Comprehensive ski guide to the Sella Ronda, Dolomites, South-Tyrol, Italy.

The Sella Ronda in the Dolomites of Northern Italy, has mythical proportions. It is rated nr. 47 on the CNN 100 world’s best ski runs, not bad… It was one of the reasons we decided to come back to South Tirol two years back. I used to ski in the Dolomites as a child, and though I had never skied on the Sella, I did remember the beautiful landscapes of the Drei Zinnen or Three Peaks. But it was Sella Ronda that made me come to Alta Badia.

The Sella Ronda is a ski circuit around the Sella massif covering 4 Dolomite passes; Campolongo Pass, Pordoi Pass, Sella Pass and Gardena Pass and five villages;  Arabba, Canazei, Selva Gardena, Corvara and Colfosco in Alta Badia. It has a length of 40 km of ski runs, of which you cover about 26 km skiing. The views of the mountains on the Sella Ronda are stunning, and in the clockwise direction you climb to the highest point at Porta Vescovo to an altitude of 2478 km, where you feel like you can touch the tops of the magestic rocky peaks around you.

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The first and most asked question about the Sella Ronda in the Dolomites is:
Should one choose the orange or the green route, the clockwise or anti-clockwise direction?
Many skiers have often only tried one of both. They made their choice on partial information like the green route has more lifts, the orange one is more adventurous, the green one is less crowded and the orange one is quicker… And then you have those who only want to brag about how quick they finished the Ronda.

The best answers are nuanced. For many skiers and for many reasons the green, anti-clockwise route is the better one. If this is your first time on the Sella Ronda, start with the green one.  It is a the easier route and and the more easy going one. If you manage to finish the green one without major problems, you can set off on the orange one with confidence. The experience you gained on the green one will help you lots on the orange route. If you are an experienced skier but not always and in every condition totally confident on your ski’s, choose the green one first. You will avoid some harder red and even black slopes (when we took the orange route, a black run was indicated as replacement for other closed red slopes….) and you avoid the chopped up slopes around Arraba. (A red run down from Porta Vescovo, which is steep and often very bumpy.) If the snow is not perfect on all the slopes, choose the green one. The slopes on the orange route suffer first from melting snow, icy conditions or are closed first when the winds are too strong. And the green route trends to be a tad less crowded, but that difference is starting to even out lately.
But if you get off on difficult, bumpy, black and crowded slopes, and you want to brag about how you finished the orange Sella Ronda in just 3 hours, conquering the difficult slopes skiing around stumbling inexperienced skiers, you should definitely choose the orange route.

Ski Pass? You will need the Super Dolomiti Superski pass to do the Sella Ronda.

When to ski the Sella Ronda? Not on your first day, unless you already know the area very well. It is no luxury to first get used to your ski’s and the snow again. But most importantly; keep an eye on the weather forecast, and choose if possible a sunny day with not too much wind. The Sella Ronda can be closed at any time if the weather deteriorates. If this happens when you are far from you base station, it might be difficult to get back. A taxi ride from one valley to the next can be quite expensive and I speak from experience! If the winds are too strong they often close the Sella. On a sunny day you can appreciate the fantastic nature with the impressive peaks that form the Sella range. The view changes around every corner, so do take a camera with you! The many lifts you have to take give you time to enjoy the scenery. They say it is best to avoid Sunday’s, while Monday’s and Tuesday’s tend to be less crowded, and also Saturday is a good day to avoid the crowds. But first check out the weather forecast before you decide on a day!

How long does it take to do the Sella Ronda? Many people claim to finish it in three hours…. Honestly, did they really? If you want to finish it in three hours, you will have to ski at a decent speed, non stop (no toilet stops, no drinking or eating…), on a day with little other people and no queues at the lift, on good snow conditions and without taking any glance at the beautiful environment. (Like skiing with blinders on.) You need at least 2 hours time for all the lifts, without the waiting time and at least 1,5 hour for skiing the slopes. Some slopes look like a war zone by 3 PM with too many tired skiers trying to get home in time, lacking energy to tackle the many bumps created during the day. Count on a few stops to drink something, use the toilet, have lunch and take pictures. That makes for at least 5 hours or 6 hours if you want to have a decent lunch. In ski terms that is a day trip. And believe me, after covering the Sella you will be happy to ski back to your room and relax the remainder of the day!

At what time should you start? Many sites state you should not get at the start of the Sella Ronda after 10 AM. Well yes, definitely not any later than 10 AM. That means you have to be on the slopes before that, because most of you will start from one of the valleys, and will spend at least thirty to forty minutes before reaching the Sella Ronda. We did not manage to finish the orange route last year even though we started at 10 AM. We were confronted with very choppy slopes after some fresh snowfall and later on took one wrong turn that had us end up in the valley of San Cristina. When we arrived there it was too late to go back up and make it in time to our valley. So I would advice you to start at the first run of you first lift in the morning, which is often around 8:30 AM. It will make your trip more relaxed, and you will never feel hurried during the day.
Be sure to reach the last pass around 3:30 PM, since lifts and trails close at 5 PM at the latest.

