After skiing in the backcountry more and more, I created a bucketlist of ski descents. Most of those runs are located in France, where the mountains surrounding la Grave and Chamonix have a lot to offer. However, a few runs are located in different parts of the world. One of the runs ranked very high on my bucketlist was canale Holzer in the Dolomites in Italy. It’s a true couloir with a serious gradient and therefore a great challenge!
The Holzer couloir is named after Heini Holzer who skied this line in 1972 for the first time. Heini Holzer was one of Europe’s greatest mountain climbers and extreme skiers. He opened up several routes and trails in the Dolomites and Central Alps. It is located at Sass Pordoi which can easily be reached by a cable car. Any other ascent is not required to ski “The Holzer”, only a short traverse. The descent is a 1100 meter vertical North facing run, rated as a 5.1 with an exposure of E2. It is arguably the ultimate classic steep skiing run in the Dolomites and is often referred to as the gateway to extreme skiing in this part of the world. It starts with a steep section of up to 50 degrees followed by a significant stretch of 45 degrees. The fact that the run is pretty narrow and surrounded by massive rock walls, makes the descent very special. There are not many, if there is one at all, comparable runs in the world. Depending on the amount of snow, one or two rappels are required. One at the bottom of the funnel and one in the middle. The one at the top is sometimes used to prevent slipping due to the hard conditions caused by the traffic. In the middle there is an ice covered rock. However, in good snow seasons one can jump this rock or one doesn’t have to jump at all as was the case when I skied it.
I arrived in the Dolomites on March 22, 2014 with the main purpose of skiing canale Holzer. The snowpack was very good but it hadn’t snowed in a while. Fortunately there was new snow in the forecast, so I waited a couple of days. After the snowfall, I let the snowpack settle down for a day and followed by a cold clear night, conditions were expected to be more than ok. In the morning of Tuesday March 25, after having skied a warm up run in Canale Joel (also a beautiful couloir with a 40° gradient for several hundred meters), I met Armin and Manuel, two Italian freeriders, at the bottom of the Pordoi cable car. We decided to ski the Holzer couloir together. The snow was soft and grippy. At the top there is a narrow section that required a bit more attention. Because of previous traffic the snow was quite hard. This is the spot at the bottom of the funnel, as mentioned earlier, where a rappel is sometimes used to prevent people from slipping. Once we passed this sections, the fun really started. A seemingly endless run surrounded by impressive rock walls awaited us. Even though the weather wasn’t great, visibility was good thanks to the contrast provided by the rocks. It’s an understatement to say we enjoyed every bit of it. After exiting the couloir a long open valley had to be skied all the way to the road from where a path led us back to the resort…
The run was so good, we skied it another time. Since staying at the bottom of the Pordoi cable car is a bit expensive, most people stay in other towns or drive up there for the day. I stayed in a town called la Villa Stern, a couple kilometers from Corvara. In order to get back to one of those towns, there are a couple of options. Hitchhiking is an option but is not particularly easy from Passo Pordoi since there is not much traffic. Another option is to use the lift system all the way back. It’s a bit time-consuming and you end up spending a lot of time skiing on the piste. If you have a Dolomiti skipass and you don’t feel like hiking, this is probably the best option. However, there is a third option which can be very interesting. You can ski from the Sass Pordoi plateau using single tickets to save money. At the end of the day you can go up one more time and hike or skin towards Val Mesdi, the ultimate classic offpiste run in the Dolomites. It’s not very steep but still rewarding. Because of its North facing aspect, you can normally enjoy good snow all the way to Corvara. That’s what we did!
In case you ever decide to visit the Dolomites for some steep skiing, make sure to have a look in the Holzer couloir. However, there are quite a few very nice couloirs accessible from Sass Pordoi. Descents like canale Joel, Sass da Forcia amongst many more are also right there waiting to be skied, but make sure you have the right knowledge and tools since a rappel is quite often required.
Here you can watch a video about skiing Canale Holzer, it mainly features Armin Pertoll showing some great style: