Alpe Devero Monte Cazzola

Ski Touring Scale of Difficulty in Italy

ski touring, ski mountaineering

Great views touring in Val Maira

Understanding the Italian Scale Used for Ski Mountaineering

Looking  a heart pounding adventure or maybe a gentle climb and cruise is more your speed? To understand which is which in Italy, have a look at the difficulty scale used.  Italy makes use of the Blachère scale. The Italian ski touring scale provides  only three difficulty levels, plus the addition of A for alpinist components ( but more on that later).  Compared to other country’s more complex rating systems, Italy’s grading provides only a very general overview, inclusive of the uphill and downhill part of your ski tour.

Background

The scale is named for the French civil engineer who created the scale in 1940, Gerard Blachère. Originally used in both France and Switzerland, these countries have since traded the system  for something more complex. But Italians like to hold onto tradition, so they have stuck with it.

Using the scale

As noted, the scale has only three levels, so if you are not familiar with the area, you can find more detailed info on sites like Gulliver. Of course like any rating system, all is subjective and varies greatly depending on conditions (both yours and the snow’s).

Avalanche Bulletins

Extract from an avalanche bulletin for Piedmont region

Of course always, always, always consult the avalanche bulletins. The bolletini di valanghe , are issued by each region during the winter season.  AINEVA provides links to the  avalanche bulletins that the regions of Central and Northern Italy provide.

Backcountry legal requirements

Italy requires you to bring an avalanche beacon, shovel and probe with you if you venture into the back country. If you are caught without them you will be fined and further complexities and fees result if you need to be rescued and are not prepared. In recent years, Italian regions have charged more for mountain rescues for those who were deemed unprepared and without the proper equipment.

Go with a Guide

If unfamiliar with the area you have the option of going with a UIAGM-IFMGA certified  alpine guide.  A  good guide will know the area, the powder stashes and which faces that are relatively safe and which are risky, helping you to have fun and steer clear of danger.

The Scale

  • MS  Medio Sciatore (Average skier) No slopes steeper than 25 degrees, wide slopes, nothing too steep or narrow.
  • BS  Buon Sciatore (Good skier) Good technical skills and can ski slopes up to a 40 degree pitch.  You can manage narrow couloirs for short sections.
  • OS  Ottimo Sciatore ( Excellent skier) You should rip. Or at least be able to ski slopes steeper than 40 degrees, frequently with exposure. You may also find in this description included passaggio obbligato, meaning there are parts of the tour that offer only one way down and this section could be tricky or  a very technical and exposed section.

An ‘A’ for Alpinist

While Sci Alpinismo is the term used to cover both ski touring and ski mountaineering in Italy, it is really only the “A” or Alpinista rated routes that include the mountaineer aspect .

The addition of the letter A means the skier must be prepared with needed skills and equipment for the environment. Ropes, harness, ice ax and  crampons should be brought along for encountering some or all of the following: crevassed glaciers, climbing sections, and steep pitches.

  • MSAMedio Sciatore Alpinista (Average skier alpinist)
  • BSABuon Sciatore Alpinista (Good skier alpinist)
  • OSAOttimo Sciatore  Alpinista (Excellent skier alpinist)

Ski and Ride Safe

As you can see Italy’s rating system, leaves a lot of room for variation. Do your research before you go, check the latest avalanche bulletin, be prepared with the right gear and enjoy the incredible scenery of the Italian Alps.

If looking for non snowy excursions, check out Understanding the Hiking Trail Rating System in Italy.

http://montanarilife.com/2016/07/03/trail-rating-systems-italy/

NOVEMBER 2017 – Where to Start off the Ski Season in Italy

Prato Nevoso preps for opening – Photo Credit La Stampa Cuneo

BIG STORM BRINGS EARLY SKi RESORT OPENINGS

Thanks to Karl, ( the named snow storm that brought major dumpage to the Alps last week) a number of Italian resorts opened their lifts, or will be opening them, before the end of November. Much to our delight we can now ski or ride in a number of spots in Italy.

Karl not only kicked-off the snow season but brought some much needed moisture to the Alps. After a couple of drought years the snow storm helped mitigate the fire producing crispy, dry conditions in Northern Italy and blessed us with a blanket of bianco.

