Monte Zoncolan, a unique snow experience

Monte Zoncolan, Friuli-Venezia Giulia, Italy

What I’ll describe is quite a unique experience.

Actually, it’s something that I strongly hope you won’t be able to do if you ever visited Friuli-Venezia Giulia. Why? This winter hike on the snowy slopes of Monte Zoncolan, Friuli-Venezia Giulia, Italy, only happened “thanks” to Covid-19.

The ski resort turns trekking land

Monte Zoncolan is THE ski resort in our region.
Anin a scià in Zonco” (Let’s go skiing on Zoncolan) is the most frequent sentence you can hear an average person from Friuli-Venezia Giulia say on a sunny December Saturday.

2020 though, was everything but average. On December 19th, 2020 at 10.30 am, Stefano and I thus park our car in an almost desert parking lot on Monte Zoncolan. We head for the almost empty slopes with snowshoes instead of skis. We’re aware that this is our only chance to experience Monte Zoncolan on foot, in the sunlight, and with half a meter of snow.

The trail towards Rifugio Tamai

Our final destination is the mountain hut Rifugio Tamai, 400 meters above our heads. Although it’s true that there are off-piste tracks connecting the mountain hut to the village of Sutrio (Udine), it is also true they are far less easy and more dangerous than what we’ll do today.

I’ve always compared Monte Zoncolan’s slopes to ski motorways.
Personally, I will always prefer narrow trails to motorways. But I must admit that I gained particular pleasure from walking on the polished ski-slopes. In 2018 I participated in a moonlit snowshoe trek on today’s path, but back then it was forbidden to touch slopes to avoid any damages. With Covid-19 and no mass-winter tourism, crossing slopes is inevitable and funny. Let’s say that they are a very efficient way of testing one’s breath.

Halfway, we arrive at the first mountain hut of our climb, Baita Goles. This morning, it’s populated by a handful of skiers that arrived here with sealskins. This is a striking contrast compared to the crowd that usually drinks and eats here every season. We take our time to wear crampons (no snowshoe needed) and climb higher to reach our destination for lunch. On the tip of the mountain, where all cableways arrive, there is no one to be seen.

The reality of Covid strikes us again. Cima Zoncolan is usually populated all year long. If not by skiers, by courageous cyclists who conquer “the Kaiser” one of the hardest climbs in Italy and Europe. Now it’s only us up here. We let our eyes wander over the landscape and I glimpse at the cheese cottage where I worked a couple of summers ago. Snow is untouched on this side of the mountain. We can only spot animals’ footprints and I feel like I’m seeing Monte Zoncolan for the first time.

Snowy slopes on Monte Zoncolan, Friuli-Venezia Giulia, Italy

Lunch at Rifugio Tamai

We continue to Rifugio Tamai where we eat lunch. Rifugio Tamai is particularly dear to my heart. Maybe it’s its sloping roof that makes this Italian mountain hut look like a native American shelter amongst the Alps. Or maybe it’s the amusing alpacas that greet tourists in the summer. Or maybe it’s the fact that when I worked in the cheese-hut Malga Pozof, we milked cows near here.

Most of all I like that in his hut, almost everything is handmade and home-made. From furniture to food, from social media management to the cozy wool hats that they produce and sell. The owners narrate their life here on social media with a unique delicacy. Their posts are poetry and although Rifugio Tamai is also very crowded in winter, I feel like this unusual and solitary dimension suits it best.

Rifugio Tamai’s owners often organize the snowshoes treks I mentioned before. In the most Italian tradition, these treks are combined with cheese tastings. In a few words, you just can’t miss them.
Today we limit to lunch and after a succulent chestnut soup, frico, and home-baked crostata we retrace our own steps and head home.

Monte Zoncolan is part of the unknown Italy that is almost ignored by the wide public. Maybe it’s true, Friuli-Venezia Giulia is not a ski wonderland like Trentino Alto-Adige is. Yet, our 130 km of slopes and ski areas connect with not one but three European nations: Italy, Austria, and Slovenia.

Sleeping in a “scattered hotel”

If you want to stay close to the slopes you can’t miss the experience of sleeping in a “scattered hotel” or, as we say here, Albergo Diffuso. What is a scattered hotel? Albergo Diffuso is a particular type of hotel that is not enclosed in a single building. The hotel is actually scattered throughout a village in ancient but renovated houses. There might be common areas, but the purpose is to let you enjoy the slow life of the village. They are perfect for families or couples that wish to experience mountain life. According to the season of your trip, you can search for more activities in the area. 

The perks of living in a small place

There’s another big plus in choosing Friuli-Venezia Giulia for your holidays. Our region is small but features all kinds of environments and the Alps are two hours away from the seaside. This means that if you choose your hotel wisely you can ski in the morning and have dinner at the seaside in the evening. You can ski on Monte Zoncolan one day and in Slovenia (Sella Nevea) or Austria (Pramollo) the next. You can be in Venice in two hours but also in Lubiana. The possibilities are endless and the value for money is optimal.

In this corner of Italy, nature still is the main protagonist of our mountains and cableways blend with landscapes. Some may argue that there are far fewer comforts here than in other regions, but I reply that that’s the beauty of living in the mountains.
Everything depends on which type of person you are. What you value more, comforts, or nature.
If you’re one of those people that wish to bring city-comforts up the mountains, Friuli-Venezia Giulia is not for you. And neither is this blog.

I hope I was able to inspire your next trip to Italy and Friuli-Venezia Giulia.

Hike recap

  • Starting Point: Monte Zoncolan parking lot (Sutrio)
  • Length: 7,5 km back and forth (4,7 miles)
  • Difference in altitude: 470 mt (1500 feet)
  • Timing: 3 hours (with snow)

How to reach Monte Zoncolan

From A4 Venezia-Trieste, take A23 and head towards Tarvisio. The highway exit is Carnia. From there follow directions to Tolmezzo and Monte Zoncolan.

Where to sleep near Monte Zoncolan:

Useful links
Rifugio Tamai


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