News from the snow
San Martino Di Castrozza Italy
One of Italy's best known ski resorts and a classic in the history of winter sports, San Martino boasts some of the most spectacular scenery in Europe, offering a back drop of pink Dolomitic rock where the rock spires reach their highest and most spectacular profiles. The locals call the various shades of pink and purple created by the sunlight on their 'Pale di San Martino' terrain as 'enrosadira'. San Martino lies on a wide highland of pastures surrounded by thick conifer woods, on the southern slopes of the Alps, in the area of the Dolomites that is the easternmost part of Italy's Trentino region. The resort's rather long-winded official title is currently 'San Martino di Castrozza e Primero ' which takes in the valley town of Primero beneath the resort. San Martino's area also extends to include the nearby high-altitude lifts of Passo Rolle which begin by the roadside at 1994 metres (6482 feet) giving great late season skiing. San Martino remains a very Italian resort, popular with Venetians - the Adriatic resort only 110km (67 miles) to the south, few modern international guide books do justice to its stature as one of Italy's five largest ski resorts and its importance in the history of skiing, bring one of the country's earliest destination centres, establishing winter sports holidays in the 1930s. Its 'new era' started in the middle of the nineteenth century with the first English and German travellers who founded international tourism in mountain areas with the discovery of the Dolomites. These early 'tourists' names included Francis Fox Tuckett, John Ball, Theodor von Wundt, Amelia Edwards and Elisabeth Tuckett. In order to accomplish these historic climbs and explorations, the travellers sought the help and collaboration of local hunters and shepherds who, with the passing years, become qualified professional mountain guides, the legendary "Aquile di San Martino" (the eagles of San Martino). Consequently San Martino became an early major centre in international tourism with the construction of elegant hotels, amongst which are some of the oldest in Trentino. During the First World War the town was burnt down by retreating Austrian troops (leaving little more than the church tower, which dates back to the twelfth century, of the original village) but it rose again in the inter war years by which time it was a part of Italy.
One of Italy's best known ski resorts, San Martino boasts some of the most spectacular scenery in Europe, offering a back drop of forested hills backed by 3000m of pink Dolomitic rock. The ski area is a free five minute bus link from the village centre.
There are three ski areas locally, all of which are included on the Dolomiti Superski Pass, the world's largest lift pass system. Closest to the village, although not the largest , a new six seater gondola runs up to meet the Rosetta cable car base station. The new gondola begins from far closer to the village edge and serves blue and red trails from its top at the Rifugio Col Verde. The spectacular cable car continues up to Rosetta, the resort's highest point at 2609m (8560 feet) although there are no market pistes down through the treacherous chutes at the top.
The highest and largest single lift served terrain is at Tognola, a wide sunny hillside above the tree line, accessed primarily by the new gondola from Fratazza, a bus journey out of town. Another option is to take the triple chair from the outskirts of the village beyond the ice rink - runs are cut back down through the forests and are largely covered by snow cannons. The third option is to take the ski bus up and over to Passo Rolle. A traditional 'end of season' mecca because of it's high altitude base, all but one of the six lifts are chairs, and all have snow making. Beginners have gentle meadows at the edge of the village on which to make their first turns.
Because San Martino is at a high altitude for a traditional resort, and because these meadows have snow making, conditions are normally good at village level. Otherwise the choice of gondolas to high altitude areas also with easy runs make San Martino a good choice to get started.
Ski instructors have been teaching on the snows of San Martino di Castrozza since 1932 and today there are 100 instructors united in one school who offer a professional, serious and friendly service to those who want to learn or improve. Lessons in German and english are offered, as well as Italian and the school offers lessons with the use of a video camera. Every week guests can participate in ski races and ski tours . There is a also a timed slalom course. Most of the terrain is easy or intermediate level and there's a great variety to enjoy.
Experts have only a few black trails and will need to head off-piste with a guide or make use of the Dolomiti Superski Pass to explore neighbouring areas if they are to get the most of San Martino. However the steepest run in the resort, down below the new gondola from Tognola extends for over three kilometres with extremely variable and in some stretches really thrilling terrain, and all the while you have fantastic scenery in front of you. A little more technical in some places halfway down, the Paradiso route on Passo Rolle also has to be tried.
The Pale di San Martino and the Lagorai range of mountains offer infinite possibilities for ski touring at every level; from the easy off-piste routes to the real and proper trekking in the vast mountainscape with limitless solitude. There are numerous support centres around the area (refuges, malgas and camps) which provide the essential food and rest stops.
The "Eagles of San Martino", the legendary group of guides , recommend several itineraries. A traverse of the Pale plateau from the Rosetta cable car station to the Val Canali, a "lunar" landscape for an itinerary of medium difficulty. An ascent to the Colbricon Piccolo from Punta Ces is involved and a commitment is needed to reach the summit, but frequent sightings of the chamois make it a unique experience. For experts only an ascent to Cima Mulaz from Baita Segantini an exhilarating descent along the Val Venegia and then up until 2906 metres to the Cima Mulaz.
Cross country skiers have 30 kilometres of well maintained and clearly sign-posted slopes for the classic technique and skating. These include the San Martino cross country centre (8 km in total) at the edge of the village and the Passo Rolle loop (5 km) - a charming route within the Nature Park whose continual ups and downs require medium effort which is repaid by the view you can enjoy from these high mountain pastures.
Children can take skiing lessons from age 4 however and get an especially good deal with the Dolomiti Superski Pass free for kids up to age 8. Children aged between 8 and 12 pay only half and all kids up to the age of 12 get a 30% discount on a one-week ski course.
Children's torchlight processions supervised by ski instructors are especially popular.
Primiero specializes particularly in the production of cheeses. If in centuries past the variety was limited, over the years the production and maturation techniques have been much refined and today offer a vast range: from Tosella to mature Nostrano, from Grana Trentino to Smoked Ricotta.
Other evening activities include trips on a horse drawn sleigh, bowling, billiards, cinema, evenings with music, cabaret, amusement arcades and folklore and entertainment evenings.
The most popular slope for 'boarding is the Scandola della Tognola - it's perfect for learning and improving technique. For the wilder freerider there are vast off-trail areas to discover with interesting itineraries in the woods on the lower levels or surfing in wide open spaces over 2000 metres.
Thanks to the variety of the slopes and the different directions in which they face there is no problem in finding fresh, powdery snow, humps, natural jumps, small gullies and cliffs at any time throughout the winter.
At the New San Martino Ski School friendly and professional ski instructors are there to help you learn and improve your techniques as well as being ready to advise you and give suggestions. You can also buy or hire various types of boards in the resort as well as finding the best brands in technical equipment.