T HE SK IER ’S M AGA Z INE F L IP B O O K SE R IE S 02
Superski’s SUPER SEASON A record winter in Italy’s Dolomites S T O R Y A N D C A P T I O N S B Y
P H O T O G R A P H Y B Y
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ON THE COVER
Chad Sayers at Cinque Torri as the towering peaks of the Dolomites rise above the surrounding countryside like so many limestone fortresses.
The Dolomites come into view through a clearing storm down to Cinque Torri from the famous Lagazuói refugio at 9,200 feet. Here, Austrian and Italian troops bored through the mountain as they fought each other underground, packing chambers with explosives to take out the other guy’s tunnels. It was impressive, with many gun placements and lookouts through dizzying portals on the mountain face. Since the troops were up there all year, some of them were equipped with skis.
SUPER SEASON 1
MILES OF PISTE
FEET OF SNOW
Henrik Windstedt and Chad Sayers climb a shoulder on the frontside of Tofane.
SUPER SEASON A record winter in Italy’s Dolomites called for a different sort of ski experience upon return trip after return trip AFTER spending the latter half of January lodged in the medieval town of Courmayeur lapping stellar conditions on the precipitous flanks of Monte Bianco (as a first lesson in Latin languages, this means the Italian side of Mont Blanc), photographer Mattias Fredriksson and his über-model crew of Henrik Windstedt and Chad Sayers were casting about for their next move. Word on the street suggested that the Dolomites—seven hours to the east and well into one of its best winters ever after a series of mega-storms that began just before Christmas—was about to receive another bounty. It took only a few hours to confirm weather reports and formulate a plan to drive to the town of Cortina d’Ampezzo, ground zero for the world’s largest ski domain, Dolomiti Superski, with 12 ski areas linked by a single ticket. As is often the case in skiing, however, even this tiny lag in action resulted in having to execute a Plan B.
With the roads into Cortina already blocked, the group beelined instead to a smaller player on the edge of the Superski colossus. Back in the day, San Martino de Castrozza was one of the Alps’ classic—right up there with St. Moritz and Lech and Zermatt. Being somewhat more difficult to reach, San Martino fell off the radar when convenience became a factor in the ski market. Nevertheless, it retains enough of a rep as a mountain to attract the Arc’teryx King of Dolomites photography/
freeride competition over the past few years; in other words, this somewhat isolated mix of trees, pillow lines, and cliffbands was just the place to be during a near-record storm cycle. What followed was one of the most insane ski sessions that any of these insane-ski-session vets had ever experienced. Six-plus feet of snow fell in but a few days. Hard as it was to get around, and limited as safe terrain was hardly any other skiers were there, and the boys more or less owned the place. 05
After a week of mind-blowing powder, Windstedt returned to Sweden, and Fredricksson and Sayers departed to another assignment in Austria. But the storms weren’t done with the Dolomites, and neither was the pair. Within days, Fredriksson and Sayers turned around and headed back for another stint, this time gaining Cortina—and, ergo, the center of the Superski universe—via backroads from the north. With snow again pounding down in historic proportions—after 65 feet of snow over the season, locals say it was the most snow they’d seen in 50 years—and several ski areas at their disposal, it was hard to say which of their two tours was the sicker (a nonLatin term used to describe something as superb).
air, moisture ahead of this slow-moving low helped manufacture repeated rounds of heavy snow in the Dolomites, whereas most of the northern European Alps on the leeward side of the storms remained dry. Ironically for Cortina’s unprepared and put-upon citizens (but happily for skiers), the outcome was in complete contrast to early season predictions for the Alps, testament to the growing unpredictability of weather in an era of climate change. As a result, the skiing most were doing here was also in stark contrast to the received view of the Dolomites, which usually divided between cruising open, sunny slopes to winesoaked patios or playing a gnarly round of Couloirs “R” Us among the many sinewy slots riving these mountains.
After 65 feet of snow, locals say it was the most snow they’d seen in 50 years
The reason for the most snow the Dolomites had seen since 1975—and there’s always a reason—was a dominant and somewhat unusual upper-air weather pattern from late January into early February. A powerhouse jet-stream across the Atlantic that had delivered winter storm after winter storm to Western Europe and the Alps had, by the end of January, encountered an atmospheric wall in the form of a “blocking high”—a dome of Arctic air centered over Eastern Europe, Ukraine, and western Russia. The energy from the Atlantic was funneled down over the Mediterranean Sea and closed off into a massive low pressure system that parked just to the west of the Italian Peninsula. Mixing with the stationary Arctic 06
By the time Fredriksson headed back to Cortina for a third trip at the beginning of March with a Salomon Freeski TV crew of Mike Douglas, Kaj Zackrisson, Nico Vigounier, and myself, the Dolomites had experienced even more snows, topped by a classic southern storm that tracked over the northern Sahara, picking up sand and frosting the snowpack with a layer of pink windboard. But all that was buried under 32 inches of fresh blower on day one of that trip, making for another dreamy session. For skiers, the Dolomites’ super season— which wound up a full month later than normal—was truly one for the ages.
