The Dolomites have been THE place to freeride this winter, with a massive snow base and storm after storm loading up the legendary terrain with once-in-a-lifetime snow-depths. Jon-Albert and I had scratched the surface of the area back in February, and Sion had a guidebook and lots of exploration-mojo; so we headed East to Northern Italy.
The first day was forecast to be somewhat sunny and fairly warm, so it was suggested that before they get too hammered by sun and too gloopy in the warmth, we should use day 1 (the third clear day after the snowfall) to get into a few of the easy-access, south-facing steeps before they melted too much. The lines were amazing, atmospheric, wild and beautiful, but the sun really didn’t come out as much as it had been forecast to, so the snow didn’t soften quite enough to make for really great skiing, and after the dream-lines in Zinal, we took a while to get into the idea that the landscape and vertical spaces justified our having driven so far, past so many ski resorts and round about 2/3rds of the main alpine ridge, to get here… But I was loving it – conditions were way less marginal, steep and remote than the lines we work so hard for back in the Highlands, and it was great to ski a couple of lines which in normal seasons have abseils in them, without ever really noticing where the abseils might normally be.
Then at the end of the day, we headed for the north-facing, easy-angled off-piste classic of the Sellagruppe, the Val Mésdi – a valley which starts at a hut about a 40min push/skin up and across the plateau, and ends at completely the opposite end of the massif, from which we could return via 3 lifts and a ski down to Arabba, where we were staying. An amazing valley, which Jon and I also had the pleasure of exploring, it gets mogulled-out like an average red-piste, but the surroundings are superlative and when we hit it there were still plenty of fresh lines to be had, even for our group of 7 – and perhaps as importantly, the Mésdi showed us that there was great snow-quality to be found on north-aspects, and gave us a window into what else should be possible up there – with line after line dropping in form the sides of the valley, all deeply shaded by the Dolomiti limestone for which the area is so famous.
Thus, we made our plan for the next day over delicious, cheap Italian pizza, and the next day we headed for the Marmolada, the highest lift-system in the Dolomiti-superski pass, to have a look at the North face of the Punta Penia, the highest point of the Dolomites…