Canale Staunies Nord, Cristallo, Italy

The Dolomites have some famous ski resorts. Most of them are fancy ski towns, Alta Badia and Cortina d’Ampezzo to name a few. Besides offering a famous ski tour on the slopes, the Sella Ronda, the Dolomites offer many possibilities for backcountry skiing, especially couloirs. The tiny resort of Cristallo, part of Cortina d’Ampezzo, has great access to a number of couloirs. March 28, 2014 I skied canale Staunies Nord, a steep descent with 1500 meters vertical!

To have good access to Cristallo at acceptable rates, I decided to stay in Dobbiaco. This quiet town with a nice hostel proves to be a better alternative to the more expensive Cortina d’Ampezzo if you’d ask me. I planned to take the early morning bus but suddenly I received a message from Armin, the guy I had skied canale Holzer with a few days before. He was keen to have a look in the Staunies as well and picked me up the next morning. Approximately one hour later we arrived at the quiet and beautiful resort of Cristallo for our adventure…

the Staunies chairlift at Cristallo offers great access to multiple steep couloirs

the Staunies chairlift at Cristallo offers great access to multiple steep couloirs

Once we had arrived at the top, we noticed this was freeriding only. A couple was looking for a marked run but found themselves in the chairlift back down pretty soon. We were here to ski canale Staunies Nord though. The couloir starts at 2925 meters after a five minute hike from the chairlift. It has an impressive vertical of 1500 meters and is rated as a 5.1 with an exposure of E2 with an upper section of 45° with parts of up to 50°. The North facing aspect usually ensures decent snow. The entrance is just behind the top station of the chairlift where one has to cross a fence…

We expected an easy entrance by going underneath the fence or going around the fence as we had seen in many movies. However, this season the Dolomites received so much snow, a big cornice had formed on top of the fence making an entrance there simply impossible. We had to enter the Staunies on the other side, a more tricky affair…

"Being in the ping pong ball", Oh, it's pretty steep and conditions are not optimal, but I really want to ski this line. What to do?

“Being in the ping pong ball”, Oh, it’s pretty steep and conditions are not optimal, but I really want to ski this line. What to do?

One by one we had a good look into the couloir and concluded that the skiing lower down looked doable but we were not too sure about the entrance. A couple of meters had to be side stepped on a very steep and hardpacked slope. Also, previous traffic had created some sort of tracks but of course with shorter skis than ours. We were in the ping pong ball as they say. After wandering around for at least 30 minutes and discussing what to do, finally the ski patrol helped us out. He offered us a rope which he attached to the fence so we could cross the sketchy couple of meters with more security. This was all we needed to be confident enough to give it a go…

Armin offered to go first which, for some reason, I didn’t mind. I quickly followed and a couple minutes after the start we found ourselves in the couloir. There was no way back. The snow quality at the top wasn’t great. Pretty hardpacked conditions but at least we had enough grip to make some turns. Not much later Armin looked unhappy. He found icy conditions in the first narrow part of the couloir. This was very disappointing and we needed full focus to pass this without falling. Luckily we both made it and once the couloir opened up a little bit the snow conditions improved significantly. We still had a long way to go…

in the middle of canale Staunies Nord...

in the middle of canale Staunies Nord…

After a short break to calm down, time had come to enjoy the remainder of the descent. Armin and I were the only ones in the Staunies which was a great feeling. Surrounded by big rocks we made our turns. After a very long section of roughly 40 degrees (see photo above), the couloir made a turn to the right. The fun was far from over as the run continued for several hundred meters until it finally reached an open valley. The snow was pretty consistent and still pretty soft. At the bottom of the couloir we met two other skiers who came down a different way. We skied towards the end of the valley, through the forest and finally ended up at the road. Normally, we had to wait for the bus to bring us back to Cortina d’Ampezzo from where we had to take a couple of lifts to eventually get back to Cristallo. However, the two guys we met at the bottom of the couloir had a van waiting at the road and gave us a ride. We literally had to wait for only a handful of seconds. About 30 minutes later Armin and I were enjoying a well-deserved lunch at the bottom of Cristallo!

you'll find yourself in an impressive setting when skiing canale Staunies Nord...

you’ll find yourself in an impressive setting when skiing canale Staunies Nord…

If you like to attempt a steep descent on skis or snowboard, I can recommend canale Staunies Nord. It must be an absolutely fantastic run with a layer of fresh snow. If snow has fallen and avalanche conditions seems to be ok, go there straight away and don’t waste any time. Since the run is more or less lift accessed, the tracks will be there soon. Take a rope for the entrance just in case. Better be safe than sorry!

Be aware that the Staunies chairlift takes you to a backcountry area. No patrolled pistes lead back down. However, if canale Staunies Nord looks too sketchy you can always take the Creste Bianchi, an easier route, skier’s left.

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