The November storm was a result of a unique meteorological combo of conditions, sometimes called a retour d’est. To learn more about this delightful phenomenon,  check out WePowder’s detailed description.  We hope  Karl is the first  of many such visitors to the Italian Alps this year.

SKI AREAS NOW OPEN IN ITALY

The backcountry is up and running, but for those who are looking for  lift-served options, here’s where you can currently ski and  ride in the Italian Alps. From West to East see your options below for getting those first turns in.

  • Artesina “Family friendly” in Piemonte (site in Italian only)
  • Breuil-Cervinia  Who doesn’t need a bit of the Matterhorn in their life? Or as the Italians call it Il Cervino.
  • Cortina – Lovely town and part of Dolomiti Superski
  • Passo Tonale – Bridging Lombardia and Trentino Alto Adige, cute town to boot
  • Solda all’Ortles – Glacier skiing in Stelvio National Park  and the  Messner Ortles Museum, built inside the mountain,  on ice ( because there’s more to the element than just being frozen water)
  • Val Senales On the Italian/Austrian border
Ski Alps

Limone Piemonte photo credit Reserva Bianca

UPCOMING RESORTS OPENING

The next resorts slated to open are listed  below with their opening dates.  So for Americans who want to trade in your Turkey for pasta, come over  to ski and ride Italian style for Thanksgiving. More snow due this month, so hopefully the slopes will have a good base  by Christmas, not to mention some powder!

  • Limone Piemonte – November 17 – One of the resorts that bumped up their opening thanks to the early and abundant snow.  Site in Italian only
  • Drei Zinnen Dolomiten – November 18  – Ski the Dolomites Drei Zinnen  ( The Three Peaks)
  • Prato Nevoso – November 18 Hard to go wrong with a place named Prato Nevoso or in English,  Snowy Field.  Site in Italian only
  • Arabba – November 25 – Part of Dolomiti Superksi
  • Courmayeur – November 25 – Beauty on Monte Bianco
  • Kronplatz – November 25 – AKA Plan de Corones in the South Tyrol
  • La Thuile  November 25  – in Valle d’Aosta

 

Happy mountains!

winter snow forecast

Winter is Coming: Snow Forecast for Italian Alps 2016/2017

neve-alpi-nevicate-anche-abbondanti-con-fiocchi-fin-sotto-i-1000-metri

Autumn snow arrives below 1000 meters in the Italian Alps

Early Snow

Last weekend the white stuff made an early debut in more than a few spots. For those who don’t care for the winter, I’m afraid I can’t muster up too much sympathy. Last year the snow came late leaving the ground brown and scratchy in many mountain zones used to a softer, whiter setting. The first snow I experienced this year made me even more curious as to what the winter snow forecast calls for.

Will La Nina bring powder days to the Alps ? How much snow will we get?

In an attempt to turn hope and optimism into something more scientific, I looked into what the meteorological types were calling for.  We all know forecasts, especially long term ones are iffy at best, but I thought I would seek out signs of good fortune for the coming season.

I sought evidence to assure me that the Alps be as they should in winter, white and cold and bloated with snow. With weather in the mountains being a hard call, these predictions may be closer to a palm reader’s promises than actual proof of powder. But I have always found comfort in a positive outlook for snow.

In search of an Italian Farmer’s Almanac

There is no Farmer’s Almanac for Italy. At least that I know of, maybe someone can fill me in if . It could be quite nice to have one here. Robert Thomas founded The Old Farmer’s Almanac in 1792 He noted that with this American classic reference book “Our main endeavour is to be useful, but with a pleasant degree of humor.”

So without a useful bound guide, I scoured the internet for promises of a snowy winter. What I discovered is that no one really knows.

Of course no one knows, and this seems especially true for the Alps.  Even in places filled with radars and models and other sciency tech stuff, plotting out where the snow falls (or doesn’t) , it seems the Alps are off the proverbial radar.

La Nina and the winter

It could be a La Nina (little girl) year. On the bright (or cloudy side as the case may be), those who do attempt to address the Alps say that the suspected La Nina of this year could portend powder our way.

Certainly snow seekers in many spots felt that last year was some sort of heartless punishment, at least early season. We hope that this year turns out to be filled with the fluffy white stuff.

