"A Symbol of Extreme Skiing in the Dolomites" - Marmalade Mountain

“A Symbol of Extreme Skiing in the Dolomites” – Marmalade Mountain

Sion’s guidebook had plenty of ideas, but after finding the snow we did on the North-facing Val Mésdi the day before, it was obvious that our focus should be turned to the top of the compass.  We thus headed up high to the Marmolada, hoping for some fresh tracks and some steep-touring.  (There were rumours that the mountain is named after the marmalade mine under the glacier, from which 2/3rds of the world’s marmalade originates, and we’d quite hoped to visit this legendary Moriah of jam-production, but the snow was too good, so that part of the visit will have to wait)

We arrived early to a face the size of all of the pistes of all of the Scottish ski resorts combined, but with not a track in it – just enough wind had blown the cold snow on the north face of the Marmolada around that the whole thing was fresh and untracked, and we were like children in a sweetie shop…  Needless to say, we took a couple of lines before heading for the main event.

no tracks, no people

no tracks, no people

push

push

But the Punta Penia was waiting for us, so after just a few tracks on the side-country, we headed to the foot of the highest peak in the Dolomites and to 700m of skinning and boot-packing up to the edge of the precipitous south face which marks the top of this massive geometrical wonder.  Sometimes it strikes me that skiing and freeride-ski-mountaineering are such completely different games from each other: I love to ski pow, I love the effortlessness of charging lines and hucking drops, and I love how sociable it is to jump on a lift at the bottom and to chat your way back up to the top.  At the same time, ascending has a special place, and with my amazing Carbonlites from Whitedot, being able to get to the top without being knackered and then still find yourself with 108mm underfoot is a complete game-changer for a lazy-freerider like me in terms of how big you can aim and how steep you can plan for on the way down…

Jeopardy, with my sights set behind him - what a line

Jeopardy, with my sights set behind him – what a line

Punta Penia (highest peak in the Dolomites), route marked

Punta Penia (highest peak in the Dolomites), route marked

So I picked my way to the top of the north face, which in itself was tricky – not only because of the roll over which leads you into commitment without any prior visibility and with no distinguishable starting point visible from above, but also because my compadres below, with a different view of the line I was looking down on, were shouting conflicting messages about whether I should be heading further skiers-left (as they thought) or skiers-right (as I remembered it from scouting the line for about 2h on the way up…  At times like that, you have to take a deep breath, keep your nerve and stay the course you know is right – but then at times, the line between determination and arrogance/stubbornness can be blurry.

felt steep at the top

which was it again?  left or right?

So I turned right, followed the snow to a small band of rocks on about 50 degrees (guidebook said the entrance sector was 55 degrees, but it didn’t feel that steep to me – perhaps it’s flattened off with the massive snowfall they’ve had this year..?) and with a short hop it was plain sailing down a slope which the guidebook promised to be about 300m of 45 degree skiing.  Sluff-tastic.

spotting companions below

spotting companions below

With the day almost over, we headed to a couloir known to the locals simply as “Il Canyon”, but known in English as “Butt-Crack Couloir”, apparently – like Glencoe’s infamous in-bounds run, the Haggis Trap, on crack: apparently normally not worth of mentioning, this year the vertical drop to enter was about 5m total, though with a shelf midway down and a soft, banked slope to drop onto below – intimidating but thoroughly do-able.

Il Canyon, or "butt-crack couloir", as apparently it's known in English - like the Haggis Trap (at Glencoe) on crack

Il Canyon, or “butt-crack couloir”, as apparently it’s known in English – like the Haggis Trap (at Glencoe) on crack

And so it was.  The next day, we were back on the Penia, but were let down badly by the guidebook’s instructions.  We all came out of it safely and without injury, but what happened was not good, and could have been avoided with a little more key information…