Marmolada or bust

16th March 2012, by Chris Gill

Further than it seems. The Marmolada glacier

Further than it seems. The Marmolada glacier

It’s a long trek to the Marmolada glacier, even from Canazei. But this was Thursday’s plan: to ski Arabba’s slopes, get some altitude and hopefully decent snow. The best laid plans don’t always go that smoothly, however. And I think that I have just found a contender for the title of ‘busiest Alpine slopes’. What’s more, I also discovered a downside to covered chairlifts (more of that later).

Firstly though, I must say that the Marmolada glacier looked absolutely stunning under blue skies – which have been the feature of this week’s weather. I was looking forward to a long run down its main slope. But oh heavens, it’s a way to go before I could do that, even from Canazei. The trek over to Arabba began with some fine and enjoyable cruising on good snow cover. Alarm bells should have rung as we joined a 20-minute queue for a slow two-seat chair towards Passo Padon. Yes,there were lots of people heading that way. But it was only a slow chair, so the crowds would be sure to disperse afterwards. Well, not quite.

Beyond Passo Padon you have a long descent to the Marmolada cable cars, which is usually great cruising. The heat was on and getting hotter as the series of red and blue runs got progressively harder work in the slushy snow and rising temperatures. Combine that with big moguls plus large numbers of people and it makes the skiing even more challenging. A hut stop at the cute Baita del Gigio to quench increasing thirst and peel off layers revealed a balmy 15 degrees. But the glacier looked in fine shape. And it was.

Stepping outside of the top cable car, in the series of three that climb the mountain to 3000m+, was worth the effort just to marvel at the Dolomite peaks in all their spring glory. Stunning. The red classified run down had excellent soft and grippy snow and steeper pitches than you might expect on a glacier. The pleasure of carving arcs down its length was marred by the crowds, though, which were surprisingly intense. Still, this is a fine glacier run with rewarding views the whole way down (but I’m wondering if it should be black!).

Only the start of the crowds … and the moguls got bigger too

To head back towards Arabba involved another descent of the particularly tricky valley run to reach the chairlift. Again, it was horribly crowded; the worst I have seen on a piste recently. In fact, all the runs returning to Arabba were very busy. Shame, as they are some of the steepest in the area. By the time I had tentatively negotiated them I was exhausted. So, it was with relief that I boarded the chairlift back towards Canazei’s slopes.

A word of warning, especially to non extremely-muscle-bound females, covered chairlifts are best not ridden solo. The hood fell down as I boarded and would not raise despite lots of heave-ho. Waving frantically at the lift attendant to help at the arrival station got a shout of abuse about not skiing off the chair as it swung around to make its return journey. Even in broken Italian-German and with pointing gestures, I was “told off”. Charming!

Thankfully, there was time for some good, fast skiing above Canazei again – pleasantly crowd-free by then. And a relaxing evening at the friendly hotel Sas Morin in Pozza. Crystal also use this hotel for their guests, and I think they have come up trumps with both this place and the San Nicolo. Very pleasant accommodation.

For my last day in the Val di Fassa I want to ski the local Buffaure slopes to Alba, use the bus to ski Canazei-Campitello, then take the bus to Pera and ski a small area of runs above Pozza – finishing with what I hope will be a relaxing descent to the valley.

Stop and stare. Great views all the way.

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