Blasting News, an Italian news site, posted the odds on October 16 of a 60% chance of La Nina. The site referenced meterologist Mario Giuliacci who cites Japan Meteorological Agency  for the  odds on La Nina possibilities. This is in contrast from the more negative outlook by the NOAA which says La Nina will not visit and Italy can expect a milder winter.

13-ott-16-courmayeur

Courmayeur webcam showing October snow

The little girl means nothing

MeteoMorris, founder of Wepowder does a great job of trying to find a correlation.
We can assume that a guy with a site named for snow is digging (pun intended) for evidence of major dumpage. In his post  on this winter’s  forecast, he looked into a correlation between La Nina and snow in the Alps (spoiler alert- there really isn’t any). His research indicates that  the relation  between La Nina and alpine snow is as thin as last year’s coverage.

As for a divine prediction for a white winter, it seems it is still up in the air.  We will get what we get. For those who want to find the  latest weather  info you can search for a  bolletino neve.  A couple of good one-stop-shop references include: Neve Italia’s Bollettino Neve ( in Italian) and J2Ski . These sites also offer info on the number of  impianti,  (lifts) open.

Here’s hoping that winter arrives soon and may the snow come with frequency and abundance!

 

snowflake

 

image credits:

http://www.centrometeoitaliano.it/notizie-meteo/neve-alpi-nevicate-abbondanti-fiocchi-sotto-1000-metri-12-10-2016-43930/

http://www.ansa.it/trentino/notizie/2016/10/10/prima-neve-in-alto-adige_4ee42da2-2335-4157-a5d3-14480ef18576.html

snowflake form Noun Project Janina Aritao

 

CAI trail markers

Understanding the Hiking Trail Rating System in Italy

Macugnaga Monte Rosa- hiking trail ratingFinding the best hiking trails to explore in unfamiliar territory can be a fun part of planning your alpine adventure. Italy offers an enormous wealth of choices in hiking trails, though finding information in English is not always easy. For those researching Italian hiking trails, read on for an explanation of  Italy’s hiking trail rating systems.

If you don’t know the trail you are on (and know it well!), navigating Italy’s  hiking trails can prove challenging, since Italian trail systems vary greatly in how clearly they are marked. Added to that challenge,  the trail descriptions themselves range from detailed and helpful, to let’s just say, the more casual and open-ended interpretations. Even those rated “T” (Turistico- easier) do not always offer enough signs to guide you in the desired direction. Keep in mind that those trails rated “E” (intermediate level), can include exposure and sections of cable, chains, metal rungs and there may be a need to do some scrambling.

cai-segnalorizz - hiking trail rating

Simple marking/Marking with trail number

Italy offers many scenic and enjoyable options for all levels of hikers. From high alpine environments to walks between villages or by lakes, rivers and seas, the trails in Italy provide spectacular views and experiences. Trails used for recreation, often have (and continue to have) working purposes. From uses by shepherds to bring animals up to pastures, to strategic army movements and even illegal activities, Italian trails have a history that extends beyond view seekers.

Hiking jaunts can be planned for an hour or two or for multi-day journeys. And the tradition of Italian rifugi allows hikers to recharge themselves with hearty Italian mountain food. Some rifugi also offer places to spend the night.

Time estimates

In addition to CAI’s ratings, many Italian trail descriptions offer an estimated time to reach certain destinations. Some trail descriptions provide a range of times based on the type of hiker, for example:

  • atleta (athlete):  The fast track. This time estimate is for those who must enjoy running (not walking) up mountains and do not linger for selfies.
  • trekker:  Still not a lot of lingering time (save the long breaks for post-hike beers), hiker times are for those in good condition who move at a good pace.
  • Famiglia/non allenato (family/non trained) There are no doubt families who move quickly, but it can take time to  herd groups with smaller humans uphill. This category also include the slowpokes and those who take the time to smell the roses or whatever flowers may be in bloom.

The translation of CAI’s (Club Alpino Italiano) national rating system is below.  CAI developed this hiking trail rating system used throughout Italy.  As indicated, these ratings are relative and should take into consideration your experience and fitness level.

If you are looking for winter options, read here to learn more about Italy’s ski tour rating system. 