VALLE ISARCO KRONPLATZ PLAN DE CORONES SP244
VAL GARDENA / ALPE DI SIUSI
CAREZZA / VAL DI FASSA
ARABBA / MARMOLADA SS346
VAL DI FIEMME SAN MARTINO DI CASTROZZA
BOLOGNA VENICE GENOA FLORENCE
Models of the storm, Windstedt and Sayers ogle Tofane terrain.
Though it wasn’t possible to do what you would normally do in the Dolomites, which typically consists of several thousand feet of couloir skiing, the weather offered opportunity to experience some amazing tree skiing that isn’t often talked about. Like several of us on this series of trips, Sayers was experiencing his first time in the Dolomites. To say that he was stoked by the conditions—or being able to explore an area like Tofane— would be the kind of understatement skiers are incapable of.
The "inconvenience" of road closures seems worth the extra effort. Sayers samples San Martino de Castrozza.
At San Martino de Castrozza, the group rode the single open Tognola gondola for five days straight. This proved to be beyond convenient since they were also staying in an apartment right in the gondola building; it was exactly 30 steps from their door to the gondola door (they counted). The gondola dropped you on a ridge where you could go either side, though there was one zone in particular so full of pillow and cliff features that they never skied the same line twice.
ABOVE LEFT That timeâ€Śin San Martino de Castrozza when the race club never made it to the slopes. ABOVE RIGHT Without a major road into Cortina, night driving, on Euro roads, became even more perilous with the heavy snowfall.
OPPOSITE Windstedt in The Zone at San Martino de Castrozza
Every day started with a long free run without the camera, and also one after lunchâ€”which was typically long and leisurely and delicious. Here, Windstedt and Sayers dry out from the 15 to 20 inches of new wet snow theyâ€™d been in, then ducked out to hit it again. Fresh tracks always remained after lunch, and they skied right to the end of the day, every day.
Windstedt has several billion reasons to smile in San Martino de Castrozza.
Downtown San Martino de Castrozza remains as real as ever.
Kids that live in snowy places dream of storms that will give them a day off of school. In Cortina, schools closed for a week because parents were worried their kids might get nailed by falling snow just walking around. The hockey rink was closed for even longer as townsfolk were terrified the large roof might fall in. Since there was no guiding to be done during the biggest storms, the valleyâ€™s mountain guides cleared roofs to prevent catastrophe. And, no, this photo is not from 1935.
BELOW Despite the record snowfall, Cortina's train station still acted as a depot for travelers. But phone calls from the booth were unavailable.
Old stuff is what Europe is all about, so shooting photos of old things like Cortinaâ€™s landmark village square bell tower from inside the townâ€™s oldest hotel seems like the kind of thing you should do. Doubling down on history so to speak.
lifts skiers into the high alpine of Tofane, aka Couloir City—you can even ski a 3,000-foot monster tube off the top by entering through a natural arch. But couloir skiing was impossible during the big cycles, and not much alpine as most of the high lifts, like this one, were closed for weeks.
The Col Drusciè – Ra Valles tram
OPPOSITE Windstedt finds a sub-alpine wall on Tofane to his liking.
Just behind the town square, the road splits around an historic little church that looks like it could accommodate no more than 20 people. If there was anyone in it, they were likely praying for it to stop snowing. ABOVE RIGHT If this old building in Cortina doesnâ€™t have some special purpose, it should.
At the base of Cristallo, the hotel and bar remained open for thirsty skiers looking to revel in the bounty.
The Cortina – Col Drusciè tram
ferries a couple hundred per load from town up to Tofane’s main alpine staging area. A workhorse dating to the mid-1960s, it showed its age on the Salomon trip when Douglas, Zackrisson, and cameraman Blair Richmond were stranded for two terrifying hours after the cable slipped off the main pulley and wrapped around the suspension mechanism. Alone in their descending tram save for the operator (“I need a vacation,” was his only comment), the boys watched in horror as the ascending tram—packed standing-room only— shuddered past, winched inch-by-inch on sagging cables, the agonized faces pressed against its fogged windows suggesting more than a few soiled onepieces over those two hours.
