Don’t Mess Up With Seasons and Weather in the Dolomites, Especially If Hiking and Cycling

The official tourist websites say: “In the Dolomites you can travel and enjoy outdoors all year round!” Yeap, but that doesn’t mean it’s always good weather and you can do sports any day, any season. It is better to be prepared: to learn about the climate, seasons and weather in the Dolomites before the trip.

Ivan Kuznetsov
Outdoor journalist from Dolomites and Karelia

Climate
Seasons
Weather

What is the Climate in the Dolomites and Italy?

— Probably you already know without me, that Italy is a warm southern country with a subtropical Mediterranean climate. But the higher you climb to the North from the South, the colder it gets. In the Dolomites, the climate is closer to Continental.

The average minimum temperature in Palermo, the capital of Sicily, during the year is +16° C, in Rome — +10° C, in Venice — +8° C, in our home city Feltre, at the foot of the mountains — +6° C, in the so-called capital of the Dolomites Cortina d’Ampezzo — +1° C. The difference with the south of Italy is 15° C.

When I went to the Dolomites for the first time, I thought I was going to the southern country. But I found myself in the North.

But in the Dolomites it is still warmer, than in my native Karelia, Scandinavian countries, and other northern regions. Spring comes earlier for 1-1.5 months, winter comes later. The weather is more stable both in summer and in winter.

What is the Best Season to Go to the Dolomites?

What is interesting is that in Italy seasons are are considered in astronomical calendar rather than civil, as in some other countries, such as Russia.

The spring starts from the end of March and continue to the middle of June, but in some years it could be quite hot even in the beginning of March for a couple of days or a week, sometimes up to +20…25° C. From June it is normal weather.

The summer officially lasts exactly three months: it begins on June 21, the day of the summer solstice, when it is the longest and the night the shortest, and lasts until September 21 — the day of the autumn equinox, when the day equals night. At the end of June, the last snow melts in the mountains above 2000 m. Already in early to mid-September, it may fall out again.

“Officially” means that during these three months, all refugio (mountain shelters) are open, ropeways are open, too, the maximum number of buses runs between cities and villages and you can go almost everywhere in the Dolomites by public transport and your foot. “Unofficially” in the mountains, you can walk without winter shoes, clothes, and equipment from early April to late November. In the first case, above 2000 m there will still be snow — you need to take snowshoes and ice-climbing shoes. Below 2000 m, you can walk in normal spring and autumn shoes.

In the middle of July at the foot of mountains can be +25…+30 ° C, on tops: from +15…+20 ° C during the day to +10…+15 ° C at night. The closer you get to autumn (or spring) the colder it is.

The autumn lasts from the end of September to November-December. And it is beautiful with all trees turns red, orange, yellow…

Passo Procon in Lagorai mountains, Dolomites in October
Passo Procon in Lagorai mountains is just great for cycling in October © Ivan Kuznetsov

Snow falls somewhere in October-November, but may be even earlier. In 2019 the first show came in 10th of September! In winter it is cold in the mountains above 1000 meters — the temperature drops below zero, sometimes to -15…20 °С, like in Russia.

The winter is the the main climatic difference between the Dolomites and the rest of Italy. There is a lot of snow in the mountains (from 3 to 10 m) — not less than in Karelia and other northern regions. The snow does not melt until early to mid-June. This is why winter sports are so popular in the Dolomites. The winter is quite long and snowy. Many roads and mountain passes are closed to traffic in winter.

There are several dozen glaciers in the Dolomites. The largest one is on the highest mountain Marmolada, 3342 m. It does not melt even in summer. In my home mountains Pale di San Martino there is the Fradusta glacier at 2393 m. But it is relatively small and has been reduced in size for several decades (i.e. the climate is getting warmer).