Cai_Club_Alpino_Italiano_Stemma hiking trail rating

CAI HIKING TRAIL RATINGS

Determining the degree of difficulty of a route, in accordance with objective criteria, is impossible, due to the fact that we perceive difficulties based on our own experiences, limits, feelings and psychological reactions. With these variables in mind, Club Alpino Italiano developed a trail rating system to indicate the relative difficulty of hiking routes. This scale takes into account three fundamental objective parameters: vertical drop, planimetric distance and trail markings.

T = Turistico (Tourist – easier)

T routes are found on roads, mule paths or easy trails. These paths are generally fairly short in distance and well marked. The elevation gain is less than 500m (approx. 1600 ft). These routes do not require hiking experience or physical training.

E = Escursionistico (Hiker – intermediate)

E routes are almost always comprised of footpaths or unpaved trails and may include sections of varied terrain (pastures, dirt, rocks, scree) and are usually indicated with trail markers. To safely enjoy E rated trails, you should have a good sense of orientation, as well as some hiking experience and knowledge of mountainous territory. E rated trails require appropriate footwear, clothing and equipment. The elevation gain generally ranges from 500m to 1000m (approx. 1600 to 3300 ft).

EE = Escursionisti Esperti (Expert hikers)

EE routes are not always marked and require a strong ability to move about in various types of mountain terrain. These routes can be trails or more subtle paths that cross over difficult and steep terrain. Slippery scree and small sections of snow and ice, which can be crossed with the use of mountaineering equipment, may be encountered. EE trails are for experienced hikers with sure footing, in strong physical condition and with a good sense of direction. Venturing out on an EE trail requires proper footwear, clothing and equipment. The elevation gain is usually more than 1000m ( approx. 3300 ft).

EEA = Escursionisti Esperti con Attrezzatura alpinistica (Expert hikers with climbing equipment)

These routes require the use of climbing equipment (ropes, harness, helmet, etc.). EEA routes can include traditional climbing routes, vie ferrate or trails with cables and ladders.  Hikers exploring EEA routes need to have alpine terrain experience. They must also understand how to use technical climbing equipment safely and be comfortable with exposure.

EEAG = Escursionisti Esperti Attrezzati Ghiaccio (Expert Hikers with glacier climbing equipment)

The EEAG rating is similar to EEA, but includes the ability to use glacier equipment safely (crampons, ice axe, ropes, etc.).

hikingboot

image credits:

CAI

trekking poles

Converting to the Cult of Trekking Poles

trek leki

Trekking Poles- Not Just for Germans

Well maybe not a cult, but I had viewed the use of trekking poles as something other people did. I admit I thought it was wimpy to use poles when I hiked. Or maybe it was just for Germans who liked to wear high waisted pants and socks with sandals (which I might add in my crunchy fashion period I also modeled the stylish Tevas and socks look)  in my life, and never with the disdain I had for trekking poles. Or maybe it was ok for old people, especially old alpiney people, who walked with a smoothed but gnarled wooden stick, someone who  probably knows how to milk cows and goats and yodel, then I had no issue.

My opposition was likely not logical, I used them for skiing and snowshoeing and so why not for hiking? In Colorado( well at least ten years ago) they were not so common. Then I moved to Italy where there were much more frequent sitings on the trails ( and not just by the Germans or yodeling shepherds). Some use just one and some used two and I had already been using them for snowshoeing so the initiation was more subtle.

Your mountain ruggedness on display for the world to see

I deliberated but I was warming up to the idea. First, if not actually using your trekking poles, you can attach them to the outside of your zaino ( backpack) This has the added benefit of enhancing any mountainy style you want to exude.  Think of all the admiration you will garner with  poles strapped to  on the outside of your backpack, indicating that you are  likely carrying something importantly rugged.

Outdoor gear design is pleasing, why relegate it to the garage? Outdoor stores are beautiful with their displays, why must we buy these things and at least not admire them when not in use? Plus there is something satisfying about having mountain gear in my city apartment. Let’s not underestimate the decorative value of hiking poles. Not to mention anything telescopic is cool. However, I like to research and thought I should perform my due diligence for such equipment. I didn’t want them to annoyingly collapse as I was walking, possibly doing more harm than good. But still, I kept thinking about using trekking poles on the trail.

cen_rifugiozamboni_g-1

The Conversion

Last summer I was in Macugnaga for a couple of days. The town is a picture-perfect Italian alpine village at the base of Monte Rosa, where chickens and cows roam free. There is a nice hike up  to the Rifugio Zamboni. ( No connection, as far as I know, to the  American who invented the ice resurfacing machine but it is located at the base of a glacier, so there is at least that icy connection). The rifugio  offers places to sleep along with  food and is located a couple of hours hike up from the town, the poles could come in handy ( no pun intended).

