OverviewWith its big drop, and usually aboundant snow, the highest summit of the Gran Sasso group offers several fine ski-mountaineering routes. Aldo Bonacossa was the first to climb to the summit of Corno Grande on skis in 1923, and he valued the glide from the top better or equal to many famous runs in the Alps. He was in search of a wilderness he could no longer find in the Alps "...soon there will be a ticket to pay for the most famous slopes in the Alps" he said. Today you will probably have the same thought skinning up the Calderone, or even skiing down the steep Bissolati couloir, these have become classics and can be quite busy. Other itineraries, like Valle dei Ginepri or Scrimone, are not so frequently trotted, but all of them share the same alpine scenery of this part of the group. The Gran Sasso is at its best under a good cover of snow, in winter and spring, this is the best time to visit, and skis are the natural medium.
The cableway from Fonte Cerreto to Campo Imperatore runs regularly during in the skiing season, the first run in the morning is at 8:30 Mon-Fri or 8:00 Sat-Sun. For information check www.ilgransasso.it.
The cableway from Prati di Tivo to the Arapietra ridge (la Madonnina) is operational throughout the year.
Ascent RoutesThere are two basic ski routes to the summit of Corno Grande (West summit 2912m), one from the north and one from the south side.
From the North side, via Valle delle Cornacchie and Calderone, 1450m:
From the South side, via the Direttissima route, 800m:
This route is described here.The following is more specific to ski-mountaneering and is included here for completeness.
From Fonte Cerreto take the cableway to Campo Imperatore 2130m (the road to Campo Imperatore is always closed in the skiing season). Climb the slope behind the arrival station NW to Rifugio Duca degli Abruzzi 2388m. Follow the ridge NE to Sella di Monte Aquila 2335m. (The summer path from the arrival station to this saddle is more direct, but cuts through avalanche prone slopes and should be used only in the safest snow conditions). From the saddle follow the wide ridge N. Cross the slopes below Monte Aquila to Sella di Corno Grande. Climb the steep slope in front of you to il Sassone 2560m, and reach a small saddle at the starting point of the Direttissima route where you take off your skis. Climb the wide couloir to your left, pass a short narrow section 40o, and continue to the summit (2912m) by a final easier slope, 3h from Campo Imperatore.
Descent RoutesFrom the summit there are several options for the descent, you can choose to return to your starting point, or make a traverse, usually from south to north ("Traversata alta" in local slang).
North side, Valle delle Cornacchie and Calderone (BSA):
This is the classic ski descent and retrack the ascent itinerary. It is the best option from the top with poor weather or unsafe snow conditions.
Follow the W ridge and reach the saddle on the N ridge on foot. Ski the short and steep slope to the amphitheater and the Calderone, keep to your left and reach the summit of the moraine. Descend the sustained slope of the moraine just left of the huge boulders and reach the Franchetti hut (in winter the sun never touches the moraine, it can remain frozen hard all day). Traverse toward the east face of Corno Piccolo and descend to Passo delle Scalette. Pass it on foot and reach the arrival station of the cableway. Here an inviting slope to your left leads directly to Prati di Tivo, but this slope is usually forbidden to off-piste skiing (see Red tape section). To end a fine day with no troubles follow the Arapietra ridge and reach Prati di Tivo by the road through the wood.
West side, Valle dei Ginepri (BSA):
This route takes you into the beautiful scenery of Val Maone and, combined with the first part of the previous descent, is perhaps the most rewarding. Requires stabilized snow conditions and no ice to be safe.
Descend the previous itinerary to Rifugio Franchetti, or just a bit above the hut. With a slightly ascending diagonal SW reach the saddle between the S ridge of Corno Piccolo and the N ridge of Corno Grande, Sella dei due Corni 2547m. The slope on the W side of this saddle is Valle dei Ginepri. The upper section of this slope can be skied anywhere, right center or left but, in the lower section, there are cliffs. The best way to avoid the cliffs is to stay on the righ side, following the south walls of Corno Piccolo at a safe distance, and a good slope, from right to left, will take you to the bottom in Val Maone. If you stay more toward the center look for a narrow couloir (not visible from above) while you approach the cliff. With good snow cover one of these couloir can be skied to the valley below. There is an exit also to the left. Follow Val Maone north until you find, on the right side, a dirt road leading to Prati di Tivo with a short ascent. This road (in general the whole Val Maone) is exposed to avalanches from high above, it is unsafe before the overhanging slopes have discarged the load.
