The Sellaronda Ski Challenge

Gruppo del Sellaronda

It was my first full day on ski’s in nearly three years and I had foolishly decided it would be a good idea to take on the Sellaronda ski tour endurance challenge (evidently one of the ‘100 things to do before you die!‘) or alternatively as I found out all too late one of the 100 things to do that could actually make you die!

The Sella as it’s affectionately known crosses all four passes in the Dolomites which were once the domain of the local Ladins who used them in order to keep in contact with the other inhabitants in and around the surrounding valleys. The length of the circuit, including both, ski lifts and ski runs, is a little less than 40 km and it’s considered a fairly moderate route to ski along technically, but the bigger challenge actually lies in the distance needing to be covered to complete the circuit before the last chair-lifts of the day shut down for good leaving you stranded in the mountains along long way from home.

Because the route taken is high up in the mountains you need to also check the weather forecast beforehand in order to avoid running into snowfalls or high winds which can turn what is supposed to be an enjoyable day out into an unpleasant and risky enterprise, leading to another very real possibility and danger of getting stranded.

Any skier interested in doing the Sellaronda must be ski-fit according to all the blurb online, but ski-fit unfortunately I most definitely was not! I had nonchalantly rocked up in Pedraces near Badia a day or so beforehand having done precious little fitness training before leaving the UK and on the day of the tour I had already unenviably had to ski several kilometres across the local valleys just in order to reach the start of the actual Sella!

My thighs ached, my boots were giving me gip but there I was in at the deep end ready to get in the saddle and ski the biggest day of my short ski career to date. I was there because very foolishly the night before I had signed up with an advanced/intermediate group of skiers staying at the same chalet as me (all fitter, and all technically more gifted) for what had at the time sounded like grand day out and a great adventure. But the gulf in skills between myself and the group were to be laid bare before the day was out.

Our guide Will at the start of The SellarondaOur guide Will briefing us before starting out on the Sellaronda

The Sella amounts to a sort of merry-go-round for skiers, the only one of its kind, a series of ski-lifts and downhill runs, all linked to one another and set against a background of woods, rocky peaks and expanses of snow that it is no exaggeration to call extraordinary! Starting from Corvara my chosen challenge began. Luckily I was skiing anti-clockwise which is the so-called easier green route as indicated on the map at the top of this post. The weather was grand the piste conditions were next to perfect and the scenery was just sublime.

Myself preparing to ski-off at the start of the SellarondaPreparing to ski-off at the start of the Sellaronda

Unluckily, as previously pointed out, my fitness was questionable my skill set lacking and my compadres unforgiving as they sped off down the first of the many red runs of the day. As I’d predicted I soon found myself languishing at the back of the posse as natural selection began to weed out any impostors in the group and I soon found that I settled into the hourly routine of playing catch-up with the stronger pack of skiers ahead of me.

My routine now generally consisted of arriving out of breath just as the main contingent of the group were once again moving off down the next slope resulting in even more breathlessness on my behalf – a vicious circle which developed very quickly and proof proper of Darwin’s belief in survival of the fittest. A stupid attempt to prove my worth to the group by volunteering – yes actually volunteering – to ski an extra red twice resulted in nothing more than a messy display of how not to ski. Deciding discretion was the better half of valour I then resigned to see the rest of the tour out at the rear of the group.

My ski compadres preparing to start the SellaMy ski compadres preparing to start the Sella

I skied on in this hang-on-in-there-mode for the next few hours before a lunch stop was finally called at 3.00pm very much to my exhausted relief. While others drank beer and laughed at the mornings antics I guzzled as much Coca-Cola down my throat as I could manage desperately trying to fend of imminent dehydration.

The long awaited Refugio stop for lunch and with make-shift ski car parkThe long awaited Rifugio stop for lunch and with make-shift ski car park

The longed for lunch stop unfortunately had done me no favours as my apres lunch skiing deteriorated still further as I became more marginal by the minute. To my credit (and blowing my own horn) I did hang on in there without any major wipeouts or stacks for the remainder of the day, but I would be lying if I did not admit to being one very happy chappy when having circumnavigated the Gruppo del Sellaronda we arrived safely – if a little exhausted – back at our start point of Corvara at around 16.30pm.

That exhaustion however soon turned to adulation as it dawned on me that I had now become a member of the clan of people who can claim to have skied around the famous Sellaronda. Okay I had skied fairly badly and at times had wanted to drop out completely but the history books will not show that, the only entry will read that I Mr James Handlon had actually skied and completed the Sellaronda and accomplished one of the ‘100 Things To Do Before You Die!’ Those all important stats from the day for the gear junkies out there recorded using Ski Tracks on iOS on an iPhone 4S

Ski Tracks Data screen grab

More Pics from The Dolomites Ski Adventure can be found over on Flickr and by direct feed here


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