While I hadn’t yet performed my normal full-on research for gear, I thought that maybe I should go ahead and pick up a pair anyway, so I went to one of the local shops with a nice display of poles and spent 20 minutes chatting with a short and twinkly-eyed mountain guide who appeared to have quite a bit of experience. When not guiding people he ran his shop. He explained the benefits (especially for older knees, of which his were and mine were becoming) and laughed as at one point he too eschewed the use of them but now was a loyal convert. Why wouldn’t you use them? He assuaged my concerns of collapsing telescoping poles with the patented closure that was easy to use and kept the height where  I wanted.  the added feature was an extended grip, nice, he assured me if sweaty hands had to grab a bit lower.

The trekking pole evangelist

I didn’t spend a fortune on them the Gipron- Italian patented system closures, (read the product review here) about 50  euro, ( you can spend hundreds) but neither were they the 10 euro cheapies.   After the first hikes, I was immediately a convert. I found they actually came in handy (pun intended) even on non-snowy walks, easing some of the aches and pains  that seemed more present in my knees and ankles, plus can help with balance . Like any new convert I had become an evangelist and wondered about the years I had wasted without these poles in my life.  Plus they were useful for things like pushing branches out of the way or beating wild boars, the latter of which I haven’t yet encountered and maybe they wouldn’t stop the boar but then again better than nothing. I now can’t hike without them.

Like a new cult member, I perhaps have gone overboard in trying to have my pole-less friends see the light They remain unconvinced, but in time they too may start reaping the benefits of trekking poles.

 

Image credit: 

http://outdoorchics.com/7-things-you-need-to-know-this-national-walking-month/

Leki- Trek Together

rifugiozamboni.com

 

 

 

Facing My Fear of Heights – Indoors

It felt like this:

f3f60f23e346f8d6251cb8cf0cbe4498

But in reality it was this:

mission-cliffs-climbing wall crop

A  much milder wall with colored plastic rocks that looked like friendly Fisher Price toys. Still despite the friendly child-like colors, the Milan’s Rockspot indoor climbing gym’s wall felt more like the first image.  Indoor climbing has become a sport of increasing popularity thanks to climbing gyms, and I thought why not give it a try, maybe tone up the arms and overcome, or at least feel more comfortable with a fear of heights. Many friends have enjoyed the sport but I never really thought too much about it. I liked my feet on the ground and foot- ground relationship is one I have actively nurtured through the years, so why now should I want to through a wrench into the happy pairing of my feet and ground?

Since I  like to spend time in the mountains and now the closest ones happen to be the Italian Alps, I have found myself more on the edges of things. Having lived smack in the center of the mountains for many years ( the aptly named Summit County no less, I had somehow managed to steer clear of the edges of things, but in Italy the trails seem to favor edges, so maybe I needed to find a better way than sweaty palms and increased heart rates to deal with them.

I used to get sweaty palms driving over mountain passes, once when driving over Loveland Pass in Colorado, the center stripes on the swithcbacky, high mountain pass had just been repainted and so cones were set in place down the middle of the road to prevent smearing of the lines. These cones, while protecting Colorado Department of Transportation’s artwork, also prevented me from driving more comfortably in the middle of the road, and  I was forced to remain in my proper lane,  too close to the edge for my comfort . This cliff hugging drive caused my palms to sweat and heart to pound and I had to take deep breaths to remain calm and talk myself through this harrowing drive. It was a clear day and the road was dry but it was one of the many instances when I was acutely aware of not having enough space around me even though  I was in a car not trying to balance while walking across some narrow rocky narrow edge.

It’s not that I entirely avoided high spots, I have spent lots of time on chairlifts, but I preferred to lean back while on them, never one to adjust my ski boots unless the safety bar was firmly in place. So what exactly was I doing now with a group of people who seemed to be half my age in the arrampicata aperitivo? (rock climbing happy hour). FYI the happy hour took place after the climbing, a dangling carrot of a reward for dangling off ropes far above the gym floor. Though my friend who joined me (and was also sharing in the non ground contacting nervousness) proposed that a dose of liquid courage could have also been useful before the class.

