When my friend Pier sent me a message…. “It’s snowing, they’re forecasting 40cm and it should stop tomorrow in time for the weekend ….” I didn’t think twice.
I was determined not to miss this opportunity; ashamedly I have never been to the Dolomites but have toyed with the idea for years.
I propose a project to go to and film in one of the most striking places on the planet to Felix and John and they agree with enthusiasm.
In front of the Champions League, Barcelona vs. Arsenal with a few beers we discuss preparations for our imminent departure.
We start out at eight o’clock the next morning, after the tunnel we stop in Courmayeur for a quick ride on Helbronner. It had snowed in the night but not a lot as we soon discovered.
We went down the Passerelle couloir in the fog, the snow too dusty and cold was sliding under our feet at every turn on a hard and crusty base. We were hoping for something better but never mind, the journey had just begun.
Seven hours’ drive separated us from the Promised Land, an enchanting place excavated by incredibly deep couloirs that rarely skied. We arrived around 8 pm in Cortina, we settle in the two chambers in the camping that Pier had kindly offered us and we begin the round of drinks in front of the map of inspiration!
Pier quickly enlightens us about the secrets of the area and we also discover that this particular weekend we will have to share our cake with Giulia Monego and Xavier De Le Rue, who have just arrived to film for two days!
We discover that the first day they want to ski the Cristallo so we head to Pordoi, with the legendary Holzer as our first goal.
We find no tracks with 30-40cm of freshies giving us the best way to usher in our trip
Jumping the two meters of ice that blocks the couloir (and usually requires a small rappel) we fly fast towards the second objective which is the couloir Joel
The upper part is covered in deep snow whilst in the narrow section, (the couloir exposed to the south and not yet melted down) the snow is still a bit crusty
It is already midday and the sun is too strong to ski another of the south facing couloirs so we jump into the car and head towards Corvara where we find a pair of beautiful north facing couloirs, we film a couple of lines and go back for a long traverse that will take us down a couloir with a stone wedged between the walls acting as a roof. The snow is beautiful until then end of the wood, without a track
Not a bad first day, we finish with just 45 minutes of road separating us from Cortina and a generous happy hour.
The second day arrives after a good night’s sleep and it is time to explore the spectacular Cristallo. Pier and two of his friends, both snowboard instructors, will ski with us. The only drawback of skiing in these places is that almost always you ski down on the opposite side of the mountains… creating difficulty in getting home! Thankfully we are helped by the generous locals who have left two cars waiting for us on the other side of the mountain, ready for our return.
The first objective of the day is the beautiful couloir Vallencant. Arriving at the col on a chairlift dating from around the 2nd World War, we climb along the ridge on the summer via ferrata. Xavier then opens the track, followed by Giulia Monego then our party and lastly a guide with two clients.
The spell of the remote wilderness seems to be broken given the number of people gathered, but then it is Saturday and it hasn’t snowed for more than 5 weeks! We come to the entry of the couloir and have to wait for the arrival of the helicopter shooting Xavier.
The entrance is quite steep and has hard snow on it, while the middle and lower section is in great condition and allows us to open out the radius of our turns. We go down fast in beautiful powder snow until the car and set off again for another lap
This time we get to the stairs to the left col and then cut to the right to ski and film a couple of short but beautiful spines. We arrive at the entrance of those corridors called by the locals ‘couloir number 1,2 and 3’. Number 1 is tracked whilst 2 and 3 have immaculate glittering powder. We split into two groups; Felix and John take number 2, and Michele, Pier and I ride number 3.
Once again I thank my friends for their hospitality and their good nature for always giving me the first track during our holidays.
The seconds that follow in this moment are pure pleasure, big turns, snow waves, sprays and face shots. In these conditions snowboarding becomes pure expression of the soul, the art of movement and action.
We douse our endorphins with several pints of beer and celebrate the present of powder that we had so wished for in Chamonix but had never materialised
I feel a bit like Alice in Wonderland, where no one skis off-piste and where all women wear high-heel shoes. Also I’ve never before seen on a piste (here in the upper part of Cristallo), safety nets to stop the fall of inexperienced skiers!
Rewarded already with an epic two days, for our final day we focused on a smaller target. We planned to capture some beautiful images skiing a couloir accessed with a 30m rappel in the void from a Tibetan style bridge. According to locals this couloir has been skied only once previously by Paulo Tassi.
With only 150m to ski in the couloir it is hardly worth reporting, but the route to get there, including the passage through a cave and crossing the bridge makes it well worth the visit.
The sky begins to darken and we have just enough time to climb the ridge which gives us access to the couloirs of Costabella. The snow begins to get a little heavy down low but we certainly cannot complain, for our first winter visit to the Dolomites, we have definitely travelled in style.
The local forecast for the next few days is not the best, bad weather is setting in without significant snowfall.
News flying through the Alps reaches us with the latest reports forecasting 15cm of fresh snow in Chamonix. My two travelling companions suggest we return home and ski the Aiguille du Midi the next day.
I would have preferred to chill a bit longer, enjoying my last Italian happy hour with friends and leaving the next day but it was best to leave ahead of the thousands of tourists returning from their weekend holidays. We departed after a late lunch and crossed through the Mont Blanc tunnel in the early morning. To our delight we drove into a perfectly white Chamonix, the kind we have only seen this year on postcards.
For those who are interested in a nice and quiet accomodation in Cortina