There are a lot of great places to ski in the world, and sometimes, skiing is only part of the appeal. The Italian Dolomites have long been known as a rock-climber’s paradise, and the steep, red-colored spires have drawn tourists from all over Europe and the world for many years. The Faneshütte – located in the middle of Italy’s largest national park, is a well-known and rightly lauded destination, both in summer and winter – and the mountains surrounding it are only part of the reason why.
More on that later – but what about those mountains? And what about that stuff we love so much lying on them in winter….pow?
The small shot above gives you an idea of the spot we’re talking about here. Googling “Faneshütte” will get you there as well and let you look around.
The hut itself is sitting in the Kleinfanes – a glacially formed closed-ended cirque with peaks around the edges at around 3000 meters, and a floor of more or less 2000 meters. The entire area is a national park – and the nearest lifts are about 18 km away as the crow flies. In Europe – that’s a rarity – and it means that your fellow travellers here will all be engaging in human-powered skiing and riding, with a fair number of snowshoers as well.
I kind of like that – it keeps things a little more low-key – and because everyone has got to earn their turns, it keeps powder fresh for days after a storm. I’ve got nothing against ski resorts or “freeriding” – but an all-touring location has a lot going for it.
We spent a week enjoying the fruits of one of the best winters the Dolomites had had in years. While most of Europe north of the main ridge of the Alps was dry as a bone during the winter 2013-2014, the Italians sitting just to the south of that ridge were getting dump after dump. This happens every once in a while – and with seven meters of snow on the ground at the Faneshütte, we were in great shape for our week at the end of February.
There are great day tours from the hut all around the rim of the cirque, as well as a couple behind the hut on both sides of the saddle separating it from the next high valley over. If you drop down into that high valley, there are even more tours, all of which are reachable and back for a day, with about 10-14 km of travel in all. (there and back)
Sabine and I didn’t waste any time on our first day out and bagged the Zehnerspitze right off the bat. There was a lot of sun, but the wind was high too – so after leaving the hut (refugio in Italian) and making the first rise to the northwest to the flat part of the floor of the cirque – it got kind of uncomfortable. Sabine hunkered down behind some rocks and I made like a European and sharpened my elbows past a bunch of other folks going up this, the tallest of the peaks around here.
The snow was good – but strangely sticky….a few days prior, there had been a huge sandstorm in the Sahara – and all that sand got blown over to Europe! A layer of fresh snow had covered it, but in places where the wind had scoured it off – the reddish color of the sand was impossible not to notice – and it was making trouble for my turns.
I got back to Sabine and we enjoyed a moment together in the land of la dolce vita.
The next couple of days were much the same, except that we learned to avoid the wind, and stay off the sun-soaked southern exposures, especially in the afternoon. We bagged a bunch of great peaks, and had fun jamming on some of the smaller sub-peaks as well. We never had to ski tracked – even though the hut had its fair share of guests. There’s plenty to go around.
Overall – the hype we had heard regarding the amount of snow that had fallen in the Dolemites had not been overblown….there was tons…which was a nice change from the dry conditions we had north of the main ridge of the Alps back home.
I was also really happy with the character of the tours around the hut. While I am sure aspiring extreme skiers could find steep and committing routes if they wanted them – the majority of the tours I saw were moderate – if at times long. They were well suited to a week-long getaway with my wife – and I think that the area would well-suit any couples or groups with various skill levels or objectives. There are tours right from the door with 600 meters of elevation gain, and others that go beyond 1000….you can take your pick of sunny, bright slopes or shaded tree runs, you can see the sights, or bag some peaks….all in the same place.
The Faneshütte itself is worth the trip. Indeed – the Italians come up on the first Sunday of the month in designer shoes and toting cell phones, along with their mamma for a family meal and outing. The hut has a couple of ex-Swiss military tracked vehicles that will take you from the valley floor all the way to the hut, and people take advantage of that to make the place a lunch-stop. We used the tanks to carry up all our gear while we toured up the beautiful 8 km road in. This was great! On the way home – we sent everything down with the tanks – and snagged a couple of the huts own sleds that they offer guests – and had a whale of a time sledding all the way back to the valley!
The hut is really a hut in name only – even at almost exactly 2000 meters elevation – its character is more hotel-like than a hut. There are, of course, multi-person sleeping rooms if you want them, but most opt for 2 or 3 person private rooms – some with their own bathroom, some sharing one in the hall. The rooms themselves have a comfort level comparable to a three star hotel, with a big bed, all the accouterments, a TV and in many cases, a balcony.
The kitchen is well-known even in Germany – offering German, Italian and Ladinische (Ladin in English?) meals from morning until late in the night. Packages are offered with full and half board – and the food is so good – it would be a bit of a shame not to take the half board option. Every night – you return to your table and are greeted with a three course meal that you would not expect this high up in the hills. Delicious – and elegant!
Sabine and I also really enjoyed the large sun-deck – and due to the nice weather we made a point of prosecco and caffe in the afternoon. If we lived in the area – this would be a favorite restaurant – not just a great touring destination!
Sabine and I enjoyed our time very much…and are sure to return sometime soon. In fact – I have already booked a long weekend with some friends for the coming season and look forward to Italian sun, snow and food at the beginning of March! Maybe we’ll see you there!