Ready for a snowy adventure? Then gear up and let’s go! This time, though, we’re not downhill or cross-country skiing – we’re going snowshoe hiking. This winter sport is all about getting away from the madding crowds, about enjoying the silence and immersing yourself in nature. As an extra benefit, it’s also a great workout…
We went to South Tyrol to test the sport for you – and we loved it! Trekking through the snowy landscape around the otherworldly rock formations in Val Gardena in the Dolomites and then refuelling at cosy Alpine huts was a sensational experience.
After a night of heavy snowfall, in the morning everything glitters under a thick layer of soft, powdery snow. The bus picks us up at the entrance of the Vitalpina Hotel Dosses, a long-established and very cosy wellness hotel, and takes us straight to our meeting place. From St. Christina, the smallest village in Val Gardena, it’s only a few minutes to the neighbouring village of Wolkenstein, where we meet up with our mountain guide, Roman, a man who knows the valley like the back of his hand. He’ll be guiding our group of eight through the mountains. He’s not just a mountain guide, he also happens to be an expert on the local wildlife and an amateur botanist. His eyes light up as he shares his knowledge, which he can do in Italian, Ladin or German. We instantly sense that this is going to be an exciting and enlightening adventure.
Without our “Ciaspole” We Wouldn’t Be Able to Tackle the Snowy Paths
Our first stop is the ski hire shop to pick up our “Ciaspole” – that’s Italian for snowshoes. They look a lot like short, fat skis with barbs on the underside to give traction on deep, fresh snow trails. Wearing ordinary (waterproof) hiking boots, you simply slip into the binding and you’re ready to go. We are also given a pair of ski or hiking poles each. Geared up, we set off for the snowshoe trail just above the village, which will take us through the famous Vallunga, a nature reserve and, like the entire Dolomites, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Our first steps are hesitant, but you very soon get used to striding along at an even pace. Snowshoe hiking is like a combination of cross-country skiing and actual hiking – you lift one foot, take a step with slightly bent knees and repeat – easy!
The silence, the wonderfully monotonous motion – and the stunning countryside!
We marvel at the mountains that surround us. Gazing up to the tops of the sky-high, sand-coloured rock walls, we spot trees clinging to the rockface at improbable heights. Roman explains that they were seeded by passing birds. His eyes are constantly scanning our surroundings, always on the lookout for chamois, red deer and golden eagles. Sometimes we hike along paths, sometimes up steep slopes. It’s amazing how the snowshoes bear our weight on the snow, and we occasionally get an idea of just how deep it is when we sink in. We breathe in the fresh, healthy mountain air and feel completely energised. “Look over there!”, calls Roman. We discover a tiny chapel in a crack in the rock face that still bears traces of the devastation of an avalanche. We gaze out over the valley spread out beneath us. Snowshoeing is a workout for the entire body – and it makes you hungry. Time for a snack. We pull out our RAWBITE bars from our backpacks and refuel. Full of fresh energy, we tackle the last stretch of our hike.
Welcome to the Valley of the Rock Stars
On the way to the trail on our second day of hiking, we enjoy the view of the peaks – and feel welcomed by the gigantic Sassolungo, the landmark of Val Gardena valley. The “long mountain” regularly tops the rankings of the world’s most beautiful mountains. Standing tall at nearly 3,200 metres, this solitary giant towers above Val Gardena. The small towns of S. Cristina, Ortisei and Selva Gardena are also surrounded by a group of “rock stars”, including the jagged peaks of the Secena and the steep walls of the Sella massif. These mystical mountains change their appearance, depending on the time of day. They truly come into their own in the late afternoon when the setting sun bathes them in a soft, roseate glow. The sight of the grey walls of Sassolungo and Sella, and the peaks of Cir and Geisler catching the rays of the low sun, and being lit up with a deep orange glow that slowly changes to red when the sun has long since disappeared from the horizon is simply spectacular.
You Lose All Sense of Time and Place on a Snowshoe Hike
Val Gardena is a real sun trap (300 days of sun per year!), making it a paradise for hikers and bikers in the warm months. In winter it shows its wildly romantic side, as we see when we set off with mountain guide Roman from Plan de Gral, a picturesque plateau, towards Selva Gardena. From here we look out over the Piz Sella ski area, behind which Sassolungo juts up into the blue sky. For a while we walk silently over tranquil, hilly plains and through woods, each of us fully immersed in our thoughts and propelled forward by the tracks we leave in the fresh, unbroken snow. You lose all sense of time and place on a snowshoe hike, eventually forgetting whether you’ve been hiking for one or three hours. We have fused to become a smoothly functioning team. The trail is our goal, and we’re almost disappointed to learn that we’ve nearly reached the end of it. First, though, we stop for a break at a small, remote wooden hut with a bench, somewhere in the middle of nowhere. Roman hands out small beakers of hot tea. There’s not a soul here except for us. A lone eagle circles in the sky. Everything is peaceful. The sheer tranquillity, the clear air. Just us and the landscape, and the proud mountain, ever watchful.
Snowshoe hiking: Val Gardena is the perfect destination for winter walks and snowshoe hiking. The valley, which was formed by ice age glaciers, offers wild, romantic and highly picturesque Alpine scenery. To book this tour or any of the other tours on offer, visit: www.valgardena-active.com, www.dolomitesalpine.it
Skiing: In the ski area Val Gardena/Alpe di Siusi including Sellaronda there are more than 500 km of slopes with guaranteed snow. Top tip: the Sella circuit, a 26-km ski tour around the Sella massif. The Col Raiser/Seceda region is a skier’s paradise, offering broad, sunny south-facing slopes and Alpine huts serving tasty regional treats. www.seceda.com, www.valgardena.it
Cross-country skiing: There are roughly 115 km of cross-country ski trails in Val Gardena. Top tip: the cross-country skiing centre on Monte Pana above S. Cristina. Monte Pana is linked to the cross-country ski trails on Alpe di Siusi and offers a multitude of challenging ascents and thrilling descents. https://www.valgardena.it/en/winter-holidays-dolomites/activity-holiday/cross-country-skiing/
Accommodation: Vitalpina Hotel Dosses: https://www.dosses.it/
Enjoy every Bite.