How many ski areas are only open in the Summer time?
Taking the train out of Zürich the previous day, my driving through Italy’s South Tyrol to go skiing made it the fourth country in less than 24 hours. The previous afternoon I moved from Switzerland through Liechtenstein to end up in Austria’s Tyrol.
It was still dark outside when I was waiting to be picked up at 5:30am by a fellow Ottawa Masters Racer. It had been a long walk up the hill from the train station the previous evening, now I was waiting at the side of the street. I was in front of the Pension Can in the small town of Landeck where I had stayed the night when I finally the headlights coming my way. Herve and I were heading for a place called Stifserjoch in Italy, 100km drive and less than 60km south of the Austria border: A Mountain pass which serves as the border between South Tyrol and Lombarby and a stone throw from Switzerland. In fact, South Tyrol was annexed by Italy at the end of the First World War in 1919 and most of the population of this province maiden language is still German thus the two different names for the same ski area (Italian 2011 Census).
I had mentioned to him that I wished to ski most of the seven ski areas open in late summer and that Passo dello Stelvio was on the list:
– Tignes, France
– Les Deux Alpes, France
– Zermatt, Switzerland
– Sass-Fee, Switzerland
– Passo dello Stelvio, Italy
– Hintertux, Austria
– Möllaler Gletscher, Austria
Hervé was now racing in Europe and living in Germany. When I inquired about summer skiing in the Alps, he asked me if I wouldn’t mind the company? We were initially supposed to tag up and ski Saas-Fee and Zermatt together, but the high possibility of rain during that week, hard connections from Germany to the Swiss Alps and cost didn’t make it worthwhile for him to take a few days off work. That decision was wise especially when it rained in Saas-Fee and the ski area was closed on the day we were suppose to meet. We proposed our get together and found a place for me to stay in Landeck on the road from his Bavarian home to Passo dello Stelvio. We would drive back to Austria from Italy and head to Hintertux that evening and ski there the following day.
The road up Passo dello Stelvio belongs in the same category as roads up to Alpe d’Huez in France or Valle Nevado in Chile for puked factor. In what seemed like an endless series of switchbacks, we finally made it to the top of the pass at 2760 m populated by a few builders, hotels and tram building. This was the second highest road in the Alps, after the Col de l’Iséran near Val d’Isère which made my oldest daughter puke two weeks ago on my ski Tignes day.
I felt better when we arrived at the top and started breathing the fresh mountain air. As we were getting ready in the tiny parking lot, there was already a lineup of racers waiting for first tram. It took two tram rides to reach Livrio (3174m) and the remaining skiable terrain on this late August morning of this warm summer in the Alps. The terrain seemed simple and lackluster at first with the two Geister parallel poma lines running a fairly flat slope. From the tram, you needed to climb downslope to reach the lift. The bottom of the slope was simply ice. Towards the top of the lift, Hervé indicated to turn right at the top and its at this moment that I realized there was more to Passo dello Stelvio liftserved skiing that meets the eye. There was another poma on a steeper side. Coaches were busy setting up a few courses on the Payer runs as we were enjoying some fresh tracks. Yes, fresh snow tracks in August in the Italy. How special is that? The base was somewhat firm, but there were some pockets of fluff. That side of the hill was steeper. After 4 runs on the steeper side, we headed for another poma that was slightly lower.
The Cristallo lift wasn’t running, so we decided to keep an eye on it. At one point, we saw a few skiers waiting and the lift running, so we decided to join them. That lift was on a flatter slope on a different orientation. The poma seemed to have technical issues, but once everything was figured out, we made 10 fast laps in the fresh snow. The poma didn’t have a great vertical, but we didn’t care as the skiing was so much fun. The skier’s right of the poma had a narrow strip with a few fun rolls. On the other side of the ridge from that poma was a huge drop off with skiing destination Bormio within sight.
We headed back and skied down the main slope to the rustic lodge next the Tram terminal with the even more rustic bathroom. Best view from behind a toilet ever. After our food, water & expresso break, we headed back up for some more laps on the Cristallo slope. Once the racers had all gone from the steeper Payer runs and we took advantage from the nice firm edgeable snow for a few last runs. We tried to milk it for extra more runs on the Geister side, but it was 1pm and the closing time. The liftee stopped our day at 27 runs.
Although the skiing is modest, the setting of this place had it special and we had a great day.
I understand why Hervé likes this place. After our runs, it was back down via the Trams to the car at the pass, back down the valley and onto our next destination.
Passo dello Stelvio and Swiss border. The border had a strategy importance prior to the First World War when the pass marked also the border between Austro-Hungarian Empire and Italian Kingdom with Switzerland just above
Detail log of skiable terrain
The Day and terrain stats: 27 runs and 4137m vertical in about 5 hours including the 1 hour break.
Geister 1 + 2 : 192m (3160-3352)
Geister 2 (from the midloading point): 157m (3185-3352)
Payer : 147m (3190-3339)
Cristallo : 149m (3170-3319)
Tram Passo dello Stelvio-Trincerone : 290m (2760-3050)
Tram Trincerone-Livrio : 124m (3050-3174)
Both Trams : 414m
Top to bottom ski terrain on August 28 : 192m (3160-3352) / early summer potential : 592m