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Garmisch Partenkirchen/St Anton/SellaRonda-DIY skiing tour

 Poster: A snowHead
Poster: A snowHead
Last year I drove 2.5 week around Swiss side Porte Du Soleil and travelled up and down the Tarentaise valley (Valmorel/3 Vallees/Paradiski/La Rosiere/La Thullie/Tignes/Val D).

This year I had a go at the German Garmisch, Austria St Anton and Italian Dolomiti. Just done it in a 4x4 for just under three weeks.

Never tried a German resort and couldn’t missed the deal by the Garmisch Tourist office- 99 Euro for 2 nights B&B with 2 skiing day pass. We actually went upmarket with en-suite and stayed an extra night for 142 Euro each. The catch was to drive 582 miles from Amsterdam to Garmisch.

As expected the German resort is high standard like the large Swiss or Austria resort. The surprise was everything seemed cheaper there. Garmisch-P is an hour drive from Munich and so it tends to be a weekend resort for the big city and has a different favour. We chose it because it has a flexible scheme of stay any number of days we want and can be reached from Amsterdam in a day.

The infrastructure is certainly impressive even though the place isn’t large. We had the best snow because the entire Bavaria was covered by snow at the time we were there. Our classic skipass doesn’t cover the highest resort Zugspitze. The lower Alpsitze and Hausberg are linked and big enough for us to explore in the two days. When confronted with which is the easiest black slope some snowheads have suggested any black slope in Italy is easy. I got a feeling they may not have skied Gamisch-P.

Garmisch-P is definitely a nice place to visit and ideal for skiers willing to drive and want a few extra days to fit in with another week skiing in a major resort.

We used Garmisch-P to warm up and then drove to Munich airport to pick up my brother family from Norway. The 6 of us then headed for 7 days skiing in St Anton.

We have been Ski Welt, Kitzbuhel, Saalbach, Zell am See and various Austria resort but St Anton was our first visit. It lives up to our expectation as a well organised and well presented resort. We opted for a self catering apartment in Pettneu paying 930Euro for 7 nights for 6 of us. The 213 Euro/head ski pass was expensive but St Anton is as good as skiing can get in Austria. With a 4x4 we drove to Lech, which is about 15 miles from Pettneu. Lech claims to be the most beautiful village in the Alps and there are places charging 1000 Euro per night. With the amount of investment in the infrastructure the only conclusion we could think of that St Anton still isn’t linked to Lech and Zurs must be for maintaining the exclusivity. The St Anton appears to be for the poor folks as there are a more skiers per metre of piste than in Lech and Zurs.

Zurs and Lech have a famous “White Ring” of 20km long. It can be skied only in clockwise direction. We parked our car at Zurs. It proved to be the best choice in two occasions because we would be fresh and keen when starting our first skiing on the ungroomed red slope down to Zug. This is possibly the most difficult bit of the White Ring. The Zug to Lech section is predominantly blue slopes while the Lech to Zurs section has groomed pistes all the way. We ran the White Ring twice in two different days and were caught by bad weather at the latter half of the day in both occasions. Thus it pays to start the White Ring early.

There doesn’t seem to be any statistics but the decent from Schindler Spitze at 2660m via Run 14 and 17 to Stuben at 1407m must be one of the longest in St Anton.

If St Anton was a fantastic place then we had too much snow in the 7 days we stayed there. The house we were staying in Pettneu had over 1m thick snow in the roof and I had to get into the house using the low-range gear of the 4x4. We had only about 2 half days with sunshine. The rest was dense fog and continuous snow.

On driving my brother family back to Munich we paid for price for the heavy snow as the autobahn was jam solid even before we could leave Austria. With a 4x4 we went through the country roads which were partially blocked by various buses and lorries stuck into the snow. We did managed to reach the hotel near the airport and had dinner at 11pm.

After seeing my brother family off the wife and I drove to Santa Cristina of Italy. Santa Cristina is about 3 miles off Selva in Val Gardena, the big Dolomiti. That 3 miles distance enables us to get B&B at 29 Euro per head.