What should be your ski level? The runs are suited for fairly experienced skiers who are in normal physical condition. So not suited for beginners. You should be able to handle red slopes including the more difficult ones, in different weather and snow conditions. You can always try and start, but if after a few slopes you feel you are not really enjoying it or if you feel scared, turn back, and spend the rest of the day in your home station skiing the slopes you feel comfortable on. If you are only used to the more mainstream slopes in Alta Badia you may not be hardened enough yet. If you are used to the slopes in Arabba, you are probably ready for the Sella Ronda.

Where to start? The main starting points are Val Gardena, Corvara, Arabba and Canazei. If you come from the Alta Badia station, your best starting point for both the green and the orange tour is Corvara. For the orange one you get on the Piz Boë lift and for the green tour you take the Borest lift up to Colfosco. Or you go to the Campolongo pass, where you can start on the orange clockwise route.

The Dolomites website claims you can do the Sella without taking your skis off. Well that is a bit overstated, you will have to take off you skis for some lifts, for taking a break in one of the many great huts, but also for crossing one or two roads! To get from the Ciampinoi lift to the other side of Selva to Dantercepies, or the other way around, you have to take of your skis to cross the main road through Selva.

The nicest slopes on the green route are the Dantercepies red slope down into Selva, and the whole section between Plan de Gralba, to Piz Seteur, the Sassolungo section, the long run down from the Sasso Levanto lift down to Pian Frataces, and at the end the red slope n° 1 from Piz Boë back to Corvara. At one point a sign states that you have to be an expert skier to continue… I wonder what they expect less experienced skiers do halfway a slope with this message?
The nicest slopes on the orange route are the red runs down from Dantercepies to Colfosco, The red run down to Lupo Bianco, which can be very busy, and the run down at the Sella pass, first red then blue. Here You can choose to deviate to Piz Seteur, which makes a great stop for lunch or a drink at Salei Hutte – Fiz Sella – Val di Fassa – with great views of the Sella pass. The cappucino is very good at a very good price. We did not eat here but the plates looked delicious, you have a restaurant on top and a self service counter at the ground floor. From here you can continue on a great red run to Plan de Gralba.

Are there any recommended detours to take?
If you like it more sporty, you have the choice of some recommendable detours such as the giant slalom run Gran Risa in La Villa/Alta Badia or the downhill run Saslong in St. Cristina/Val Gardena. But only if you have enough time left! You can always take an extra lift back up in any of the passes, if you encounter a nice slope which is not included in your route.

If you want to have lunch at a specific famous or popular hut, best make reservations in advance, although it can be difficult to calculate the hour for your reservation. With the exception of the very busy weeks, you will always find  a spot to eat or drink something, especially if it is a sunny day when one can sit outside on the terraces. If you take lunch outside of the lunch hours between 12 and 2, it will often be easier to find a seat. Pack some bottles of water and maybe some small snacks just in case. You never know what the day brings.

Dress warm enough, or take an extra sweater or neck warmer. The Sella Ronda is high, and the winds can be cold up here. Especially on some lifts, you can cool down quickly. And pack sun protection, getting a sun burn will spoil all the fun at the end of the day.

The map. There is a general map of the Sella Ronda on which the route is not always very clear and definitely not to scale. On most slopes the road is well signed, but sometimes it is not, and then it is easy to take a wrong turn. On the green route, there is a sign that tells you to take a small drag lift in the Valley of Selva, under the Dantercepies lift. We took it, but then found out we actually had to turn left just before that small drag lift, just under the Dantercepies lift, into the centre of Selva, where you have to cross the road towards the Ciampinoi lift. But the left turn was not indicated with any sign. We had to ask one of the lift handlers who was obviously bored with again a tourist asking the way… And if a slope is suddenly closed for whatever reason, it can be really hard to find the right way. This is how we ended up in the valley of San Cristina last year on the orange route.
Many use the GPS on their smartphone to do the Sella Ronda, but take a paper map in case you battery dies…
There is also an app, ‘3D Superski’, free of charge, with the map of the Dolomiti Superski area. It displays 1,200 km of slopes and lifts, their respective opening hours, all in high-resolution, 3D aerial image maps. GPS technology accurately locates your current position on the map, while route mapping tools help you navigate Italy’s largest ski region. It also offers the latest ski resort news, live webcams, snow and weather reports, as well as information on restaurants, bus stops and WiFi hotspots.

Have fun, it is a privilege to ski here!

Packing list:

  • a backpack
  • some water and some snacks
  • sunscreen
  • lip balm
  • your phone or smartphone, the alpine rescue emergency number is 118
  • a map
  • an extra sweater, a neck warmer, extra gloves
  • your camera
  • your ski-buddy, it is best not to ski the Sella Ronda alone, in case something happens
  • a credit card
  • your ID card or passport
  • address of your hotel…

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