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