Want to go skiing with no heavy packs, eat great food, drink good wine and coffee, and sleep in comfortable huts? Interested in peaks over 12,000 feet (3650m) high that you can ski to the top of and then ski off while surrounded by beautiful glaciated terrain? If you answered "yes" to all of the above then the Ortler Circuit Ski Tour is right up your alley.
The Cevedale-Ortler area is located between St. Mortiz, Switzerland and the Italian Dolmites in North-Eastern Italy. To the North, German is spoken, to the South Italian, thus you often see mountains and glaciers given two names, one in each language. Unlike our Haute Route trips, the Ortler Circuit is not so much a traverse, but is rather a loop in the southern corner of the Tyrol region that hops from hut to hut in search of prime skiing, and spectacular scenery, connecting what might be the most comfortable huts in the Alps. The Ortler ski tour takes place within Stilfsejoch (Stelvio in Italian) National Park, and starts in the town of Sulden, travels in a circle through the mountains, and then ends again in Sulden almost a week later.
The fact that the trip forms a large loop simplifies logistics when compared to a point-to-point trip such as the Haute Route. The Ortler Circuit winds thorough peaks that are just slightly lower than 4000 meters and as a result the area tends to be less traveled than regions of the Alps dominated by 4000 meter peaks. The National Park at the center of this tour holds 14 summits higher than 3000 meters, with the Ortler being the highest at 3905m.
Our Ortler Circuit Ski Tour is similar in difficulty to our Haute Route Traverses from Chamonix to Zermatt. Much of the ski terrain is glaciated and those with some mountaineering experience will feel more comfortable taking part in optional peak ascents that abound in the area. This trip offers the possibility of true ski mountaineering as the nature of many of these high peaks can be reached on skis or by short sections with crampons and many can be descended on skis. For those less interested in skiing off peaks, there is endless opportunity for ski touring without the added mountaineering aspects.
We will meet in Sulden, Italy at our hotel at 5 PM with group dinner and orientation to follow.
Ortler Circuit Day 1: Start in Sulden and end at Marteller Hut (2610m).
Wake up in Sulden and use the chairs to gain some quick elevation by taking a gondola and two chairs up to just over 3100 meters. From here we skin up a few hundred meters, pull our skins, ski a bit, and then cross over the Passo del Madriccio at 3123m. This sets us up for a beautiful 900 meter east and then north facing descent all the way to the Zufalhutte (2265m). After a quick coffee or bite to eat, we then climb about 300 meters back up to the Marteller Hutte (2610m).
Ortler Circuit Day 2: Start at Marteller Hut and end at Branca Hut (2487m).
Today we focus on getting up and over Monte Cevedale to the West. This will put us in position to ski down to the Branca Hut (2487m). The usual routes takes us up the Cevedale Glacier and leads to a spot very near the Casati Hut (3254m). From here we have the option to descend into the Valle Di Cedec, taking the easier route to the Branca Hut or we can take a more difficult line first heading toward the summit of Monte Cevedale, and then climbing over the 3423 meter pass between Monte Cevedale and Monte Pasquale for a steeper descent that leads directly to the Branca Hut in the Val di Rosole. We will spend the night in the Branca Hut, known as the "gourmet" hut with good food, excellent coffee, and even hot showers. Optional side trips include the climb of Cima Marmotta (3330m).
Ortler Circuit Day 3: Start at Branca Hut, tour to the SE, and return to the Branca Hut.
We will spend a second night at the Branca Hut and take advantage of the immense glaciated terrain in this area to undertake a variety of tours and peak ascents. Options include the Pizzo Tresero (3549m) or the Punta Matteo (3678m), both located to the SE of the hut and approached by the Forni Glacier.
Ortler Circuit Day 4: Start at Branca Hut, tour to the SE, and return to the Branca Hut.
On our second day of touring out of the Branca Hut we will return to either ski up and off the peak we missed the day before or take advantage of other local options. There is a lot of skiing to be done out of this well situated hut. Night at Branca Hut.
Ortler Circuit Day 5: Start at Branca Hut and end at Pizzini Hut (2700m).
From the Branca Hut we will move to the North to stay at the Pizzini Hut (2700m), located South of the magnificent Gran Zebru. This day has a variety of options ranging from skiing near the hut to making the steep climb over the pass between Monte Pasquale and Monte Cevedale (if we did not descend this on day 2) and the subsequent ski down the Cedec Glacier and eventually the Pizzini Hut.
Ortler Circuit Day 6: Start at Pizzini Hut, tour to the North, and end at Pizzini Hut.
No trip to the area is complete without getting up on or near the Gran Zebru. On this day we will choose between a climb of Gran Zebru from the Konigsjoch or a ski from the Col Pale Rosso. Ski descents under the south face of the Gran Zebru generally offer long, corn skiing, descents. The climb of Gran Zebru itself requires us to leave our skis for the final section and don crampons as we climb to the summit of the 3851 meter peak.
Ortler Circuit Day 7: Start at Pizzini Hut and end at Hotel in Sulden.
On this morning we wake up at the Pizzini Hut and tour back up and over the ridge where the Casatti Hut sits and then descend back into the Sulden Valley. We end this day in Sulden.
It is not uncommon for people to develop very bad blisters if they go from not touring at all to putting in successive long ski touring days. You should be able to efficiently get down black diamond runs in most ski areas. Again, you do not need to be an extreme skier to do this, but there will be spots where it is best not to fall, and you need to be able to efficiently link turns in a wide variety of snow conditions. You should also be aware that skiing on a glacier is much different from skiing in bounds at a ski area. Real hazards exist in these mountains and none are marked. Prior to your trip you want to focus on skiing in control and being able to ski for long periods without falling. You do not need any previous mountaineering experience to do this, but it is nice to have some level of familiarity with the climbing harness, crampons, and ice axe. We use these items very rarely, but you will be more confident if you show up with some level of comfort with them.
- Able to ski fall line in most snow conditions (powder to wind affected snow).
- Able to make parallel or stem-christie turns on 35° groomed or firm snow.
- Able to side-slip on firm slopes up to 40°.
- Able to ski moguls in soft snow.
- Able to do kick turns facing in or facing out on 30° slopes.
- Able to skate on level terrain.
- Able to ski fall-line in tight radius turns in good conditions.
- Able to ski black diamond runs at ski areas efficiently and in most snow conditions.
We recommend obtaining a Carte Neige, which is skier's insurance sold in France. This generally runs around 60 Euros and lasts for one year. If you use the card in the Ortler area you will usually be required to pay up front and will then eventually be reimbursed by Carte Neige. The card term runs from the start of the ski season (usually October 31) until the start of the next ski season. We might be in France in advance of your Ortler Circuit Ski Tour and could pick up the card for you, but we will need to collect the payment in advance. Contact us if you would like to look into this.
Additionally the American Alpine Club offers $5000 of rescue insurance to all current members. If you are planning to use this, be sure to bring your card with you to Europe as it will speed the process if payment is requested.
Please note that Northwest Mountain School does not provide any sort of rescue insurance for its skiing or climbing guests in Europe and we highly recommend that you look into this insurance for yourself. The information above is offered to help point you in the right direction and should be confirmed when purchasing insurance as these things change.