Cross-Country Skiing at Passo Dello Stelvio (Stelvio Pass)

Passo dello Stelvio is strongly associated with the annual multiple-stage bicycle race  – Giro d’Italia. The Grand Tour route regularly passes through this legendary 2,758-meter pass, which is one of the highest in Europe. It turns out that Stelvio is also a summer resort that is endowed with a marvelous small glacier and excellent conditions for cross-country skiing on three routes.


Stelvio Pass connects Bormio (Valtellin Valley) with Bolzano and Innsbruck at a total of 180 kilometers from Milan along the border with Switzerland. In addition, from Bormio, one can reach Livigno and Santa Caterina – both well-known alpine ski resorts. Despite the availability of relatively inexpensive accommodation at the pass (with rates starting from as low as 35 Euro), skiers mainly choose to take up residency near Bormio, namely in Valdidentro. This point is situated at a height of 1350 m above sea level, and has a 2.5-kilometer ski roller track, with a single room costing from as low as 15 Euros per night.

Stelvio Pass itself is open to drive-through traffic only from late May to early November, since it receives significantly heavy doses of snow during the winter. Here, one can also go skiing on a 6.5-kilometer ‘Folgore’ track` that is located at an altitude of 2700-2750 meters. However, this is possible only near the end of June, when the snow finally begins to melt here, and from October to December, when it begins to snow again. This treat of a lifetime costs a mere 7 Euro.


Skiers can later get on top of the glacier and ski there until November. They need to be lifted up on two hoisting devices up to the 5-kilometer Livrio (3170 meters) track, or up to the 7 kilometers Cristallo (3,250 meters) track. Here, the cost of skiing is significantly higher, and may vary between 20 to 31 Euro per day.

Stelvio weather can be capricious. Therefore, it is important to monitor the forecast, because chances are one might have to ski in wet snow, or the pass may be completely closed for travel. In addition, the ski service should be notified only if there are more than five people preparing to go out and ski, so that the trails can be prepared accordingly.

A little history of the pass.

The original road was built around 1820-25 by the Austrian Empire, in order to link the former Austrian province of Lombardia with the rest of Austria. The project manager was an Italian engineer by the name of Carlo Donegani (1775-1845).

Due to the harsh weather and environmental conditions under which the road was constructed, the project was accompanied by a large number of victims among the workers. The number of people employed in the construction of the road during the busiest periods easily reached 2500. It took 63 months to complete the project. A commemorative tablet was erected in front of the entrance to the first tunnel near the Bagni Vecchi, in memory of all those who died during the construction.

Since then, the road has undergone minor changes. It has 75 sharp turns, of which 48 are located on the northern side (in the direction of Prato Allo Stelvio). Most of the stones are numbered, challenging motorists’ skills.

Before the end of the First World War, the road actually served as the border between the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the Kingdom of Italy. Switzerland also had its outpost and the hotel (which was destroyed) at Dreisprachenspitze (literally, “the peak of the three languages”).

During the First World War, the fighting forces engaged in fierce battles with artillery fire in this area, often encroaching on Swiss territory. Afterwards, the three countries signed an agreement not to fire a single round of ammunition on the territory of Switzerland. This treaty was signed between Austria (in the north) and Italy (in the south). After 1919, with the expansion of Italy, the pass lost its strategic importance. Currently, the Stelvio Pass remains an important place for sport and tourism.

On the way to the top of the pass from Bormio are four houses that were built during the construction of the road in the nineteenth century. They were open all year round and provided food and firewood, acting as a kind of hotel for tourists, where they could find shelter on their way. Near one of the houses is a memorial dedicated to the fallen heroes of World War I.

Source: Перевал Стельвио открылся для лыжных тренировок

Related: If You Go: Passo dello Stelvio (Faster Skier)

The Benefit of Bringing Heart Rate Down Between Interval Sets

The recovery period between intervals is an extremely important part of the workout. It allows us to focus on pushing that race pace without overstressing the body. By breaking up that workload we are able to spend more time in that Level 4 zone without the lingering effects of a full length race effort.

