Travel: If hot, stick with the ice pack
Saturday 12 March 1994
Italy offers more choice than you might expect. Of the winter resorts known to British skiers, only Cervinia in the north-east has access to a sizeable glacier - over the Swiss border, above Zermatt. But there are also worthwhile amounts of skiing at less well-known places in or near the Dolomites in the north-west: at the exceptionally high Passo dello Stelvio, a few miles north- east of Bormio and near the Swiss border; a few miles to the south at the lower Passo del Tonale; and on the Marmolada glacier, in the heart of the Dolomites and within driving distance of Cortina and Selva.
In Switzerland, the best glacier resorts are concentrated in the southern canton of Valais. The serious summer skiing resorts are on the south side of the Rhone trench, on or near the Italian border - Zermatt, next-door Saas Fee, and Verbier, a little way to the west. There are small glacier ski areas worth a mention in three other parts of the country: the Glacier des Diablerets, between Les Diablerets and Gstaad; the Vorab glacier above Flims in the south-east; and two small areas at St Moritz.
Solden open summer only; others winter and summer.
Solden's two glaciers are separate from the main ski area and reached by a road that is avalanche-prone in winter. The road first reaches the Rettenbach glacier, with a four- seat chair leading to two drags going up to around 3,200m; each of these serves blue slopes of around 200m, and there are reds of more than 300m down under the chair. The road tunnels through to the Tiefenbach glacier. There is less vertical here (about 450m), but more skiing, with a spread of more- or-less parallel blue and red runs served mainly by drags.
The skiing of the Pitztal glacier - on terrain that was the preserve of the ski- mountaineer until a decade ago - deserves a wider audience, in winter and summer. An underground funicular goes from Mittelberg, where the valley road ends, up into the heart of the Otztaler glaciers. Then a gondola goes on up to 3,440m, giving a total vertical of almost 700m. The lift system has two other branches, both reaching altitudes of around 3,280m. Most of the skiing is easy-intermediate, but there are more challenging variants. One of the most entertaining areas in the Alps.
The Tuxer glacier is the most consistently steep in the Alps - nowhere as steep as the top of Verbier's Mont-Fort, but resembling an ordinary ski area in offering a range of runs. You go up by gondola to Tuxerfernerhaus (2,660m). Chairs and drags above here serve 600m vertical of intermediate pistes, and easy runs link across to a parallel set of lifts serving easy and intermediate runs. When the glacier is supplemented by snow, there are a couple of serious blacks skiable below this sector.
Like the Pitztal, the Stubaier glacier is some way from the nearest resort. Gondolas go up to Eisgrat (2,900m) and Eissee (2,600m), and most of the skiing takes place on the easy slope down to these points from the shoulder of Schaufelspitze at 3,170m, giving a maximum vertical of around 600m. From Eissee a chair-lift up to the minor peak of Rotadlkopf gives access to a short but fairly steep black back to the main runs, and to 300m vertical of intermediate skiing served by another 1.5km drag-lift.
Most of these glacier areas are not open in winter. The Cervinia/Zermatt area, and lower lifts at Marmolada and Tonale, are.
You ride on a sequence of three cable- cars to get up to Plateau Rosa for access to the glacier across the border above Zermatt.
Passo di Stelvio
From the cluster of hotels on the pass at 2,760m, a cable-car goes up to 3,000m and then on to 3,170m; drags go on up to around 3,420m, meaning that the area as a whole has a vertical of 660m. But for practical purposes the skiing takes place on the upper drags - there are about a dozen, spread across a wide, gentle bowl - with a much more modest vertical of around 250m.
Marmolada is the massif to the south of the Sella group, famous for its (winter only) Sella Ronda ski circus. Its skiing can be reached in winter from Arabba, but in summer you must start at the cable-car up from Malga Ciapela. This delivers you to Serauta at 2,875m, when another cable-car goes up over the glacier to 3,270m, giving 400m vertical.
Passo del Tonale
A cable-car from a point outside the village, followed by a chair, take you up to the foot of the Presena glacier at 2,730m, from which point four lifts fan out over an open bowl. The runs are short (around 300m vertical) but do not lack challenge - graded blue, red and black.
All areas open winter and summer.
Zermatt's summer skiing is the most extensive in the Alps. A series of cable- cars takes you up to the top of Zermatt's winter skiing at Klein Matterhorn (3,820m). From there it's an impressive-sounding 880m vertical back to Trockener Steg - and in summer drag- lifts can take you another 80m higher. (At some times you may be able to ski lower, too.) The main run down is so long (5 or 6km) that the skiing verges on the tedious; there are variants in places that can provide a bit of a challenge, but they are few and far between.
This is the least well known and least fashionable of these Swiss resorts, but has the best glacier. Until the Alpin Express gondola is extended next winter, access to the summer skiing is via the cable-car to Felskinn at 3,000m. From the top, the Metro Alpin underground funicular climbs a further 500m to serve runs properly graded blue, red and black back down to Felskinn. As an alternative to riding the Metro repeatedly, you can stay in the sun on shorter drags on the main glacier. Another option, if it's open, is the pre-Metro summer ski area above and below Egginerjoch: enjoyable reds and short, serious blacks.
Switzerland's biggest cable- car is the route up to the summer ski area at the Col des Gentianes - but you have to take a bus to La Chaux to begin with. From the Col at 2,950m a smaller cable-car goes up (when conditions permit) to Mont-Fort, serving 380m vertical of seriously steep skiing. Lower down, parallel drags serve about 300m vertical of mainly, not entirely gentle skiing. (Photograph omitted)
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