Cortina d'Ampezzo is a beautiful ski region in the Dolomites of Italy, with
proud Olympic heritage, a chic clientele, and stunning Dolomite scenery.
Cortina’s skiing encompassed three ski resorts of the vast Dolomiti Superski
collection– the biggest ski network in the world with 1,200 kilometers of skiing
in 12 unique regions all on one lift ticket. Cortina is not connected by lifts
to the rest of the Dolomite ski region, which makes it unique and perhaps more
exclusive, it’s also truly spectacular and stylish.
Cortina became famous in the ski world for hosting the 1956 Winter Olympics –
but the beautiful town in the Ampezzo Valley (two hours from Venice) was already
famous as a retreat for chic clientele, movie stars like Frank Sinatra
vacationed here and many films were made in the gorgeous valley surrounded by
dramatic towering Dolomites in every direction. I thought the Jungrfau and
Zermatt in Switzerland were the most dramatic ski mountain until I discovered
the Dolomites. While the Dolomites are not as high as the French and Swiss Alps,
they certainly are as scenic in their own special way – with steep jagged rock
cliffs in red and silver hues.
Cortina skiing is incredibly different than the Alps too, the Italians here ski
to be fashionable, its skiing light and stylish. For eager skiers, you can board
the lifts before 9am and have slopes all to yourself, same after lunch. If it’s
not perfect sunshine, similarly - the Italians don’t ski at all! The Italians
start skiing at the leisure hour of 10 or 11am, stop for a lavish on mountain
lunch at 1pm, see our review of
Cortina's best restaurants, then ski down to town.
Monte Faloria and Monte Cristallo offer skiing on the northern side of Cortina,
often with the most snow. From downtown you take the Faloria Cable Car up two
stages to the skiing above 2,000 meters. The views are sensational and the eight
ski runs here, red and black, are well pitched and fun. Skiing over to Monte
Cristallo, there’s one incredible run from an old double chair, the Forcella
Staunies, where you are surrounded by the red rock cliffs on both sides, its
more challenging but the run is gorgeously groomed. Looking up at Monte
Cristallo at 3,221 meters is amazing.
Across Cortina to the south is Tofana with more great terrain, trails with real
“emotion” as the Italians say. Tofana offers Cortina’s longest slopes surrounded
by dramatic red rocks, reached by a two stage cable car to Col Druscie to Ra
Valle. The third summit tram to namesake Tofana peak (10,643’) is too steep to
ski and runs only in summer – tremendously popular with all the same mountain
huts and chalets are open for hikers and sightseers.
Ski the women’s downhill - Olympia – you will have new respect for this steep
undulating exciting trail that squeezes between rock bands and big fences.
Cortina hosts the World Cup ski races mid-January every year, and the town fills
with race fans, media and the chic wanting to be seen. Alberto Tomba shows up,
he grew up skiing at Cortina. Cortina has off-piste skiing, but we didn’t dare
given the low natural snow in March of our visit. We skied ample snowmaking on
well-groomed “prepared” pistes – ski trails.
While you don’t necessarily need a ski guide, Cortina is confusing at first
pass, with multiple names and regions like Pocol, Pomedes, and Socrapes. The
Italians are friendly enough to answer your questions, or hire a ski instructor,
or just explore by staying on the prepared pistes - rather well-marked and there
is a mountainside chalet, restaurant or rifugio, serving fantastic Italian food
and wine at every peak and turn.
The third ski area of Cortina, a short drive beyond Tofane-Pomedes, is
Cinque Torri - named for the five towering peaks. These sunny south exposure slopes
offer a dozen gorgeous trails and some wide open powder shots in between the
stunning rock towers - but be warned of rocks, aka dolomites. What’s fascinating
about this region is the evidence all-around of World War caves and tunnels
still tucked in the steep craggy rocks. As you are freely skiing by bunkers and
hideouts, it’s an amazing reminder of those who fought in these severe Dolomites
to protect democracy. Fascinating that Germans, Italians, Austrians, Russians,
and Americans now ski side by side and enjoy heavenly ski runs soaked in sun
among the harsh cliffs.
Fun fact: 200,000- years ago these jagged towering Dolomites were reefs under
the sea. The phenomenal setting, and the Dolce Vita of the Italians, makes you
appreciate that time moves quickly and you must savor every moment, every ski
run, every espresso with a view.
A popular Italian ski tour through these Dolomites is the Super 8, a figure
eight that encompasses Cinque Torri, over to Colgallina then up the tram to
Lagazuoi for an incredibly scenic ski run back down. You can adventure on to the
Amentarola run, a 6 kilometer trail connecting Lagazuoi of Cortina and Val Badia
including a horse pull across the flats to Alta Badia. We suggest you don’t follow
the crowds just looking to accomplish that or the Super 8 circuit, enjoy your skiing and
you will easily cover the same territory. But you will want to take the touristy
photos at the top of the Tram on Lagazuoi’s sun deck at 2,800-meters with
stunning views in every direction of the Dolomites.
Call Cortina the jewel or the pearl of the Dolomite Mountain range, it deserves
its fame and fable, the scenery is fantastic, the town is very stylish and
historic, and skiing is a mere pastime. Not all of the Dolomite ski areas are
Italian, as you near the Austrian border more German is spoken, but Cortina
feels authentic and traditional in its Italian heritage. Shops close for a
traditional long lunch for example. Cortina’s ski lifts are not as sophisticated
as Austria or other Dolomite ski areas like Kronplatz and Val Gardena, but the
clientele is. Because Cortina’s ski slopes are not connected to the rest of the
Dolomiti Super Ski Region (though your lift
ticket includes the entire 12 areas and 1200 kilometers), and not part of the
popular 42 kilometer Sellaronda tour of the Dolomite ski region, Cortina feels
special, rather exclusive, as you don’t have so many skiers just passing through
on the ski lifts.
We recommend staying in Cortina as part of any Italian ski
trip for at least three days to ski each of the three regions. For five star
lodging in Cortina, the Cristallo
Hotel and Spa is
spectacular - the palace of Cortina is historic, perched on a hillside
overlooking the beautiful village of Cortina, a short drive to the slopes with
ski room, fine dining, spa, gorgeous rooms and suites, and stunning views of the Dolomites.