woensdag 20 maart 2013

Sella Cabin Tours

As I already mentioned in an earlier blogpost (Wanderlust), I went to Italy for three weeks in February/March for the Sella cabin tours. My boyfriend's dad has been organizing these tours for about 6 years now, every year expanding a little bit (more tours, more customers). He has started this little business out of enthusiasm for the beautiful Dolomites (which probably are, I must confess, the most stunning mountains I've seen so far, so completely different from the Alps for example!), and the conviction he could organize a better and prettier tour than the already existing ones. The name 'Sella' comes from the Sella group, a plateau shaped massif in the Dolomites. It's quite a remarkable group of mountains! The route of the cabin tour makes a complete circle around this massif (which means that on a lot of spots in the tour you're able to see the Sella group).

The tour starts in Rifugio Fermeda, on about 2000 meters high. In Italy the cabins are called Rifugios (you can recognize a bit of the English word 'refuge' in it). The ones used in the cabin tour have room for about 20 to 70 guests (imagine bedrooms for 4 to 12 people). There's most often a bar (with lots of grappa, a kind of Italian liquor that is available in many flavours) and a dining room. Nothing very luxurious, but a lot of wood, checkered curtains, framed pictures, dead animal heads on the wall (which I secretly like a lot, shoot me for it!) and other curiosa. Shortly said: coziness at it's best :)

At night a three course meal is served in the rifugios, and you just can't imagine what delicious things people can cook in such remote cabins. You have to realize that most rifugios lie on or next to skiing slopes. After five in the afternoon those area's become quickly desolated, because the skilifts are turned off and most tourists return back to their homes and hotels in the valley. In winter, the only way to reach those rifugio's is by ski (downhill, of course), with the skilift or on the snowscooter. This makes the incredible taste of the served pizza's, pasta's and meat dishes extra amazing, doesn't it?

After some drinking, chatting and card game playing it's time for a good rest. This might recquire earplugs, especially when you sleep in a room with some big men. I've heard the most harmonious choires of snoring in those weeks, heheh (and believe me, women can snore tóó!)! You can imagine a lack of privacy in these weeks, but for most guests this isn't a problem, and it's only for a week of course (every tour lasts one week). I was a bit lucky though, in a lot of huts there's a smaller (2 person) room for the tour guides, and most times my boyfriend's dad let Mark and me have that room (thank you Gerrit!). I appreciated that a lot, it meant a bit more rest after all, and I had to keep u for more than 1 week!

Every morning we habe breakfast at 8 o'clock. After some bread, eggs and strong Italian coffee it's time to say goodbye to the cabin staff, fasten the backpacks and hit the slopes, on to the next rifugio. If you're fast enough, you can be the first one on the slope, making a brand new track in the freshly prepared (or even better, freshly fallen!) snow...nothing can beat that feeling! Oh and about those backpacks: many customers worry a lot about them beforehand, but that's absolutely needless. You get used to skiing with one very quickly, and you surely won't need more in one week than what you can fit into it: underwear, pyjama's, toilet acessories and maybe a book (or balls of yarn to knit, like me :)). Only in the lifts they can be a bit impractical, but that doesnt't weigh down the feeling of adventure and self-sufficiency they will probide. And don't forget the freedom that living out a backpack will give you...at least that's how I experience it :)

On the way to the next rifugio we stop about 2 times: late in the morning for a fresh supply of coffee, and early afternoon for lunch (read: pasta!). During the years Gerrit figured out the best routes, where the lifts are the least crowded, the slopes are most challenging and the sceneries are most breathtaking. For example we go through Serai de Sottogudda, a beautiful fissure with many frozen waterfalls, where ice-climbers try to ascend. We ski down the Marmolada (3342 m), the so-called 'Queen of the Dolomites'. We go to Cortina d'Ampezzo, an area of decayed glory, where the Olympic Wintergames took place in 1956. A lot of facilities in this region still hail from that time! The last day we sleep on mount Lagazuoi, where soldiers have fought in World War I. There are still mines remaining from this time, which you can actually go in to. On this same day we take the so called horse-taxi: a sledge with two horses that can drag about 20 people, hanging on two long ropes behind the sledge. The path is too flat here to ski downhill, so the horses bring you to the next skilift!

So... I took the tour three times (while there were six in total this year, I participated in the last three ones). When I arrived in the Dolomites it was, of course, beyond delightful to finally see Mark and be together again, I díd miss him in the three weeks before (forgive me if I sound cheesy now ;)). I was a bit nervous though...last year I took the tour for the first time (actually, it's where Mark and I met :P), all alone. It was a wonderful, but also very intense week. Now I would be doing thréé weeks, also being a bit of a 'helping guide'. How would I keep up, physically, but also emotionally? Looking back now, I can say it went wonderfully well. I'm actually a little bit proud of myself! Physically it was no problem at all (also thanks to the good nights of rest), I noticed coming into the new 'flow' (snowboarding, eating, relaxing and sleeping) quite soon. Somehow your body adapts to the new situation, although you might suffer from the heights a bit in the beginning (less oxygen).