I have to say with 510km piste SellaRonda, which is accounted just under half of 1220km piste the Dolomiti skiing domain, is definitely one of the biggest skiing paradise in the world. This is comparing with the over 600km linked piste of the 3-Vallees in France. The French/Swiss Porte Du Soleil also claimed over 600km piste but it isn’t fully linked. The Austria Ski Welt is made up by 7 resorts and has a modest 250km piste. I have not seen anything large from the Swiss side. The largest North American skiing resort is claimed by Whistler/Backcomb and that is no bigger than the 300Km piste of Tignes/Val D or the 425km piste of Paradiski making up by Les Arcs and La Plagne. Thus the real challenger to Dolomiti size is only the 3 Vallees which zig-zags across 4 valleys. Sellaronda is big because it acts as a hub radiating outward. There are a lot less skiers competing for space there and hence its vast terrain is better appreciated.

I spent one day going the 40km SellaRonda circuit clockwise and another day anticlockwise. There are only 26km skiing in the loop as the remainder of the 40km is made up by chairlifts. A large number of the Sellaronda circuit has red slopes and to cover the 26km piste in a day a skier should have no apprehension going into a red slope. It isn’t difficult by the French, Swiss or Austria standard and is quite nice to cover because the scenery is simply awesome. The clockwise direction (in Green) has 15 chairlifts but the anticlockwise direction (in Orange) has only 13.

I also took one full day to go round Santa Cristina to Ortise, went from Col Raiser/Seceda to the opposite valley of Alpe Di Siusi and back round a loop back to the car park. The piste were incredibly wide and smooth between Santa Cristina and Ortisei and some were as wide as a football pitch! The gentle Red #2 from Cuca chairlift to the bottom of the Ortisei/St. Ulrich cable car is staggering 10.5km long and is one of the nicest piste I have ever skied on.

Alpe di Siusi stands out as an excellent skiing paradise for the wife and I because the area is famous for families and so the piste are well groomed, wide and gentle. The SellaRonda circuit, on the other hand is full of people and long (but short by Tarentaise standard!) queues. Any skier can tell if even the best piste would degrade rapidly if being trafficked on by a lot of skiers. Therefore we found more enjoyment cruising the Santa Cristina/Col Raiser/Seceda/Ortisei/Alpe Di Siusi loop than going round the Sellaronda. We like it so much that we spent another day by going round this quiet loop the opposite direction. The only problem with this loop is the section between Saltria and Monte Pana must be by a bus ride at 2.5 Euro per head.

After going the Sella Ronda twice and the Santa Crista/Ortisei loop we decided to drive to Corvara to explore that large area. The mountain pass was closed at the top and so we had to park at Dantercepies and skied to Corvara instead. Corvara is a big resort with loads of blue slopes. It has about 130 km piste on its own and is part of the Alta Badia circuit attached to one corner of the SellaRonda loop.

The infrastructure of SellaRonda is also impressive. The towns of Ortisei, Santa Cristina, Selva Wolkenstein are full of shops, restaurants and supermarkets. I rarely had to get into a drag lift and all the chairlifts, cable cars and gondolas looked newish to me.

The large number of chairlifts can be confusing as I tried to be clever about it initially, thinking I could read the ski map just like any of the mega resort and got lost! A local skier advised me just follow the green “Sellaronda” sign to go clockwise and the orange “Sellaronda” sign for anticlockwise. That proves the best advice. I think one of the snowhead did mention this point before.

Having seen SellaRonda, which the four valleys of Val Gardena, Val Fassa, Arabba and Alta Badia, I would say it is a place a ski cannot miss if he/she wants the best from Italy.

SellaRonda did not have as much snow as St Anton. If the Italian houses were insulated as good as the Austrians then instead of over 1m, as we saw in Pettneu, the houses in SellaRonda would be lucky to have 150mm on their roofs but our skiing was definitely more enjoyable because we had sunshine 4.75 out of 5 days.

My previous experience with Italian resorts was confined to Courmayeour and La Thullie but Dolomiti really opens my eyes. If you want relax skiing in piste as wide and straight as a runway try Alpe Di Siusi. French Tignes/Val D, 3 Valles and Les Arcs/La Plagne have pretty wide and extensive piste too but the Italian Dolomiti pistes are simply smoother, possibly the Italians spend more time on grooming or there are fewer skiers using them.
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