Sella Ronda: Italy’s Secret Stash
Photo: Courtesy Hotel Rosa Alpina
A mountain is a hard thing to keep secret. Imagine, then, how hard it must have been to keep four gorgeous mountain passes, four breathtaking valleys, and 320 eminently skiable miles of linked pistes and runs under one’s hat. And yet, Sella Ronda — a giant wheel of a ski area with valleys radiating off the central ring of lifts and runs — has been flying under the radar for several decades.
It is, in fact, one of the world’s largest ski areas, though if you asked the tourist offices in the region just how big it is — once you added all those valleys together — they would pretend not to understand the question. Instead, they would repeat, parrotlike, the obvious: The Sella Ronda is a 15-mile circuit of lifts and runs encircling the massive pink-precipiced Sella massif, and it can begin at any of the dozen or so resorts on the route and be skied, clockwise or counterclockwise, in half a day by an intermediate skier.
Accurate, yes; good marketing, no. Only in the past few years have the powers that be decided to officially add up the total skiable of each of those valleys — namely, Alta Badia, Arabba, Val di Fassa, and Val Gardena — to work out that huge, publicity-friendly number.
There are competing stories as to why it took Sella Ronda so long to put itself on the map. Some say the delay was due to local politics — the area crosses several regional boundaries — while others maintain it was to avoid confusing people, as Sella Ronda lies within the even larger Dolomiti Superski pass area. (The beauty of that pass is it allows skiers to tackle some 750 miles in separate but neighboring valleys on one hands-free ticket, meaning you can ski the whole Sella Ronda without needing to change or even show your lift pass). There also may have been concerns that people might challenge the credibility of Sella Ronda as a ski area, given that the links relied on aged drag lifts — an argument that became moot once fast chair lifts and gondolas took over the slopes.
But all intrigue aside, what makes the Sella Ronda so special isn’t its convoluted history or even its nigh-inconceivable size. It’s the sheer sense of discovery, ski touring by lifts on an awe-inspiring journey from one picturesque Italian village to the next. It’s the jaw-dropping sight of the massive pink-granite cliffs that dominate the landscape, their rosy glow downright luminous at the rising and setting of the sun. It’s the mouthwatering cuisine served up in mountainside restaurants and the luxurious welcome offered in local hotels.
First and foremost, there’s the skiing. The Sella Ronda circuit is composed largely of long, fast, intermediate-level cruisers, augmented by valleys offering challenges such as the World Cup race courses at Selva and Corvara. But it’s what lies above that is most amazing. The Sella massif around which the route runs is made up of gorgeous but unskiable precipices thousands of feet high — except for a massive north-south fault in the rock face that opens up into the narrow valley of Mezdi. From the top it’s a 3,500-vertical-foot descent along the two-mile route to its terminus in Colfosco. A guide is a must, and the best time to tackle it is around noon, when the sun backlights the fantastic view below.
Sella Ronda is no slouch in the luxe digs department, either. Though largely unknown to celeb-spotters, the area attracts its share of A-listers, quietly hiding behind their goggles. Mssrs. Cruise and Clooney have been known to stay at the Hotel & Spa Rosa Alpina (+39 0471 849500) in the Alta Badia valley, where chef Norbert Niederkofler of the double-Michelin-starred Restaurant St. Hubertus speaks to each guest as they choose their meal in order to ensure a totally personal presentation.
Alta Badia boasts two other Michelin-starred restaurants, endowing the small valley with gastronomic excellence well out of proportion to its size. Restaurant La Siriola (+39 0471 849445) offers what chef Claudio Melis describes as “unique, creative cuisine” as well as a wine list with 1,300 choices. La Stüa di Michil (+39 0471 831000), housed in a 17th-century barn with exposed beams and adorned with candles, has recently been upgraded to two stars on the strength of chef Arturo Spicocchi’s culinary talent.
Alta Badia has also been perking up its après scene. Trendy Rü23 at Hotel Bosco Verde (+39 0437 788757) specializes in tramezzini sandwiches — similar to tea sandwiches, but eaten with wine — and cocktails such as the namesake Rü23, a rum concoction incorporating a gherkin. The newly openedBoconara 1927 (+39 0471 836780), on the site of the valley’s first inn, is now making a name for itself with its house specialty, the Blue Bastard, made with prosecco, blue curaçao, and elderflower liqueur.
The secret of Sella Ronda, it would seem, is out. Given the area’s scenic majesty, fantastic skiing, and upscale accoutrements, it’s about time. Just don’t tell anyone we told you.
*The beauty of the Dolomiti Superski pass is that it allows skiers to tackle some 750 miles in separate but neighboring valleys on one hands-free ticket, meaning you can ski the whole Sella Ronda without needing to change or even show your lift pass.
*Hotel & Spa Rosa Alpina and Restaurant St. Hubertus, San Cassiano, Italy; +39 0471 849500; rosalpina.it
*Restaurant La Siriola (in Hotel Ciasa Salares), San Cassiano, Italy; +39 0471 849445; siriolagroup.it
*La Stüa di Michil (in Hotel La Perla), Corvara, Italy; +39 0471 831000; hotel-laperla.it
*Rü23, San Cassiano, +39 0437 788757; hotelboscoverde.it
The region spans an area roughly the size of Vail/Beaver Creek, with a Vail Pass between them and lifts all along the way.
There are ski trophies and stickers on the walls by the bar. Andrew Weibrecht, the US Olympic bronze medalist in Super-G in 2010, is feted… he should be, Andrew’s parents own the place.