Emotionally it was different from last year as well... I did not try to get the most out of one week, regarding my involvement with the guests. I related on a certain level, having fun together and chitchat, but not going too deeply. Mark helps me with this (although he probably doesn't realize it), he's a good example in how to set boundaries. He has to, how else would you be able to survive six of such weeks?! Speaking for myself, I'm not that good with boundaries regarding relationships, often getting involved too much...resulting in exhaustion. So these three weeks were a good opportunity for me to practice! Some days went better than others, but overall I can say I might have grown a bit. I tried to take a bit of time for myself every now and then (I might be used to being alone a bit more than the average person), like reading (Game of Thrones book 1!) in my bedroom, proceeding on my knitted socks, playing with the rifugio pets, or just sitting alongside the others, enjoying my 'birra piccola' (small beer) and listening to their conversations. This way I was able the next day to hit the slopes like a crazy girl, play in the snow, have fun with the guests and help where I could, as the 'guide-in-training' :)

And oh my, did we have fun! The most special days for me were in the second week, when a lot of fresh snow fell. I've never snowboarded in such deep 'tiefschnee', it's a feeling that can't be compared with anything else! Almost like you're on a sailing boat, sailing over big waves with your board, while the soft, loose snow sprays high behind you. I fell often (and believe me, trying to get up with both feet attached in hip-high snow is nót easy, sometimes Mark literally had to drag me out :P), sometimes even somersaulting. I had snow éverywhere, even in my underpants. But I enjoyed it so freaking much...once you have experienced this kind of snowboarding, you don't want anything else anymore! I must learn how to do proper off-piste boarding (including the necessary safety rules and equipment of course, I know the mountains are dangerous, and real off-piste skiing/snowboarding is not the same as making fresh tracks beside or near the normal slopes), maybe take a course, some lessons or a good guide one day? It's added to the bucket list!

At one moment the snowfall became so heavy, it was impossible to reach the next hut. So the cabin-owner had to pick us up with his snow-mobile, only able to transport half of the group. The other half of the group (where I was in as well) went down the abandoned slopes under the supervision of the 'Polizia', to a small bar lower on the mountain, for some hot jagertee. Later we were picked up as well by the snow-mobile (suitable for 6 persons at the most, but 11 people fit as well :P). The 2 Polizia guys, still on their ski's, hang onto the vehicle to be taxied up the slope for a couple of hundred meters. Even though nobody could see more than five meters ahead, we all had so much fun, it was crazy! Though I must say...those Italian jagertees are a bit dangerous...

When the weather was a bit better, Mark and I decided to go down the Sass Pordoi. This is a mountaintop in the Sella group that can be reached by by a skilift, but where no slopes go down (the lift is mostly meant for tourists who want to go up the Sella group and enjoy the view). There are some possible routes down though, and since we heard it was do-able, we wanted to give it a shot. 4 More men (including Mark's dad, bravo!) decided to come with us. Stepping out of the lift cabin, there were some doubts...but finally we took off. In the beginning there were some super high bumps and cliffs that scared me a bit, further down things became better. What an amazing descent! I actually found an online video clip that was taken during an almost similar descent (only the last part of the route seems different): http://vimeo.com/11655843. It was a shame that there was no fresh snow that week, resulting in hard, bumpy and crumbling snow. I'd love to do this route again in tiefschnee! (But, like I already mentioned...I'd do any route in fresh tiefschnee if I had the chance ;)).

Every week there were about 20 participants. Sometimes people come alone, often there are some couples or family-members. Groups of friends are also possible, and in the last week we even had a group of 9 sisters (partly in law)! Man, those ladies were something. You cannot believe what kept coming out of their small backpacks: candles, cheese, wigs(!), bottles of Amaretto...seriously! They stood on the table already their first evening (leaving the other guests a bit flabbergasted). I love how all customers are so completely differently, yet come with one goal: to have a week of great fun. We had an architect, a police officer, a brewer, a lawyer, nurses, a music therapist, construction workers, etc. All with a shared love for the mountains and skiing! By the way, when talking about nice and friendly people...I should not forget the cabin crews. All the rifugio employees are incredibly kind and welcoming, I was recognized (and remembered by name) after just one week! Of course, it's business for them...but still they go that extra mile for you, to make your stay as pleasant as possible. They deserve big hugs!

Well... here's some information for who's interested (Dutch and Belgian people): www.huttentocht.com, and on Facebook.
The rest of the photoseries used in this post can be found on my own Facebook.

You can already sign up for next year, if you like! I think a cabin tour is a good way to see more of the area, instead of staying at one place for the whole week. The Dolomites are definitely worth visiting, it has countless breathtaking views to offer, and well...the mountains are always a good idea :) I hope to go there in summer one day, I'm curious to find out how different the surroundings will look without snow! Did you know that the Dolomites are called after the rock they consist of? Yup, 'dolomite', a name that is on it's turn derived from Déodat de Dolomieu (a French geologist), who described the Dolomite rocks. A phenomenon for which the Dolomites are known worldwide is the alpine glow, also called 'enrosadira'. This glow begins at dusk, when the red gleams of the setting sun are reflected. During dusk and dawn, the colors of the mountains change literally from minute to minute, it's almost too much beauty to take in at once! I feel small, humble and só blessed during these sunsets....

2 opmerkingen:

  1. Lisette, I loved reading about your time in the Dolomites, you bring these places to life, you really do. Have you ever thought of making a career out of travel writing, or did I read previously that you had given that some thought. You certainly have a flair for it! Lonely Planet, eat your heart out!
    It was great to see you again...keep up the travelling and have loads of fun my friend!
    Big hugs, Sharon in Spain xx

  2. Sharon! You make me blush! Thank you so much for your heartwarming comment... I always wonder if people actually read those posts, and it's beyond encouraging to receive such a supportive reaction. I wísh I could make travel writing my work, that would be a dream job, heheh! But who would't...
    Still, thanks a lot and big hugs back to you!

    Ps. I can already tell you we will probably head to Spain in August...


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