The last time I visited Val Gardena was during the summer where flowers of all colours decorated the lush green grass that carpeted much of the landscape. This time I was returning during the peak of the ski season and the Dolomites were covered with a thick snow blanket.
I have been snowboarding in the magnificent Dolomites before but have never been based in Val Gardena.
In the Sud Tirol region of northern Italy, Val Gardena is ideally placed in the heart of the Dolomites and is on the famous Sella Ronda route. Val Gardena is made up of the three villages of Ortisei, Selva di Gardena and Santa Cristina.
I was staying at the wonderful four-star Hotel Piccolo, which is centrally based in Val Gardena. The hotel is family run and has an ambience that oozes class, yet also friendly and intimate.
The Piccolo also has a large bar area with large comfy sofas that are so inviting to sink into with a pint or glass of wine after an evening meal.
The gourmet cuisine of the restaurant was everything you would wish for in Italy. The menu is a heady mix of local Italian Tirol and international dishes. I loved their pasta and found the dishes to be delicate and not too heavy.
My room was very large with comfy beds. The room was on the corner of the hotel and had a large balcony with incredible views of the mountains. The décor of my room was traditional but had a modern bathroom complete with a decent power shower.
Snowboarding in Val Gardena
The hotel may have been wonderful, but I was there to go snowboarding. After a cooked breakfast, I met up with the rest of our group and we headed out to explore the area.
We started off at Selva – which is called Wolkenstein in German. We may have been in Italy, but there is an Austrian influence with German and Italian spoken in addition to the local dialect of Ladin, which dates back to the Roman Empire and is still taught in schools.
The Dolomites had escaped the chaos of the Snow-ageddon that had hit the Alps throughout January, but had more than enough snow and great conditions. All the pistes were perfectly groomed and fast, a great warm up for the legs!
We spent the whole morning exploring the local slopes of Selva , Ortisei and St. Cristina. I say local, but the area is vast with certainly enough terrain to keep us going.
There were bountiful off-piste opportunities to the sides of the pistes with plenty of soft powder to play in. We tended not to stray too far from the pistes, but had plenty of fun cruising down untracked bowls and making tracks through tree lines.
I must admit I got carried away at times and got myself slightly lost, but nothing too drastic! The piste map supplied can be a bit confusing as some of the marked chairlifts look like they are travelling in the opposite direction to which they really are! Most of them have an arrow next to them for direction but some don’t.
Half way through the morning we stopped for aperitives at the famous fish-hut, Rifugio Comici. I have been to the Comici before and love the place. We had platters of calamari and the biggest king prawns I have ever seen! We sat outside on a giant round table that swivels round to give a full 360 degrees view of the mountains.
For lunch we headed up to the Daniel Hut which is high above St. Cristina at 2240m. To get there we had to get the small but efficient Gardena Ronda Express Funicular, which connects the Col Raiser lifts to the Sasslong/Ruacia and Ciampino areas. The Daniel Hut can only be reached by taking a chair lift to the top of the Seceda mountain and snowboarding/skiing down to it.
The Daniel Hut is a wonderful mountain restaurant with a traditional hut ambiance and lovely local Italian dishes. For fine cuisine the dishes were reasonably priced, and the restaurant is in a fantastic location.
After lunch we headed back up to the top of the Seceda mountain to enjoy the stunning views. The best views can be found directly under the giant and imposing statue of Jesus Christ.
From there we embarked on the aptly named ‘La Longia’ run back to Ortisei. La Longia is 10.5km in length and is the longest run in Val Gardena. A true leg burner if you complete this without any stops!
The Sella Ronda
On day two we all embarked on the famous Sella Ronda. The Sella Ronda is a route that loops around the huge Sella mountain range, travelling through four Ladin valleys that includes the ski areas of Val Gardena, Alta Badia, Arabba and Fassa Carezza. There is a choice of two routes round, either orange (clockwise) or green (anti-clockwise). From Val Gardena we hit the orange route with the Sella mountains always on our right.
I have snowboarded around the Sella Ronda many times before but never starting at such breath-taking pace! The sun was out, we had beautiful conditions and the whole group was on a mission.
The route is reasonably easy to follow as most of it is marked out on the pistes as well as the piste map with the colours green or orange.
