Val Gardena ski resort, in the Südtirol region of Italy is the umbrella name given to a group of villages - Ortisei, San Cristina and Selva Val Gardena - in the heart of the beautiful Dolomites, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Strung out along the floor of a beautiful valley, with direct access to the classic Sella Ronda circuit, and the vast Dolomiti Superski area, these villages offer a quintessential Italian skiing experience.
Selva, which sits smack in the middle of the two-way Sella circuit, is ideal for intermediate skiers, who can explore its local range of open and wooded red runs. And just 5km away are the sunny, open bowls of Ortisei – perfect terrain for novices and early intermediates.
Val Gardena has 175km of runs of its own, mostly easy and intermediate, but as part of the lift-linked Dolomiti Superski mothership, it also has access to 1,200km of runs in 12 ski areas.
First-time visitors can be confused by the on-piste signage, as most places names are shown by both their Italian and German names. Once part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, this is a tri-lingual area, with the local Ladin dialect also spoken widely. Hence Selva is also Wolkenstein and Ortisei is St Ulrich. San Cristina is simple enough as St Christina. You quickly get used to it, however, as you do the food, which mixes the best of Italian and Austrian cuisine.
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Val Gardena - Ski Map & Pistes:
Although there are slopes to appeal to all abilities, the runs above San Cristina are mostly red and black, topped off with the Saslong World Cup downhill. For the most spectacular views, take the cable car up to Col Raiser, and drop down a short blue run to pick up the chair up to the top of Seceda - Val Gardena's high point at 2,518m. The red/blue runs back down to San Cristina are a delight, too.
Val Gardena also provides several access points to the Sella Ronda circuit, and is home to a sizeable chunk of the route, a 24km ski circuit that circles the Sella Massif, crossing four passes and taking in four valleys.
Easily skied in either direction in a day, it's a must-do for any visitor to the region. Made up of a mix of motorway blues and fast reds, the circuit shouldn't take more than three hours, unless you stop for a long lunch at one of the many mountain huts that pepper Val Gardena and the other Dolomiti Superski resorts. If that's the plan (and the food is so tasty, we'd recommend it!) local advice is to set out by 10am to avoid being stranded in the wrong valley when the lift system closes around 4pm - which involves an expensive taxi ride home.
The clockwise route (with orange signage) offers more variety of piste and tends to be slightly quicker and sportier, but it is also the busiest option. The anti-clockwise green route is quieter but has a few extra lifts to ride.
Skiers wanting a more leisurely day on the slopes can make for the linked resort of Alpe di Siusi which shares the 'local' ski-pass with Val Gardena, and offers a much gentler set of runs.
The area has an amazing snow park below Piz Sella & the Comici hut.
Val Gardena - Off-Piste, Backcountry & Ski Touring:
Val Gardena is a superb piste destination, but is not a big powder and off-piste spot. That said, the resort does offer access to some decent off-piste around the Sella Massif. The Forcella Mezdì, the Val Lasties and the Forcella del Pordoi have some beautiful deep snowy descents.
Val Gardena - Restaurants, Bars & The Town:
If you're used to dancing on the tables in your ski boots, stick to the likes of St Anton or Mayrhofen. Although there are several bars in the resort villages, the après is more geared to eating - in your hotel or local restaurants - than getting wasted. This being Italy, of course the food everywhere is excellent. Some of the mountain huts such as the Emilio Comici, near the Passo Sella, offer gourmet cuisine that's a far cry from the spag bol of many French mountain eateries.
La Stua in Selva is a lively, atmospheric après ski bar. Do make a point of sampling one of the local drinks - a bombardino. A kind of warm egg-nog liqueur topped off with whipped cream, it makes a change from the ubiquitous Aperol Spritz.
Non-ski activities here include ice-skating, ice-climbing, dog sled rides, horse-drawn sleighs, tobogganing from the top station of the Rasciesa chair lift in Ortisei, and tandem paragliding.
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Val Gardena - Ski Hire:
For ski hire in Val Gardena, which village you stay in will dictate which outlet you use. Options include five branches of Intersport Val Gardena in Selva and Santa Cristina, RinoSki in Santa Cristina, and Ski Walter in Selva and SG Alpine Rental in Ortisei.