Val Gardena, Italy Ski Destinations
Skiing and Snowboarding in Val Gardena, Italy
Val Gardena, a three-village valley named after the river that runs through it, forms the north-western section of the Sella Ronda, arguably the best linked cruising circuit in Europe. The villages are Ortisei, the biggest and lowest, tiny Santa Cristina and sprawling Selva Gardena, the most convenient access point for the circuit. The other components in the Sella Ronda equation are Alta Badia (home to San Cassiano, Corvara and Colfosco), Arabba/Marmolada and Val di Fassa (where the chief resort is Canazei). The four valleys, divided by passes, surround the Gruppo Sella, striking crags rising dramatically out of the rolling meadows that form the pistes. This implies that Sella Ronda users can look up to the towering rock faces from the safety of terrain that draws you in to ski forever.
The Sella Ronda is an internal core inside the vast Dolomiti Superski area, 460 lifts serving 1,200km of not needfully connected pistes on a single lift pass. Until it was given to Italy after the First World War, the Sud Tirol was part of Austria, an element that is still show in place names and local culture almost a century later. For instance, Selva and Ortisei are also known as Wolkenstein and St Ulrich. Val Gardena is even more confused in that the bulk of the inhabitants are Ladinos, who speak their own dialect, normally in addition to German and Italian.
The Sella Ronda circuit, making up 24km of pistes served by 14km of lifts, is thoroughly marked in both directions: orange signs go clockwise, green ones go anti-clockwise. In optimal conditions, it can be accomplished in three to four hours by confident intermediates, but that's not considering the rogue queuing factor. Substituting revered T-bars with high-speed chairs has cut the original lift time in under two hours, but there are still possible bottlenecks, particularly during weekends. Be warned that getting stranded in the wrong valley after the lift system closes calls for an expensive taxi fare. The orange circuit is more user-friendly, featuring more interesting pistes and less poling, but both offer variations designed to stretch the Sella Ronda into a full day trip. Alta Badia is perfect for advanced beginners, with a network of flat blue runs linking Corvara with La Villa and San Cassiano, while Arabba has the most challenging pistes in the region. It is also the starting point for the detour to the top of Marmolada, at 3,342m the best vantage point for a regional overview.
The Passo Pordoi cable-car is the only entry into the jagged heart of the Gruppo Sella: several go up to have lunch in the restaurant at Passo Pordoi, but most take the lift back to base after. The two off-piste descents from here are purely for experts - the classic run to Colfosco through the avalanche-prone Val de Mesdi must only be undertaken with a qualified guide.
Selva itself has immaculately groomed pistes on both sides of the valley, among them the exciting World Cup downhill course that's generally available for wannabe racers to try their stuff. The pistes are accessed by modern gondolas to Dantercepies and Ciampinoi, the starting point for numerous red runs down to Santa Cristina. From here, the gondola to Col Rasier gets Ortisei into the equation, via the longest cruising piste in the area. The Alpe di Siusi Plateau, on the opposite side of the road, is criss-crossed with brief, easy ski runs and long, relaxing cross-country trails. Stranded Val Gardena ski pass-holders can utilize the free bus service throughout the day and early evening.
Having several kilometers of piste and so many rustic villages, there is an abundance of quality choice on and off the ski mountain. Regional recommendations include Punta Trieste in Corvara, Club Moritzino in La Villa and the Rifugio Las Vegas in San Cassiano. In Ortisei, the Sanonserves a particularly great mountain lunch of the type expected by cross-country skiers on Alpe di Siusi. Rifugio Comici offers fresh fish daily.
Not having half-pipes or terrain parks, Val Gardena made little effort to welcome boarders. On the Sella Ronda, long flat stretches of valley floor are less than boarder-friendly, but half-pipes and terrain parks at Passo Pordoi and at the top of the Belvedere lift in Canazei furnish some relief from punting along the flats.
In Selva, the Tennis Centre has two indoor courts, a four-lane bowling alley and three pool tables. In Ortisei, the Rondcadizza also offers tennis, squash, fitness, fun court (for volleyball, badminton, basketball, football) and pool tables, while the new Mardolomit swimming complex is state-of-the-art, with pools, sauna and restaurant. All of these three resorts have ice rinks. The vibrant market town of Ortisei has the best shopping in the area: Val Gardena's justly notable wood carvings are on sale all over.
Dining in Val Gardena
The main choice is between Ladino mountain fare and pizza, generally under the same roof. In Selva, this can be found in abundance at the Laurinkeller, which also specializes in spare ribs and steak, and L'Medel, a famous wine bar on the outskirts of town. The Sun Valley Stubele dishes out the best pizzas in town, while the Olympia has cornered the fondue market, with cheese, meat and soup options.
During warm days, the strategically situated terrace at La Stua is jammed throughout the day; on Tuesdays and Thursdays it stretches its brief with live music till midnight. The best internet connection is at Dolomiti Adventures, a sleek, modernistic cafe and shop opposite the Hotel Aaritz with friendly English-speaking staff. No problem kicking off a night of riotous pleasure at the Mexican Club at the Selva Tennis Centre where vodka and Red Bull are served during the 9-10pm happy hour, occasionally accompanied by Premiership football and often with live music to follow.
In the downtown area, La Bula transforms from pizzeria to disco at 10pm. The Laurinkeller and the Luislkeller assure their popularity by employing waitresses dressed in lederhosen, while the Goalies' Irish Pub features live music theme nights, plus Caffreys and Bass on draft.
Accommodations in Val Gardena
The Hotel Alpenroyal is the luxury five-star choice on the fringes of the village. Visitors like the Sporthotel Gran Baita for its facilities, but not for its food. In the four-star range, the flashy-looking Aaritz is conveniently situated for lifts and nightlife, while the Mignon is highly praised for its 'faux' authentic appearance. Of some 30 three-stars, the Laurin is one of the main centers of village life, with a popular bar, spas and well-equipped fitness room. Recommendations also include the central 100-year-old Corona and the Stella. In Ortisei, the four-star Cavallino Bianco is recommended for its great childcare facilities.
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