NW side and Scrimone couloir (OSA):
This is the wildest descent from the summit, requires stabilized snow conditions, no ice and good visibility to be safe.
Descend the W ridge to the saddle between the Calderone and the NW side. From the saddle the wide NW slope drops steeply to your left. There are some outcrops near the top, find the best line through the rocks and descend this slope very carefully, directly at first and then, with short diagonals, aim left. Due to its orientation the initial slope is often of hard snow or ice, in this case it is a very dangerous ski descent because the slope hangs over a 300m wall. The lower part is a wide slanting ledge, make a long diagonal over the ledge (W) to reach a flat area with a small bowl. Leave the bowl to your right and push yourself to the top of the little dome in front. Descend on the other side of the dome and keep to your left (SW), don't be lured into an inviting slope right, it ends over a cliff. After this long traverse you should arrive near Sella del Brecciaio, at about 2500m, and overlooking a large funnel shaped slope, the pillars of Intermesoli should be straight in front of you (W), on the other side of Val Maone. Enjoy the descent into the funnel with no fixed route, follow its slope until you arrive at a bottleneck, the final part of the funnel (this can be a pipe for falling stones during warm ups). Here a steep (40o), very narrow, but short gully, is the way to the easy slopes leading to the floor of Val Maone. Late in the season it can be problematic to pass the bottleneck on skis. It is possible to avoid the narrow gully traversing over a small ridge to the right before the bottleneck, and follow a more comfortable couloir reaching the previous line. Follow the easy slopes of Val Maone N until you find, on the right side, the road to Prati di Tivo.
South side, Bissolati couloir (OSA):
here. The following is given in this page for completeness.
A a shorter but steep and sustained descent on the south side. To be definitely avoided with ice. From the summit follow the W ridge shortly until you find the first wide couloir to your left, turning southward in a narrow gully. This is Bissolati couloir and, from here, you can't miss the route, just follow the impluvium and exit to Campo Pericoli under the S face of the mountain. After the entrance of the couloir there is a gully with a steep section (40o), then the slope becomes wide and less steep. The lower section is again narrow and steep. Make sure the lower section has a good cover of snow, due to the southern exposition it can be dry.
Bissolati and Scrimone couloirs (OSA):
This is a nice combination, and is a good backup option of the Scrimone route, avoiding the initial NW slope, when it is too hard or iced.
Descend the Bissolati couloir to the open slopes of Campo Pericoli as described above. Ski diagonally W along the S face of the mountain until you see a wide snow slope to your right. Put on your skins and climb the slope to reach Sella del Brecciaio 2506m. On the other side of the saddle you are at the top of the large funnel leading to the Scrimone couloir. Descend the funnel and the couloir to reach Val Maone as described previously.
If you reached Val Maone from Valle dei Ginepri or Scrimone couloir, and you need to return to Campo Imperatore, ascend Val Maone (S). Turn into Campo Pericoli (W) and find your way to Sella di Monte Aquila, usually passing by Rifugio Garibaldi (2230m). The slopes of Campo Pericoli are safe and there is no fixed route to follow, but have your map and compass ready in poor visibility. From the saddle, with safe snow, ski down to the road leading to Campo Imperatore with a short walk, or follow the ridge to Rifugio Duca degli Abruzzi and down to the arrival station of the cableway.
Books & Maps
Red tapePrati di Tivo is a small ski resort with a chairlift, a new cableway and a couple of runs down. To protect these slopes from avalanches caused by improper ski-touring, the local mayor usually delivers an ordinance forbidding off-piste touring in the area as soon as the lifts start operating. This is done with little correlation to actual avalanche threat, the closed area is not well defined, nor there are warning signs about it. To be safe, assume the entire north side of Corno Piccolo, from the Arapietra ridge to Val Maone, is closed to ski-touring. You will likely be caught and fined if you ski off-piste here, up or down. Carabinieri, or the like, are on the watch. It is usually safe to follow the road to the Arapietra ridge, or the road in and out of Val Maone. Needless to say you should wear your ARVA, you will be fined if you don't, this is a EU-wide rule.
Essential GearSki-mountaneering gear, ice axe and crampons.
External LinksSnow and Avalanche bulletin
Meteo Campo Imperatore