Val Gardena ski area
The Italian Val Gardena in South Tyrol lies between rugged mountains, the Dolomites. During the day, the Dolomites disguise themselves as panettone (Italian cake), iced with a fine layer of sugar. At sunset, the mountains turn red, the Alpenglow, an optical phenomenon that appears as a reddish glow near the horizon.
The area has 300 days of sunshine a year. Thus an ideal location for refuelling much-needed Vitamin D in the dark winter months. Furthermore, the well-maintained slopes have guaranteed snow despite the lovely weather due to the altitude (+2000 m) and the presence of snow cannons. Moreover, Val Gardena is undoubtedly the best ski resort in Europe. Escalators will take you to the gondolas – i.e. avoiding the hassle of carrying heavy skis up the stairs- whereafter heated ski lifts will take you further up the slopes.
Winter sports in Val Gardena
South Tyrol is Italian elegance and German efficiency, the best of both worlds. Yes, that is pasta, knödel, dolci, grappa and schnapps, topped up with a cappuccino or Prosecco at one of the many mountain huts during a pit stop. The combination of comfort, a beautiful landscape and delicious food makes this the best and the most beautiful winter sports area in Europe.
I don’t just say that. After more than forty years of skiing holidays in Italy, Andorra, Russia, Austria, Germany, Spain, Scotland, Lebanon and the United States, I know this for a fact. Besides, UNESCO has my back because, in 2009, the Dolomites were added to the UNESCO World Heritage List.
group images by Veronica, our mountain guide
Winter sports activities in Val Gardena at a glance
- Ski slopes: discover the 175 km of slopes with 80 lifts.
- Go snowboarding at Freestyle Fun Park Piz Sella.
- Immerse yourself in nature on the 115-kilometre cross-country trails.
- The Vallelunga and the Puez-Geisler Nature Park are ideal locations for snowshoe hikers.
- Furthermore, the area has several slopes (6 km), specially made for sledging. To get here, take the cable car from Ortisei via Raschötz.
- Take a ride in a horse-drawn carriage.
- Warm-up in the sauna and then cool off in the snow.
- With a sip of grappa in your espresso, it is even easier to ski down the slopes.
- A glass of mulled wine tastes even better in the cold.
Ortisei, St. Cristina and Selva di Val Gardena are fairy-tale mountain villages
There are three fairy-tale villages in the valley, of which Ortisei (St. Ulrich in German) is the largest, with more than six thousand inhabitants. St. Cristina and Selva di Val Gardena are small but beautiful. The houses in Val Gardena are decorated with wood carvings. Most of them were built at the beginning of the last century. On the main street of Ortisei, you will find exclusive boutiques and cosy cafés.
Take the cable car up from the villages to explore the best winter wonderland: hike with snowshoes, go downhill on skis, ski cross-country, or just lay back and relax on a terrace to enjoy the view.
Hotel Angelo Engel
In the centre of Ortisei is the four-star Hotel Angelo Engel where I stayed. Nils, the current owner, has been coached by his parents in the hospitality business since childhood. He is the fourth-generation Demetz who manages the hotel.
The care taken is evident. All minor details are lovely, from the heated ski boot holders in the basement to the luxurious pine wooden bedrooms, all reachable with a smooth gliding elevator. The spa is top-notch, with a beauty salon, heated indoor and outdoor swimming pool, gym, hot tubs (indoor and outdoor), a steam room, and saunas, one of which is exclusively for use by women. Slippers, bathrobes and towels are all in the room.
The one thing I did not like was those punitive-looking scales in the bathroom.
Yes, during winter break, there is lots of physical activity. However, on a typical day, one starts with an extensive breakfast buffet followed by grappa, wine and pasta on the slopes, the free afternoon snack in the hotel and a three-course meal (and wine) in the evening. Perhaps a digestive or a nightcap before turning in? I am sure those calories add up.
But as long as one can ignore those scales, there is no weight gain.
Hospitality with a capital G
The real luxury lies in the service that the hotel provides. For instance, the bus takes the guests to the different ski lifts in Ortisei and picks them up again—no need to lug those heavy skis.
The friendly maître d’hôtel Heidi knows precisely which local wine goes best with the day’s menu. Gewürztraminer, Lagrein, Pinot Grigio, they are all delicious.
Then there are the daily ski excursions with a guide, where Georg takes the Hotel Guests into the Dolomiti Superski area. The snowshoes that one can borrow. The free spa. Wi-Fi, of course. Also, the guests will receive a public transport card that allows them to take all buses and trains in South Tyrol (Alto Adige) free of charge. This is especially useful when going on a day trip when it is impossible to ski back to Val Gardena in time.
For a fee, there are also massage and beauty treatments.
A double room goes from 262 euros half board in the low season. However, the most expensive suite costs a whopping 662 euros in high season.
