Photo Epic: Dolomiti - Exploring & Shooting in Cortina

Nov 22, 2022
by Nathan Hughes  

New bikes, new territories, autumn conditions; the dream for any MTB photographer. This October Intense asked me to shoot a new big-wheel version of their main enduro machine, the Tracer. The brief was especially last minute and especially open. Love that. Creative freedom in a novel place; the total opposite of how most of summer season goes for me with the World Cups. The only certainties were that we had just two days for the job and that the bike was on a flight to Europe, to the home of multi-time Italian national champion, Francesco Colombo. A quiet, modest, former World Cup racer with a lot of style, together with a do-it-all gravity-oriented bike, sounded like a good combo to me. Better take it somewhere cool.

Some recent doom-scrolling on everybody's favourite distraction application had the Dolomites fresh in my mind, particularly as autumn colours would be peaking, but where to head specifically? Most lifts were already closed and I was keen to find something less obvious than the well-trodden Val di Fassa area, of EWS fame, if we could. I had a screenshot of this incredible high-altitude lake surrounded by bright orange fur trees as inspiration and although I had no clue if there was anything substantial to ride nearby, further research showed it to be just up the hill from Cortina D'Ampezzo, the famous ski town that once hosted a DH World Cup all the way back in the year 2000. Surely a great place to go 'Columbusing', as I believe discovering the already long-established is known.

With that hair-brained urge to explore an area I hadn't heard much about in a couple of decades, I packed up my long-suffering 70-200 and the rest of my photo gear. Francesco, although Italian, hails from far away down on the coast near Finale Ligure and hadn't ridden in Cortina since the last national championship they hosted in 2007. Still, he seemed intrigued, intrigued enough to meet me there on a whim on the opposite side of the country. Here's hoping to find something more than crumbling, overgrown DH track relics.

Cortina has incredible peaks in just about every direction. Not all of them have lift access, and naturally we had to pick the time of year when exactly none of them did.

Fortunately it's possible to shuttle up a long, winding forest road into some of the most interesting terrain around Cortina. No coincidence that the bike park is in the lower part of this zone, but we decided to save that stuff until after some more ambitious spots. We ticked off some solid pictures of the bike with a classic Dolomites backdrop and hurried to higher altitude to get the lie of the land.

Up near the top of the pass which sends you over towards Canazei, we explored empty hiking trails around the Cinque Torre (5 towers). We were amazed to find all the WWI relics; trenches and fortifications from the fighting a century ago. An absolutely brutal place to survive a winter even without anyone out to kill you. The views of surrounding misty peaks were first-rate, even without much of a sunset.

Last light and we found a couple of spots that looked interesting with almost no photons left to salvage at all. Not a bad first evening of shots, but some golden rays would be appreciated.

The wait for some quality light was short, but a 4:30 alarm made sure we suffered for it. Even after a pretty gruelling hike-a-bike in the dark Francesco was already looking comfy on the bike as evidenced by some early morning style.

This spot was just on a regular hiking trail, the first light having drawn us higher up the mountain than we initially planned to go. It was wide and a bit too smooth, for sure nothing to write home about. Did we seek assistance from a small, military-style, folding shovel? I cannot possibly say, but a storm drain across the trail was all the starting inspiration we needed to create the kick for a bit of space between wheels and the ground.

A Spaghetti Western backdrop and a ribbon of trail through loose rock; our first light mission was paying off.

After a breakfast of apple strudel and coffees at the refuge, which, side-note, we didn't realise was still open or we would have slept there, we came back to the lake mentioned in the intro; the aqueous oval that started it all. It was every bit as jaw-dropping as hoped, all excessive Insta-edits aside. Arriving in the half-light before sunrise we had made the call not to stop and shoot there first because we thought the light would be blocked for longer by mountains and due to the strong possibility of getting stuck with tiny-rider landscape shots that aren't really the priority launching a bike.

A trail lapped the water's edge and the reflection was pristine in gaps in the breeze; it seemed like we weren't too late to get something worthwhile. The Dolomites are next level and autumn always delivers.

We had the pleasure of sending it back down the trail we'd climbed with our head torches. Francesco made it look as fun as it really was.

Too bad this beautiful old cable car was only delivering hikers into the mist. At over 3000m in altitude at the top, it would probably be a touch high for bikes anyway.

