Snowshoeing & WWI Walks

Beth Loyd

January 19, 2016

Many of those who come to the Dolomites in winter don’t realise its mountains are so heavily steeped in the history of the First World War. Whilst cruising down an open piste or enjoying a Refugio cappuccino it’s hard to imagine that the surrounding peaks and valleys were the sight of fierce fighting between the Austrians and Italians only one hundred years ago. Yet many of the rock faces that create such beautiful vistas for holidaymakers are riddled with tunnels, trenches and Via Ferrata wiring.

Snowshoeing at Cinque Torri with Collett’s

To find oneself amongst evidence of these times one only has to don a pair of snowshoes and stray away from the main pistes onto the Falzarego pass. Almost every mountain here was important to the war effort. For example the Laqazoui cable car will sweep you up above the valley to the site of the Austrian stronghold –it is even possible to climb to the top of it inside the mountain from the base using the original tunnels built by the Italians. Their intention was to plant explosives below the summit and dislodge the Austrians. (Unsurprisingly the Austrians heard the sound of digging and retreated before it was too late!)

Cinque Torri sits on the opposite side of the pass and is always a popular walk for us here with Collett’s. The name translates as the five towers and describes a rocky outcrop that sits aside from the other mountains. A popular place for climbers in summer and adjacent to ski pistes in winter this iconic place was strategically important to the Italian’s during WW1.

On an initially overcast day a group of us drove up to the pass and caught the lift up to see the towers. After a mornings detour up to a well-received coffee stop we played a little with the snowshoes and then returned to explore what Cinque Torri had to offer. It turned out that one of our walkers, George, was an expert on WW1 and had a keen interest on the area and the role it had to play. He filled us in on how they would have constructed the trenches, the weaponry they would have likely used and the viewpoints of the enemy territory across the way. As the day progressed it brightened and cleared, bringing out the famous colours of the Dolomite rock. We explored amongst the towers themselves, weaving between boulders and gravel paths. The afternoon sun in particular, shining onto Tofana de Roses opposite made for an impressive end to the day and the group returned to the van with a good day behind them.

We were even treated to the famous Enrosadira sunset above Cortina as we reached the top of the pass. It’s always difficult to imagine how harsh a place the Dolomites must have been for the men fighting in the mountains, especially when it can be so beautiful.

Collett’s Mountain Holidays offer guided historical WWI walks during the summer as well, click here for more information.

Thanks to Beth the words and excellent photos!