA by a pioneer whose idea was greeted with scepticism by the locals.

Now, of course, the Dolomiti Superski region has the most comprehensive snowmaking system in the world.

The Dolomites has the best snowmaking system in the world

But for that there would have been no skiing in San Vigilio di Marebbe’s ski area when we visited because of the lack of recent natural snow. The ski area is known as Kronplatz or Plan de Corones (all resorts around that area of the Dolomites have both German and Italian names as the Sud Tirol region was Austrian until after the World War One ended in 1918 when it became Italian).

The white strips of piste were surrounded by snow-free trees and brown mountainside. The snow was hard (and icy in places) but overall the skiing was surprisingly good. The upper slopes are above the treeline and basically ski anywhere, featureless pistes with short runs of a few hundred vertical metres.

But the runs are more interesting and varied below the treeline and you can ski top to bottom verticals of over 1000m .

The Kronplatz/Plan de Corones ski area has short runs above the treeline and long runs through the trees

San Vigilio village has grown from the tiny place that Chris and I visited all those years ago to a sizeable resort with some very plush hotels. We stayed at the ski-in, ski-out Excelsior hotel which has recently been refurbished and extended and has spacious, comfortable rooms and a fab new spa spread over five floors, including an open air rooftop pool.

We moved on from there to the chic resort of Cortina d’Ampezzo and were struck once again by the numbers of non-skiers, walking up on the slopes and parading in their haute couture fashion with their dogs on the car-free main street. Indeed at 4.30pm the main street was packed and we were the only two in ski gear and carrying skis back to our hotel.

Cortina has three widely separated ski areas, all reachable by free ski buses. But it lacks ski-in, ski-out convenience.

The snow here was much better than in Kronplatz; they had obviously had much more natural snow.

The nearest ski area to our hotel was Faloria, reached by cable car from a short bus ride away. We really enjoyed cruising the red and easy black runs here, despite some lengthy lift queues for the key high-speed lifts.

The five ‘rock towers’ that Cortina’s Cinque Torri ski area is named after

Late morning, we rode the cable car down (there’s no piste down) and caught another bus to the cable car to the Tofana area on the opposite side of the valley. The runs at the top of Tofana are again of red gradient (though some are marked misleadingly as blues).

The only piste back from Tofana is a black run, which was truly challenging when we skied it – steepish and narrow with long icy patches and moguls.

Below Tofana is the Socrepes area, also reachable by bus from the town. This has the resort’s easiest skiing, with lots of easy blue runs, which we explored for a couple of hours.

The third Cortina ski area is a much longer bus ride from town at Cinque Torri (named after five tower-like rocks which feature prominently in the landscape there). It is linked via a slow chairlift and narrow red run to the quiet Col Gallina area just below Passo Falzarego. This in turn leads to the cable car to Lagazuoi, starting point for the Hidden Valley run, away from all the lifts and set among stunning scenery; at the end you are met by a horse-drawn sled with ropes that you hang onto to be towed back to civilisation. We spent an enjoyable few hours exploring these.

The different areas are all very different and make up an interesting variety of terrain. But getting around between them is a pain and you need patience to do so.

The start of the Hidden Valley red run from Lagazuoi which takes you away from the lifts among stunning scenery

Cortina has an upmarket reputation. But it doesn’t have to be pricey. We stayed at the very affordable 3-star Villa Neve B&B (double rooms for less that €100 a night in low season) just off the end of the car-free main street. We had enjoyable meals in affordable pizzerias – our favourite was the rustic and buzzing Il Ponte a few strides away from our hotel. And we enjoyed the biggest Co-Op store I’ve ever seen – a 4-story department store right on the main street that sells a huge variety of stuff including food and drink, ski gear, clothes, kids’ toys, d-i-y gear and electronic gadgets.

When we went to breakfast on our first morning at Villa Neve, who should turn out to be staying there too? Konrad Bartelski, GB’s only skier to finish second in a World Cup downhill race (at Val Gardena in 1981). He had just finished a ski trip from one end of the Dolomites to the other, staying in mountain rifugios on the way. Konrad has written the foreword to our forthcoming Where to Ski in Italy book.

From Cortina, we moved on to Arabba, on the Sella Ronda circuit, and then to the Val di Fassa. More on those in a blog in the next few days. After that, editor Gill will be visiting many more resorts in eastern Italy over the next two weeks.

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