The Ornella valley

Today’s plan is to head into a neighbouring valley to Arabba called the Ornella.

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You can enter this valley from above by using the lifts from Arabba and then skiing from the top of  Passo Padon (2369m) where there is an off-piste entry to the upper valley.  This top section has previously been closed for avalanche risk, but we skied it yesterday with Jane and apart from a couple of little “gentle kisses” from the rocks it was skiable….well for any Aussie, Kiwi or Scottish skier….no European or north American would even look at it!!

It’s been ten days since the last significant snow fall and the temperatures have been very mild, so we decided to take a conservative approach and skin up a wide access track through the forest from the bottom of the Ornella valley and pull out if we think the snowpack is too thin.

The tour route has two large bowls separated by a 20m cliff band through which there is a steep narrow pass.   We know that the upper bowl is skiable but we don’t want to ski down and then have to boot pack back up the steep pass between the bowls if the snow in the lower bowl is too thin.

It’s a glorious day, we’ve packed a picnic lunch and we are looking forward to exploring more new territory.   We parked our car at 1450m in the little farming village and then donned our skins and headed up the valley.  The route is essentially a farm-bike track, not a walking trail so it was much wider and less steep than our previous walk in the woods.

On our way to Ornella Valley
On our way to Ornella Valley

It took us a couple of hours to wind our way up through the forest to the lower bowl and we were surprised to see how bare and open it was. Our guidebook had described it as “sparsely forested” but not the completely open space we were seeing.   When we looked more closely, we saw that a very large avalanche had obviously been through about 75% of the bowl.  There were stunted and damaged trees leaning precariously downhill and many full trees lay on the ground with some only barely covered in snow.  Hmm…not so promising for a safe ski down.  We ventured about half way into the bowl and realised that alas, the snow was not deep enough for skiing down without the risk of hitting an unseen fallen tree or worse getting a ski caught under one of them – that’s broken leg territory!!   Given the discrepancy between the guide book description and the conditions we were seeing today, we suspect the avalanche must have happened fairly recently, most probably in the winter 2015/16 when Arabba had 8m of snow and huge problems with avalanches.

Looking up our route
Looking up our route

Oh well!  Question answered.  We found a great picnic spot and basked in the warm afternoon sunshine, enjoying the stunning views back down the valley before heading down our tracks for a nice cup of coffee in the village.

We’ve been debating whether we should have organised a guide, but the fact remains, there really just isn’t enough snow off-piste anywhere we’ve been – even up on the highest peaks at 3000+m.    There is still no base.  If by some miracle, we get another 50cm on top of what is now still left on the north facing slopes, I think we will definitely shell out the dosh and get a local guide.  But until then, we will have to be content with long walks on our skis without worrying too much about a ski down.   We now count ourselves as experts at using skins to ski down steep goat tracks in a semi-controlled manner – always a useful desperado skill to practice!

Tomorrow a new planet in the Dolomiti Universe – Obereggen here we come!

 

 

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