The 120 bpm mark is set to be solidly in Level 1 territory for athletes of all abilities and is used as a mark to show that full recovery is attained between interval sets. One sign of potential overtraining is an inability to recover between sets (an elevated heart rate for many minutes longer than expected). That being said, the 120 bpm mark is arbitrary and not specific to you. We would expect that you take at least 2 min to recover between each interval or until your heart rate is back to Level 1.

Swapping Out Ski-Specific Activities for Alternative Exercise Modes

Q: It’s difficult to get a rollerski in after work. I would like to swap out ski specific activities for running. Is there a percentage that I should scale down the amount of activity time?

A: We do not believe that you will need to scale down the workout between skiing and running, unless however you have a problem with handling the load of running for that long. For example, during one of the running interval workouts, with warm-up and cool down, the workout should take between 1 hour 30 minutes to 1 hour 45 minutes, depending on how long it takes you to recover to 120 bpm. If you are able to handle a run of that length, keep it that way. If not, drop a few of the interval workouts (about 2-3) and that should bring the workout length down.


Q: I see you mention a bike workout as substitute on the weekends even though you label the weekend as specific Over Distance. Is this in case you can’t rollerski somewhere?

A: The alternative workouts are given as another option for people to do if they would rather bike or ski. Obviously, doing more ski specific training will be better for skiing, but keeping a variety of different modes of exercise in your training is a great way to keep working out exciting and not overworking the body in the same way. We would suggest maybe every other weekend, if you would like to, switching up the mode in which you do your long workouts.

Specific Strength Workout Pick-Ups

Specific Strength – Building strength and power using ski specific activities (i.e. double pole, single pole, Concept2 Ski Erg, etc). Specific strength is almost exclusively done on skis/rollerskis, and the movements are always ski related. The workout is often done on an uphill to add resistance.

Specific Strength Workout Pick-Ups – Pick-ups done during specific strength workout. Those are not race pace or higher intensity.

Intensity and Recovery Period – Proper technique is the most important component in specific strength, not intensity. If you feel good, go a little harder. If you feel tired, go a little slower.

For the specific strength workout we want you to complete (for instance 11x3min of double pole pickups) with equal, active recovery. What that means is that you should continue to ski easy during your rest using double polling as well as striding for three minutes in-between sets. Be sure to do this workout on rolling terrain. These are not meant to be top end speed drills, they are meant to increase your ski specific strength. Doing these on a gradual climb can be very beneficial.


Length of Recovery Time Between Sets in General Strength

In regards to strength training, all sets are not alike. The length of recovery time between sets depends on the intensity (amount of weight) and the number of reps in each set. If you are lifting a light weight with many reps, the recovery time between sets should be lower. As a general rule of thumb, we like to give ourselves 1:30-2:00 min for the longer endurance sets of 10+ reps. For sets targeting heavier weights at lower reps, say 5-9 reps we would give ourselves 2-3 min of recovery time. As a general rule, plyometrics and body weight based exercises should only need around 2 min of recovery.

The difference in reps per set is due to a difference in objective. For sets of 10 or more reps, we are targeting muscular endurance. For the shorter sets, we are targeting muscular strength.  For our training purposes, you should find a weight that induces fatigue for the assigned number of reps.


Here is and example of how your general strength workout should proceed:

Jump Rope       (30 sec,  (equal recovery for the warmup) 30 sec rest) x 3
then, after completion of 3 sets of jump rope:
Step-Taps          (30 sec,  (equal recovery for the warmup) 30 sec rest) x 3

One-Ins 4 sets (run through the ladder with the one-in technique, rest then repeat consecutively) x 4 then move on to Forward Slalom Jumps

The exercises are to be completed in the order they are listed. Finish the entire 4 sets of One-ins, for example, before moving on to the forward slalom jumps.

