Thursday, April 29, 2010

Off-roading in the Alps

Italy is capturing increasing amounts of my free thought time. This will be my first time travelling to mainland Europe. I visited Scotland briefly once. Brett has been to Italy before. We still opted to sign up with a tour group, Thomson Tours, to handle the logistic side of things. I tend to plan my trips to the Nth degree, and planning a first time international trip seemed a bit overwhelming.  I'm already thinking about how once I learn the lay of the land over there, I will plan an independent mountain biking trip. I've since learned that are some pretty good weekly package deals in the Dolomites and endless miles of singletrail to ride over there. The dollar is coming back against the Euro too.

I tentatively plan to venture off by myself one of our eight days in the Dolomites. This will be our second to last day there. What I forfeit is the climb up Mortirolo and seeing the Giro come through. It's not a big mileage day, and I suspect most of the day will be spent socializing near the top. We have three other days to watch the tour, including the last mountain stage on our last day of the trip. We will in fact ride much of this stage, which starts in the village of Bormio where we will be staying, and goes over Passo Gavia.

So what do I have planned for my solo off-road epic? I know what I'd like to do. I probably won't be able to. There's still about 3m of snow at 3000m. We'll see though. It hasn't snowed in this region in nearly three weeks (yeah, I check the webcams every morning over a bowl of Cheerios). I've manged to find three loops of varying length and altitude that I can ride right from our hotel in Bormio. Rental bikes are available.

The green loop crests 2300m and links Bormio with Livigno, another ski town nearby. It goes about 53km when ridden from Bormio in lower right corner. The yellow loop goes slightly higher and covers about 48km.  The loop I'd really like to do is the red one. This crests 2700m and goes about 90km. Both the yellow and red loops cross over into Switzerland, thus they are "multinational rides." In the upper right corner, the red loop crosses back over into Italy right next to Passo Stelvio. Want to know what that looks like right now?

Passo Stelvio at 2758m on Wednesday

Yep, the whole first story of that building is under snow. It is interesting to note that on this day, some kind of motorized tracks showed up at the pass. There hasn't even been as much as a snow machine track up here in a month. I'm told they come through here with heavy equipment towards the end of May to dig it out.

So how do you think this bids for an off-road excursion at the same altitude? Not good I'd say, unless I was up for a few miles of post-holing. I've done it before in Alaska. Not fun, but rewarding none the less if you can get to places you might never see again in your life.

Passo Stelvio is the number one climb I want to hit in Europe, ahead of Ventoux and Alpe d'Huez and others. It is the highest motorable road in Europe. It also has around 50 switchbacks down one side, stacked one above the other. Hope the road is cleared for our trip.

About a vertical mile below at around 1200m elevation, things are looking much nicer in Bormio. The grass has turned green. The snowline continues to recede up the slopes.

Bormio at 1200m on Wednesday

How can you look at this and not get excited? The valley that disappears into the distance leads to Passo Gavia. The road to Passo Stelvio goes to the left of this image.  My desired route would go well above snow line right now.  I wouldn't come over the peaks though.  If it continues to stay warm, I might get lucky. Lots to look forward to.


Anonymous said...

Years back I spent 2 weeks driving up and down Passo Stelvio to ski on the glacier above the pass...yep, groomed xc skiing in July. The road is absolutely incredible and should be something special to ride up, I've ridden Mt Evans and it pales in comparison to Stelvio, enjoy the ride!

Anonymous said...

Doug: Your trip looks awesome. I'm headed over to ride telegraphe/ galibier, alpe d'huez, mt ventoux and some other stuff in mid-june (taking my family over and managed to orchestrate the climbs around a few dawn patrol sessions...) Patrick

Mookie said...

Doug, Are you going to be anywhere near Plan de Corones? That climb looks ridiculous. There were rumors that Contador used a compact on the Giro stage that time trialed it a couple years back.

Hill Junkie said...

Plan de Corones is one of our live viewing days of the Giro. Strangely, it is not listed as one of the climbs we do, but I have to assume we will ride up it. It is stage 16 of the Giro, a TT up the beast. Average grade is only 8.5% though. It's that last km at 24% that is killer. Looks like that road might be open already.