The Italians are good at making things social and they also seem to enjoy taking classes, so it makes sense that they would combine the Milanese tradition of aperitivo (a happy hour with food and drink) with a class.

I have always been fascinated by stories of climbing and do a fair amount of hiking and other mountainy things, but hiking with an occasional rock scramble is different from using ropes and harnesses. (this is of course for climbing and not a 50 Shades of Gray reference).

The first part of the class allowed us to do some bouldering, no ropes on a relatively low wall , working our way across rather than up the lowest level of this wall, getting used to the shoes which scrunched your toes into a stronger curled position and learning about the basics of how to stand and move, trying to maintain a stable triangular position with two legs and an arm.

Leaving the ground behind

After a bit of time on the bouldering wall with cushy crash matts below it was time to leave the ground. The instructor explained the use of the harness and the safety of the the ropes, assuring us we would not fall. He, dressed in baggy jeans and a sweatshirt had to fix another rope for our grouped and gracefully sprung his way up the wall, Fred Astaire like but moving vertically with carabiners and rope. A group of kids seemed to be running up the wall, not nearly as light on their feet but still sprinting vertically to the top with no hesitation or seeming effect of gravity on the body or mind. These types of moves were not to be mine on that evening.

With ropes fixed, our group of newbies were up. My friend and belay partner took her turn and now it was mine. Feeling pretty good post bouldering, I was giving myself an internal pep talk that I could do this. No lightness or speed accompanied my first ascent. Just deliberation, telling myself to ignore the pain in my toe that the climbing shoes were pinching as my toe was an essential if minimal contact point ( recall I liked my feet to touch things) . But hey, I was moving, I was balancing. I was stretching. I was climbing. Then I looked down. The ground by now seemed quite far (though I was only slightly more than halfway up the wall) I looked for my partner, who seemed to be watching everyone but me. (no doubt they were more appealing to watch, but I did need some slack in the line as I decided it might be time to go down. Going down requires notifying your  belayer so that the tension on the rope can be released to let you descend.  However my request didn’t catch  her attention. So I called her name, and still no response. I  switched from Italian to English and called out again my desire to be closer to the floor.  All the while perched on two tiny pieces of plastic well above the ground. Eventually my partner heard the now more urgent calls of of requesting to come down and they she asked what to do , she  asked if she should let the “rope go”? My response was a quite emphatic no, as I visualized the cord rapidly snaking away and until finally sipping up through the pulley that was my backup should the arms and legs give out.  Telling her to find the instructor to guide her and me to the ground resolved the issue and I started to move down. Still, I was no Cirque du Soleil performer and clunkily bounced off the wall until touch down.

We worked out the distraction issues and tried again. This time on a different route. I figured I should make it up a bit higher this time . Most of my fellow newbies were reaching the top of the wall but I felt quite studly at  3/4  point when I made the mistake again of looking down.  Going up was not a breeze but it was not too difficult either, physically. The hardest part was being up high. There is a reward in looking down , in seeing how far I came, but the reward for me was short lived, as once I looked  to see my progress my  lofty ambition was replaced with affection for the ground.  The return to earth was  slightly less clunky but elegance seems to be a long way off.

Come for the drinks, stay for the climb

The instructor was patient and encouraging and the group friendly, We now had reached the aperitivo portion of the evening and enjoyed a well deserved beer and surprisingly tasty food.(Yes, I know, Italy has good food, so not sure why I was surprised, I guess just not expecting nice prosciutto at a gym.) My friend made a comment which stuck with me “there was no chance to think of anything else” It was true. For me and for many others ( though I suspect more so for those who are not friends with height) it was an activity that immediately and completely was all absorbing. Thinking about where to put arms and legs and how to move. I think there is something to do with a looming  fear is a big aid in helping you to remain in the the moment. In the end it was quite a rewarding experience and I have signed up for more, hoping that I will be able to look down without wanting to come down.

Image credits:

http://www.patagonia.com/us/ambassadors/rock-climbing/kate-rutherford/73355

www.pinterest.com/mountainworld/mountaineering-outdoor-sports/

Mission Cliffs

Noun Project- Jeremie Sommet