As far as the warm-up goes, the Jump Rope and Step-Taps should be ample. That being said, everyone is different and you may not feel “warmed up” yet.  It doesn’t hurt to add to the warm up, just remember that the purpose is to prepare your body for strength, not to add volume.

What are intervals? Why do interval training?

An interval workout consists of bouts of high intensity work alternating with periods of lower intensity or rest. By varying the length of the work interval and the length of the rest interval, a wide variety of workouts can be designed to achieve a range of goals. Here are some common questions about intervals.

Interval Q and A

Q. Intervals are only important for competitive athletes, right?
A. Wrong!

It is true that intervals are an important training component for anyone preparing for competition.

They help you:

  • Learn to compete with greater intensity.
  • Build the time that you can maintain a certain level of intensity.
  • Improve your speed of recovery.
  • Develop your body’s ability to switch between energy systems.

And they are a very time-efficient method of achieving all these goals. But recent research is showing that intervals are not just for competitive athletes.

Q. Why do interval training?
A. Doing intervals is the most important part of training speed. Keep focus on the aim of your interval training. A typical mistake is to ski too fast during short repeats, since having strength enough is rarely a problem, and distances are relatively short. Training intensity should increase gradually to prepare the body for harder routines. The central components of successful interval training are the right technique, mobility and speed.

You learn to pace yourself during interval training, since you ski faster doing intervals than you would during the targeted event, like a marathon. Increasing your speed reserve is also important to make sure your running technique remains comfortable. Moreover, interval work improves recovery time, important for skiing on uneven terrain.

Q. Can intervals help me lose weight and maintain health?
A. Yes. New research suggests that interval training may be a very time-efficient and effective way to lose weight, not to mention that it will build your fitness as effectively as longer, moderate workouts.

A recent study in Japan reached the intriguing conclusion that you would burn more fat with two 30 minutes bouts of exercise separated by a 20 minute rest period than in a single 60 minute session.

And finally, intervals add variety and structure to your workouts, which makes them even more interesting and helps the time pass.

Q. Why are intervals good for older athletes?
A. They have been shown to be the most effective workout for stemming the tide of aging.

A recent pilot study in Norway has shown that interval workouts may be more effective than longer, lower intensity workouts for reducing cholesterol, adjusting the ratio of fatty acids in the blood, and reducing the risk factors for metabolic syndrome. They have also been shown to be an effective therapy for patients with heart failure. Consult with your physician before starting an exercise program.

Q. Then why not do them all the time?
A. Because you can’t. Expect to be tired after doing intervals. If you’re not, you’re not doing them hard enough. You need to allow your body to recover for a day or two after interval sessions. Competitive athletes might do intervals as many as five days per week during a high-intensity speed training week; older athletes can generally do intervals up to 2–3 times per week.

Q. What should I know before I get started?
A. Warm up well.

The reason intervals are so effective is that they are intense. By working intensely, even for a short period of time, you place a greater demand on your heart and lungs, which in turn provides a stronger stimulus for physiological change. If all of your exercise is at the same moderate level, it will still burn calories, but it won’t inspire your body to make changes. In order to work at a higher intensity, it is even more important warm-up well and be sure you are using proper technique. We recommend at least 10 minutes of warm-up.


What kind of training can I use for specific speed? Running, Rollski, Bike?

A: It needs to be a rollerski type of workout.

Q: What’s the best way to do them? Usually I don’t reach my Level 5.

A: There is really no particular set measurement value for Level 5 – it’s considered ‘maximum effort’, so whatever is your max you can go at – that’s your Level 5.

CXC Academy Video Library has a video on how to perform 15 sec Level 5 pick-ups.

Q: Best on uphill?

A: Depends on technique… Choose beforehand how you will be performing Level 5 spurts (diagonal stride, double pole, kick double pole, V1, V2 or V2 alternate). Use one type of technique for effective and specific focus. You can also alternate going fast by moving your limbs at the highest cadence or by producing powerful movements.