RIGHT Most of Cortina’s main ski area of Tofane faces southish, so the snow can get baked quickly in sunny weather. But when it’s not sunny, and as deep as it was in February, you can enjoy the kind of rare treat that Windstedt lapped up.
On a rare sunny day at Cinque Torri, Sayers surveys the kingdom he pretended to rule for a month.
The towering peaks of the Dolomites rise above the surrounding countryside like so many limestone fortresses. When you dig a bit into their history, it turns out many of them were actually used for just this purpose. You can go pretty far back in time to chart the many times this ragged range stood in the way of one invader or another, serving the purpose of defense for those who occupied the area. This is no more true than for Lagazuói, the rampart in the background, where Austrians and Italians waged the infamous “battle of the caves” during WWI. Last winter, unless you were a snowplow, there wasn’t much to fight about. Sayers doesn't argue, either, at Cinque Torri.
is the highest lift at Cinque Torri, arriving on the col to the left, and emblematic of the kind of ski safari you can go on through Dolomiti Superski—12 ski areas, 450 lifts, and 750 miles of pistes linked by one ticket. After you debark, you can ski down to a valley bottom, re-ascend to another pass behind the tower to the right, descend to yet another valley beneath the ramparts of Monte Lagazuói, head up a platter lift and then ski back to Cinque Torri having traversed three ski areas and 10,000 vertical feet in about a half hour.
The Averau triple chair
OPPOSITE When it was storming, the local advice was to go to Cinque Torre, where the trees were amazing and the 270-degree views stunning. On the sunny days between storms, it was safe and open. Though with just with one chairlift at Torre, the Rifugio Scoiattoli restaurant at the top became the base. Here’s Sayers super deep in a Cinque Torri pillow zone.
From the bottom, Cinque Torri, appeared to be a small and seemingly compact area, but it was more like a Russian Doll when you started poking around, unpacking walls and gullies and pockets that you couldnâ€™t see until you were up closeâ€”a perfect minigolf area for photos that also happened to have some fantastic skiing.
When a globetrotting powder slut like Sayers declares that this session in the trees at Cinque Torri was top-three in his list of deepest days ever, what he really means is that it was so deep he really didnâ€™t even want to bother shooting. But he did, anyway, and it was spectacular (English for awesome).
Gary and his family
have been running Enoteca Cortina for 40 years, or, as he puts it, “way too long.” The popular wine bar is one of many scattered around the town plaza— tiny, labyrinthine, and perpetually packed nose-to-nose to the point of crowds spilling from doorways at either end into different streets. It’s a great place to enjoy a bottle of prosecco or Tuscan wine over a plate of local dried meat and cheese compliments of the house while realizing that the guy who just slapped you in the face was really just telling the guy next to him how sick his day was when you got in the way of his hands.
OPPOSITE Sayers finds his line at Cinque Torri.
On the turnaround trip from Austria to Cortina, home base was at Hotel Des Alpes. Fredriksson had stayed there six years before on a biking trip and the porter, Max, still recognized them. Down the street was this local grocery store, where the boys stocked up on cheese, salami, and produce and got to know the guy who ran the placeâ€”even though he only spoke Italian. This is what happens in Europe.
OPPOSITE is a local specialty available in every grocery store and served in almost every restaurant. Naturally, people swear by this or that pasta-maker, and have their favorite eateries for it. It didn’t take long for all of us to develop our own preferences, and to a person it came in the form of lunch at Rifugio Scoiattoli at the top of the Cinque Torri ski area, where this shot was taken. As Homer might say, “Mmmmm, beetroot…”
BELOW Mike Douglas found the bite-size terrain features at Cinque Torri to his liking as both a filmer and a skier.
Cinque Torri was going off again on the first few days of the Salomon trip, as young gun Nico Vigounier found out.
EDITORIAL E D I T O R
John Stifter M A N A G I N G E D I T O R
John Clary Davies D I R E C T O R O F P H O T O G R A P H Y
A S S I S T A N T P H O T O E D I T O R
Anthony Smith A R T D I R E C T O R
Mike ‘Basher’ Taylor
S T O R Y/ P H O T O S S T O R Y A N D C A P T I O N S B Y
F L IP B O O K SE R IE S 02
02 FL IPBO OK SERIE S
A portfolio of exclusive photos from Italy’s record 2014 winter in the Dolomites