This article was first published on The Professional Mountaineer.
Trentino is a well renowned mountain region in the north-east of Italy, favourite holiday destination for many people due to its natural beauty, historic heritage and culinary tradition. First on the list of sights to see in the region is one of the most impressive natural environments found on the planet: the Dolomites. A UNESCO World Heritage site, and filled with mountaineering history, the Dolomites are a must place to visit for mountaineers and tourists alike. But in the heart of Trentino, a short drive away from the city of Trento and in the shadow of these world famous limestone giants, there’s a wilder and lesser known mountain range that will take your breath away. It’s called Lagorai and it’s a snowshoeing wonderland.
With its 70km, Lagorai is the longest mountain range in Trentino, and it separates Valsugana to the south from the more touristy Val di Fiemme to the north. The chain is mainly formed of porphyry rock and it boasts crystal clear mountain lakes and deep conifer forests, vertical rock walls and green pastures. It is also sadly famous for being the stage of many battles during World War I. Its southern flanks, rockier and steeper then the northern side, were in fact a natural barrier between the Austro-Hungarian and Italian soldiers during the war. It’s a relatively low mountain range, with the highest peak reaching only 2754m – nothing compared to other areas in the region. But Lagorai has something that makes it unique. The number of ski lifts in the area has remained low (only four in the whole range) and the only other human activities that have contributed to a change in the landscape are farming, with transhumance still a common practice, and logging. For this reason the landscape of Lagorai has remained relatively intact, making it one of the wildest mountain ranges in the whole of the Alps.
Last winter was a great one in terms of snowfall on the south side of the Alps. With ski resorts completely closed due to the pandemic and plenty of snow throughout the season, snowshoeing quickly became a favourite activity. As a non skier, and with nowhere else to go, I had to make the most of it. I had moved to the area not long before and hadn’t had the opportunity to explore it in winter yet, which meant I had a whole range of itineraries to choose from. Here’s some of the best.
Rifugio Sette Selle
On the far western side of the mountain range, just a short drive from Trento, is a beautiful unspoilt valley called Valle dei Mocheni or Bersntol. Mocheni are a language minority group who have lived in the valley for centuries and speak an old German dialect. The valley is not at all touristy, but it’s quite popular with the locals. The easy access and rolling terrain make it the perfect spot for some easy ski touring and snowshoeing trips. Starting from the carpark at the top of the valley, in the village of Palai en Bersntol, it’s possible to walk in a north-eastern direction to one of only four mountain huts present in the whole of the mountain range. The itinerary starts at 1453 metres and ends at Rifugio Sette Selle, just short of 2000 metres, making it an easy introduction to snowshoeing in this area. It takes you through beautiful conifer forests and past some “masi”, traditional mountain huts that were used by people to live, keep their animals and dry hay all in the same building. Some of them have now been renovated and are used as holiday homes or bed and breakfasts. The hut is located in a beautiful clearing just below some pretty impressive rock faces. A great place to stop and enjoy some hot chocolate or mulled wine while soaking in the winter sun.
Val Campelle is another breathtaking valley found on the south side of the Lagorai range. Here some signs of the Great War can still be found, including trenches and an old burial ground for Austro-Hungarian soldiers. It’s also the location of another one of the four huts of the range, Malga Conseria, that offers great food and warm drinks even in the winter months, although only at weekends. The hut can be reached in just over half an hour from the carpark at the top of the valley. From here it’s then possible to reach Passo Cinque Croci and, a couple of hundred meters higher, Cima Socede at 2174 metres. The views from the summit are breathtaking, extending 360° around the whole valley and beyond. It might not seem much at first, but this small summit has it all and it’s ideal for a quiet winter day out.
Moving away from the few huts of the range there’s a whole lot of opportunities and itineraries to be explored. Back on the far west side of the range, Monte Cogne is an isolated mountain that might not look very promising from the first glance at the map. It is, however, one of the best hikes I did last year and absolutely recommended. The path starts from the village of Montesovèr, at only 1137 metres, and meanders through thick conifer and broadleaves woods. As the height increases, the change in vegetation is very clear: the broadleaves leave space to spruces and then eventually to larches, until a broad ridge opens up and stretches out to the summit cross at 2171 metres. And here again the views are quite spectacular, going from Marmolada in the East to Cevedale, the Brenta Dolomites and the mountains above Trento as you go west. With over 1000 metres of ascent, however, it’s definitely not a hike for the novice snowshoer.
Cima dei Paradisi
This was one of my last winter days out after the last heavy snowfall of the year. I had been snowshoeing for most of the winter, I was tired, and there was something in the air: spring was coming. After dreaming about warm rock and sunshine for a while, I “forced” myself out of bed and decided to tackle this ski touring classic route with my faithful snowshoes. As often happens in these cases, it was totally worth it. The snow was great (not only skiers like powder!) and the itinerary brought me through a whole range of different landscapes, from dreamy chalets in the woods to the windswept top. It’s about 1200 metres of ascent from the carpark at Rifugio Refavaie to the top, so again ideal for the more experienced winter hiker. On the way down I decided to go through some woods and properly run down through the powder. I got some weird looks from the skiers but had lots of fun. There were signs of life all the way through the trees, with plenty of animal prints and leftover half-munched pine cones. A great way of ending a successful winter season.
Sometimes Lagorai doesn’t seem real – a hidden gem waiting to be discovered but to be protected at the same time. The beauty of Lagorai lies in its unspoilt wilderness and remoteness, and there’s no better way to discover it than in winter, on snowshoes. To keep that slow pace that makes you notice every detail and listen to every sound, and allows you to soak in the wild side of this amazing part of the Alps.