Cortina d'Ampezzo, Italy
Cortina is big: it's got twice the vertical of Vail or Mammoth Mountain. Cortina is dramatic: located in the heart of the Dolomites near Italy's northeast corner, it's an exceptionally sharp and rocky cluster of limestone peaks. Cortina is famous: host to the 1956 Winter Olympics, Cortina has been one of Europe's premier ski resorts ever since.
But Cortina for mountain biking? To a first-time visitor, the towering rock cliffs that surround town appear too severe for anything that resembles reasonable riding. (The Sly Stallone film, Cliffhanger, was filmed nearby.) Wrong! Cortina offers a variety of big loops - some of which cross into Austria, just to the north. Many of the routes include mountain rubble roads that were roughed in by the Italian, German and Austro-Hungarian armies during World War I. The pedaling is rarely smooth - then again, neither is Moab's - but the vistas make the Sound of Music look like Kansas.
Cortina hosted a UCI World Cup downhill and slalom in late May of 2000. Both events took place on the slopes of the ski resort, providing plenty of action for the enthusiastic fans. Off the mountain, you'll find plenty of well-marked rides, and you'll appreciate the universal respect of Italians for cyclists of all types. Bring your climbing legs and, of course, your appetite.
Location: Cortina d'Ampezzo, Italy. Cortina is about 20 miles east of the final exit on the A27 motorway, Pian di Vedoia.
Length: To be determined. Most Cortina rides stretch about 20 miles, passing high mountain lakes and often, mountain refuges that provide meals and simple lodging during the summer.
Climbing: Typically 3,000 feet. Longer rides may have as much as 5,000 feet.
Terrain: A mix of rocky dirt roads, ancient cart paths and singletrack
Highlights: Sharp spires, shear cliffs
Details: Check out RaceWare.com's coverage of the Cortina Italy Epic. They have pictures of the trail work, epic ride and some great maps if you're in the neighborhood.