I first visited these beautiful mountains over 20 years ago, on my first ski trip with a group of friends from Operation Raleigh. The resort was Madonna di Campiglio, and my skiing was so bad (and comedic), that I was offered a free trip the following year as everyone had laughed so much at my lack of skill.
Thankfully times have changed…
Within moments of entering the range, I was stunned by their towering beauty, peace and clear skies. Over the next few years I was destined to return again and again to ski, climb and study their history. In my view, the Dolomites are much more dramatic than the Alps and offer adventure without the huge numbers of tourists which plague the Alpine Range. They have miles of Via Ferrata (Iron Paths), which allow high exposure into remote mountain areas, but with the safety of a steel cable to clip onto. No need for huge racks of gear and ropes, just a helmet, harness and a pair of clip on tails are all you need (please do use correct VF Kit).
After suffering severe frostbite, I found the Via Ferratas a place to enjoy the mountains again, regain my confidence and come home with a smile on my face.
My first Via Ferrata was a multi-day traverse in the Brenta Range, which included an ascent of Cima Tosa, 3173m. It was early in the season and snow still covered some of the route, making for some very delicate traverses..!The paths ranged from wide terraces to teetering edges, interspersed with steep ladders and abseils. I found it exhilarating, hilarious and hair raising, but the evenings brought a pure pleasure. The mountains may be majestic, but Italian Huts are the best in my experience. Run by families, they provide excellent food and drink after a hard day in the hill. They are perched high on the peaks, away from roads and people, and are one of the major reasons that I return again and again to the Dolomites. I’ve experienced everything from unnerving silence to booming parties, basic food to (quite literally) Michelin star. Everyone smiles, talks and relaxes – much better than any French hut..! The VF routes around Arabba, Corvara and Cortina are particularly good, although the popular routes can get busy.
Around Cortina, and across to the Marmolada is an area filled with reams of WW1 history. The area was bitterly fought over and a huge array of tunnels, trenches and forts still remain to be explored. There are a number of excellent museums, including open air trench emplacements on the Col de Lana, where an entire mountainside was blown up, killing hundreds. The Marmolada suffered a similar fate when a huge avalanche engulfed the troops stationed on it. The conditions caused more casualties than men ever could, and it’s horrible to think of a lone sentry standing freezing at his post in a raging blizzard, clad only in a woollen overcoat. Many of the huts have displays of WW1 memorabilia that has been collected from the surrounding hillsides.
The skiing (yes, I have got much better), is world class and with a Dolimiti Superski Pass, you can glide for miles.There is a good spread from gliding blues to challenging blacks, and you can also ski tour from hut to hut to see wonderful evening sunsets that many people can only dream of. Once in the mountains, there is a well interconnected public transport system to connect many of the resorts, and even a ski lift pulled by horses.
Though the mountains may tower, the ground your feet can be filled with beautiful alpine flowers. They may only last a few weeks, but the colour they bring is spectacular.
To top it all, you can extend your stay with a few days in Venice, before heading home (loving other half recommended..!)