It is important to keep up the pace with the Sella Ronda as it can take 3-4 hours to complete, but we were making good time so slowed up after Alta Badia and started to enjoy the powder off to the side of the slopes. After all, we had perfect conditions and the most amazing scenery to enjoy. As Ferris Bueller* once said: ‘Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.’
We stopped for lunch at the Rifugio Fienile Monte which is the smallest hut of the Dolomites! What it lacks in size (only room for 35 can be seated inside) it makes up for in the quality of the food. I had pasta with white truffles which was to die for. Being small, the restaurant has a friendly and intimate atmosphere. It is certainly not the cheapest restaurant you will find in the Dolomites but is a fantastic experience. After lunch, I chilled outside on a sun lounger enjoying the stunning views – Bliss!
Not very easy to find, the Rifugio Fienile Monte is situated on the slopes in Canazei, which was past Arabba on the orange route.
After lunch, we completed the Sella Ronda with a short ride back to Val Gardena. We made it in good time and it was a very enjoyable day. The last time I completed the Sella Ronda was a few years ago and a big difference to the length of the journey is the link chair lift at Arabba. Beforehand, we would need to walk across a carpark to get to the gondola. The chairlift is much easier and saves so much time.
We ended our perfect day on the slopes with a well-deserved drink at Bar La Stua. We sat up on the balcony which is a Gin bar. I am known to be partial to a Gin and Tonic and was amazed when presented the drinks menu with at least 30 different Gin options. I opted for Juno, a New Zealand gin that is served with a dried rose. Different and very refreshing.
In the evening we had dinner at the restaurant Tubladel in the local town of Ortisei. Before having our meal we walked around the town, visiting a museum of traditional and modern wood carving art, as well as admiring the various ice structures around the village. Ortisei is a beautiful and typical town of the Dolomites. It has a charm and a feeling of tradition that is unique to the Ladin valleys.
The Tubladel is a lovely restaurant and a great place to visit if you enjoy steak. The steaks are absolutely huge and cooked to perfection. Typically it is shared between two or three people. As well as wine, as you would expect, the Tubladel has a fine selection of local craft beers.
The existence of the Italian Dolomites is just natures way of showing off! The jagged mountain range shimmers a magnificent spectrum of colours from orange to pink which is majestically surreal. Val Gardena is the jewel of this magnificent crown that has a charm that is not only typically Italian, but also unique to these Ladin valleys.
There is not a huge amount of uncharted off-piste opportunities, but the mountain range is vast and offers something for everyone. It is the perfect place for skiers and snowboarders of all levels to push themselves to the next level. Snowboarders do not have too many flats to negotiate and the lift system is fast and modern, with hardly any drag lifts to worry about.
The Sella Ronda is a fun route and should take about 3 to 4 hours to complete. Just make sure that all your group are at a competent level and you leave early enough as you don’t want to be stranded halfway round when the lifts close. That could be a long taxi ride back!
Of course, the Dolomites are not just about the skiing/snowboarding. Being Italy, a huge emphasis is on fine food and wine. The quaint mountain huts and restaurants are rustic, traditional and pride themselves on quality local cuisine. Compared to the giant French resorts, they are mainly reasonably priced.
The Dolomites have always been one of my favourite places to snowboard. After visiting Val Gardena nothing has changed!
Selva’s four-star Hotel Continental is a traditional Alpine hotel in an enviable ski-in / ski-out position at the foot of the Dantercepies gondola. A wellness centre including sauna, steam room, Kneipp bath, whirlpool, sensory showers and relaxation zone invites guests to relax after a day on the slopes. Buffet breakfasts and good quality four-course evening meals are served and guests can enjoy high levels of service in a warm and welcoming environment.
Inghams is offering a seven-night ski holiday on a half board basis at the four-star Hotel Continental in Selva, Italy, from £1,099 per person based on two sharing in January 2019. Price includes return flights to Innsbruck and resort transfers. Lift passes, equipment hire and tuition can be pre-booked through Inghams. To book, visit www.inghams.co.uk/ski-holidays or call 01483 791 114.
* Ferris Bueller’s Day Off is an iconic 80’s film. If you haven’t seen it then you really must! Check it out on Netflix
Mark is also the manager of Jamie Barrow (Britain’s fastest snowboarder)