This season, Sicily was the place to be with the best splitboard touring conditions ever in this region. Michele and Matteo had been there and they sent us a great trip report.
As soon as we saw the photo on the internet, we knew - we need to go. The picture was taken at the 23 February showing a ski lift, destroyed by masses of snow - in Sicily ??? !!! We asked ourselves again whether we really want to go, but the decision was already done with the first look at the photo. 5 days later we start the trip. We are being watched incredulously by the other passengers when we check in to Catania with our splitboards. Landed in Catania, we find ourselves at the foot of a huge mountain in Sicily, but it is not only a huge mountain, it is the foot of Mount Etna. As said before, it's the largest active volcano on the Eurasian plate - more than 3300 meters high and permanently active. On its quiet days sulfurous smoke rises from the crater and at an eruption the ash and smoke fly up to an altitude of 9000 meters into the sky.
We were born and grown up in the Alps and until now we had never touched snow outside the Alps nor had we being riding our splitboards in a different place like that. Etna is fascinating, in Italy we learn a lot about it's history in school, it is the symbol of Sicily. Under its brow, we feel the power, a power of peace and at the same time a power of fear.
We have little time to visit the ski resort but anyway we want to do a few laps with the lift to get used to the snow conditions. Nevertheless, our mission - to climb Mount Etna with the splitboard and ride it, is in the foreground. We are lucky, the weather forecast promises cold, sunny days without wind. On the way we have to deal with a few inconveniences, the road to the ski resort Etna South is closed because of snow and there's no way through. Well, we are in Italy, so after a short time we have found a way to reach the resort. We do one ride, before heading into the Valley of the Lions, here we get the first real impression of Etna.
It is only 12 hours after the last snowfall but the snow pack is already compressed, strongly. It doesn't have anything to do with the snow we know from the Alps. The high humidity solidifies the snow in a very short time, having a positive effect on the risk of avalanches. After the first few downhill meters in the Etna backcountry, we notice that the snow is easy to ride and we can go fast. We do the first turns and the view down to the of the Valley of the Lions and the Valley of the Ox fills our hearts! What a blast - only that is worth the trip already. In the evening we go to look for the local delicacies and of course the wine. After a delicious dinner our batteries are filled up for the next day. Good Night!
Now it's time, we almost can't hold it until we reach the ski-resort Etna North, where we meet with two locals, Emma and Guido. With lift support we arrive at our starting point, we mount our splitboards and start splitting up in a spectacular setting.
In front of us the mighty Mount Etna with its uncanny acting smoke and behind us the burning sun of Sicily. The metamorphosis of the snow is incredible, after just 24 hours, it's really tough and compact. It is cold and we are ascending rapidly. Without any problems we reach the summit, the scenery is breathtaking, we hug each other and look into the crater. Our view from the top is going from the Mediterranean Sea with it's close Aeolian Islands to Catania and Taormina. At the summit of the Etna it is too hot, so the snow did not stick, it is more like a white band between smoke and a unique view of the already described. Our desire to start riding from the summit of Mount Etna (3343 M) is so big, that even with the risk of destroying our boards we bring them to ride mode, because there are some snow patches to be used for the downhill. We start with an incredible descent from the summit of Mount Etna. We feel like we're on the descent for hours, it is completely untracked, we stop constantly to film and take pictures we clap off and yea, we feel like happy kids - WOW! We didn`t see any skier or snowboarder on the whole way down.
Back in the ski resort of Etna North, we celebrate this unique experience, we drink beer and wine in a small bar in the Valley of the Ox and meet the Carponi "goat of the Etna" a group of "natives" who are always on the go in this region. They tell us the legends of a descent of 2,200 meters to be done on average every 10 years. They invite us to go the next day with them, full of anticipation we drink a few beers more try one or another wine and go to bed.
The next morning we get up at 5 o'clock and watch the sunrise over the sea. We eat two delicious Cannoli to strengthen, head over to the valley station of the ski resort Etna North and meet with Caproni Crew. After climbing to the north-east crater about 3000 meters above sea level, we dive into the dreamlike descent into the Valley of the Ox. The Valley of the Ox is a caldera, about one kilometer deep and five kilometers wide with an area of 37 km². It is a lava desert, in our case, filled with snow. Full of happiness we ride down there, screaming due to our emotions, incomparable! After two hours of descent, we seem to lose ourselves in the endless expanse of the Valley of the Ox, but thanks to the Caproni Crew we repeatedly find levels that bring us more departure meters.
Upon our return we notice that we have risen a total of 1900 meters over a distance of 9.8 kilometers and descended 1100 meters of altitude, all in fantastic snow. In the evening, everything goes very quickly, because we have to catch our flight back to Piedmont. We still can not believe it, we will need a few days to recognize the full extent of our trip to Sicily. The locals said it was the best three days of the season, and 2015 was the best year ever. We were there, whether you believe it or not, Michele Giraudo and Matteo Bollati.
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