Prices include the breakfast buffet and a three-course meal in the evening.
B&B Villa Angelino Ortisei
The neighbouring Villa Angelino is an excellent alternative if your budget is smaller. The breakfast buffet is tip-top, the rooms comfortable, and the location central. Guests also receive a public transport card from the hotel. Parking is free. The B&B has an honesty bar, so there is no need to go out for a drink in the evening.
Guests of Villa Angelino can use the Mar Dolomit swimming pools for free, with a heated indoor and outdoor pool and sauna. Rooms, including breakfast, cost from 62 euros in the low season.
A third option is Villa Kastelruth, a four-star hotel in Castelrotto. This historic building also has a heated outdoor swimming pool, sauna, spa, free public transport card, 3 x per week ski guide and 1 x weekly snowshoe tours.
Prices are slightly lower than at Hotel Angelo but higher than at a B&B. In the low season, a room will set you back 190 on a half-board basis, and in the high season, the most expensive room costs 510 euros.
Source map ValGardena.it
Ski resort Val Gardena is connected to 1200 km slopes
The Val Gardena ski area is between various mountain ranges, such as the Sella and the Sassolungo. The ski season starts in early December and ends in mid-April. The site has 175 km of slopes.
The Dolomiti Superski ski pass
With the super ski pass, one can use all lifts within the Dolomites area. This ski pass is valid in 12 valleys on 1200 km of slopes.
The Sellaronda is probably the best-known route. These 40-kilometre-long slopes surround the Sella massif. The course goes through four valleys and crosses three Italian regions (Bolzano, Trento and Belluno). The Sellaronda gives direct access to 500 km of slopes.
Saslong Ski World Cup
The Saslong piste is 3.4 kilometres long, with a height difference of 839 meters. The Women’s Ski World Cup competes on this slope just before Christmas.
Marmolada, the queen of the Dolomites
At 3,343 meters, the Marmolada is the highest point of the Dolomites. To get to the Marmolada, ski from Passo Gardena or Sella to Arabba: take the Portavescovo cable car to the Marmolada here (7 hours, 35 km of slopes).
Alpe di Siusi
Seiser Alm or the Alpe di Siusi area is ideal for beginners, as most pistes are relatively flat.
Sedeca is more challenging than Alpe di Siusi. However, the advantage of Seceda and Alpe di Siusi is that they are not connected to the Sellaronda and are less crowded on busy days.
La Longia, a 10 km piste
The La Longia piste is 10.5 km long. Ski non-stop between trees from Sedeca to Ortisei. Along the way, you see a canyon and a frozen waterfall.
Food and drinks on the slopes
Avoid the large mountain stations at the cable cars for eating if possible. These massive restaurants do not deliver the same quality as the small mountain lodges on the slopes. However, here the food is still prepared with pride because these have usually been in the hands of the same families for generations.
- On Alpe de Siusi try restaurant Sanon. They are famous for several dishes, including the Rehrücken, a chocolate cake.
- On Sedeca, Refugio Emilio Comici is the hippest place in town for an apéritif or seafood. Baila Saslonch Hütte serves delicious pasta from the chef (aglio e olio).
Most inhabitants of Val Gardena speak at least three languages, Italian, German and Ladin. Some also speak English.
Transport to Val Gardena
- The Innsbruck airport is the closest to Val Gardena. The taxi ride from the airport to Val Gardena costs around 250 euros and takes an hour and a half.
- An alternative is Verona Airport. This is approximately two hours away by car.
- It is possible to take the train to Bressanone, Ponte Gardena or Bolzano and then travel by bus or taxi to Val Gardena.
- Alternatively, rent a car at the airport.
- Or drive. Remember, winter tires make all the difference to your safety.
- Ski passes come in both types and prices. The most extensive Dolomiti Super ski pass provides access to 1200 km of slopes. The pass costs 50 euros daily for adults or 250 euros for six days.
- Ski-rental: a complete package of boots, helmet and skis costs around 40 euros daily.
- Lunch on the slopes will cost between €7.50 and €15.00 for pasta. It will be more expensive if you include wine, coffee and dessert. The price is highly dependent on the location. The Alpe de Siusi area is accessible by car and is, therefore, easier to supply than the Sellaronda, where everything has to be brought via cable car.
With an EHIC health insurance card, one is covered for medical emergencies. However, this does not include emergency transport (helicopter) from the slopes or rescue missions.
So check whether your travel insurance covers these costs. Often you have to take out additional coverage for risky sports, such as skiing.
Safety and Health
- Only go off-piste with an experienced mountain guide. Avalanches are life-threatening and often difficult to predict.
- Apply sunscreen with a high SP of at least 30.
- Wear a helmet.
So you know: I stayed at Hotel Angelo at the owner’s invitation.
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