After our early start we still had room at the end of the day to break out the full-face helmet and explore new ground above the top lift of the bike park. The ground was rocky and about as inhospitable to wheels as it gets. When you have only lemons/rocks, you've got to love a small, military-style folding shovel.

With stomachs lined with fresh pasta and some timeless alpine views, we reflected on a fine day of Dolomites exploration. We still had some time on the clock before hitting the road and decided to explore the bike park in the morning to ice the cake on the gravity side of this shoot.

Going fast is one thing and most riders at the World Cup have that down. Francesco also has the gift of style so cheers to him making every feature look class.

Pre-jump with scrub. Turns out the man has no weak side.

In Cortina bike park we found multiple new lines in and out of the trees including the pretty steep and interesting 'Krampus' black trail. It seems that MTB is a long way from dead at this old-school DH venue that will host the next winter Olympics. We found some great turns and some fair-size jumps with a backdrop to envy Leogang for our purposes.

Here's to vague briefs, orange leaves, folding shovels and Italian style. Columbusing in the Dolomites was a dream.


  • 18 0
 Phenomenal photos & landscape! I loves me a good small, military-style, folding shovel, too!
  • 2 7
flag carlwheezer69 (Nov 22, 2022 at 10:59) (Below Threshold)
 Brother brother BROTHER, how are these pictures of a non nudist rider so appealing to you? Haven't you seen that a billion and a half times? SURELY you watch nudist riding as well? No? Talk soon and let me know if you need some further education.
  • 16 1
 Clicked on the link ant not a single picture of a Ford Cortina. Disappointed. /s
  • 11 0
 I’ll take a good old-fashioned photo epic (especially like this one) over a 3:00 edit any day of the week.
  • 11 0
 It seems to be really intense.
  • 6 0
 Amazing work, Nathan. Some of the pictures would perfectly fit on one of my flats walls. Any chance to get one of those? @Nathan Hughes
  • 7 0
 Oh wow... Yes please !!!! That's an astounding set of pics
  • 3 0
 100% some of the best photos this year on Pinkbike. Such a rad random trip and you have produced something so awesome. For some reason, this feels like what we are all searching for from mountain biking, that last-minute, unknown adventure, where you just call a mate and go, in hope that your find gold in the hills.

So sick, thank you!
  • 4 1
 Stunning! Been looking forward to checking this region of Italy out. Never heard of or seen an 'orange fur' tree before. There were a lot of Larix decidua with their autumn foliage in the photos however. Wink
  • 4 0
 If you go to Cortina take advantage of the bike park:
  • 4 0
 wow, just wow, stunning photos!
  • 3 0
 Wowie wow wow. Pretty hard to take a bad shot there, it seems! Excellent work, Nathan!
  • 1 1
 I know the bright colored (especially red) clothing is “out”, but there is a Red Bull illume photographer who tells his athletes to wear bright colors, mainly red. It “popps” in the picture and looks really awesome in the pictures. Anyway. Just came to mind as I saw these fantastic images…
  • 3 0
 I was riding in Dolomites for the first time a month back. Those mountains and italians are my fav people now
  • 3 1
 yeah cool, we appreciate, but please tell all your friends that it sucked and we all are a bunch of Arschlöcher....
  • 2 0
 You know it is a bike add when the bike had the OEM Maxxis logo tires still in it hehehe. Nice photos!
  • 3 0
 I’ll take this kind of advertising all day long.
  • 2 1
 what a beautiful place. we were on tap to go there for our 25th 2020...but covid. still haven't been able to reschedule.
  • 3 0
 you've got to love a small, military style folding shovel
  • 3 0
 great photos!!!
  • 2 0
 Do-lo-mi a favor and invite me next time
  • 2 0
 I was thinking of changing my wallpaper as it happens, cheers!
  • 2 0
 Stunning pics in an awesome location
  • 2 0
 Some of these would be contenders for photo of the year! Great shots
  • 1 0
 Epic pics, its on the list.
But does the small, military style folding shovel have an effect on the fur trees?
  • 1 0
 Amazing Photos. Off Topic, Who remembers Cortina Bikes? What happened to those guys?
  • 1 0
 was expecting a red bike...
  • 3 0
 At least it's still named after something used for killing people. A fine Intense tradition.
  • 1 0
 spectacular shots- bucket list destination
  • 1 0
 Stunning photos!! Well done.
  • 1 0
 unreal photos! enjoyed a lot Smile
  • 1 1
 did you scan the QR code on the fork??
  • 1 0
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