It is important to say one more thing about the cold, especially for these who will come from the real North: in Italy there is rarely central heating, but there may be separate heating systems in the house. The same is for the Dolomites. Heating the house in this way is expensive. When I lived at school the first year here, we had two floors in a building and about 10 rooms. The heating bills were up to 1000 euros per month — they were paid by the volunteering project organizer. At the same time we only switched on the heating in the evening so that we wouldn’t sleep in icy (that’s the right word) beds, and in the afternoon we would heat a metal burner stove. All residents have similar stoves. In winter and early spring they sink them. This has one undeniable advantage besides savings: it smells wood.

Even in summer, it’s could be cold in the house in Italy. There are almost no wooden buildings, all of them are stone, and inside everything is tiled. It happens that outside is +30 °C, and you are in the house in pants and sweater.

However, we are only talking about long-term rentals or apartments on Airbnb — make sure they have a heating or a stove with firewood and they are included in the price. For example, in May 2019 I paid 150 euros for gas heating of a small one-bedroom apartment! However, I turned it on periodically — usually only for a couple of hours in the morning, afternoon, or evening, and not every day. The bigger the house, the more energy it needed to heat it.

View from the Mont Avena, Feltrino, Dolomites in March 2013
Don’t worry, hotels, B&Bs and refugio (mountain huts) have heating, of course. On the photo view from the Mont Avena, Feltrino © Ivan Kuznetsov

What Kind of Weather in the Dolomites Usually?

The main feature of the weather in the Dolomites is its variability, everything can change within one day several times, especially in the spring. It rains a lot in the spring!

For example, in my first year in the Dolomites the whole spring from March to June was very rainy — it rained almost every day and night without stopping. Literally. May 2018 was quite warm, but also quite lively. And May 2019 was the coldest year in 70 years! The whole month was +10…15° C, and in the mountains, at an altitude of 2000 meters there was snow, which usually melts in the beginning of April.

The village of Lamon where I live is considered a particularly rainy place in the Feltrino region. There’s even a poem on the subject:

Rain in Belluno — no one gets wet,
Rain on Mount Avena — will soak your back,
Rain in the village of Seren — will soak the hay,
Rain in Lamon — will soak everywhere.

But after the rains, it’s beautiful. Because of the many streams, temperature, and humidity, water evaporates and incredible clouds fly through the sky. In the spring the picture changes every couple of minutes.

Spring in Lamon, Dolomites
In the spring in Lamon there are many flying clouds during the rainy days © Ivan Kuznetsov

Spring is my favorite time of the year. Also because the new leaves on the trees are very bright, and from the second part of May there are many alpine flowers everywhere.

In contrast, October and November have the least rain and the cleanest sky, along with winter in clear sunny days. It is literally crystal clear. It’s the best time not only for hiking and cycling, but also for photography.

The main advice here: to go hiking successfully and not to get into the rain, hurricane or snow, catch windows of good weather on the main Italian meteorological site Ilmeteo.it, focusing on the nearest villages or passes.

For our luck, the weather forecasts in the mountains are accurate in general, unlike in the plain: if Monday morning it is written that there will be a rain or storm on Wednesday afternoon, then most likely there will be.

Although, of course, it is impossible to believe them 100%, maybe 70-90%. It is better to take clothes with you from the rain and wind and walk in the mountains more carefully at the time of the change of seasons.

By the way, hurricanes are common in the eastern part of the Alps: gusts of dry and cold wind bora can reach 200 km/h.

Another common and important weather feature in the Dolomites is the strong sun. It’s very hot in the summer afternoon. In villages people go out till 10-11 o’clock, and then disappear before sunset — only then it gets cool and you can go out again. In winter, the sun burns your skin out immediately, you have to use sunscreen. The skin of the face and lips in the mountains turns windy — you should also use sunscreen.

Summary

If we speak about top-5 summer outdoor activities in the Dolomites — hut-to-hut hiking, cycling and mountain biking, trail running, climbing and via ferrata — I would choose a time from late June and late August to early September, and exclude July. And in July go outdoors until midnight or closer to sunset. For skiing and other winter sports — December, January, February, and March — all good.


Cover photo: a man doing showshoeing on Mount Avena in Dolomiti Bellunesi National Park in March 2013 © Ivan Kuznetsov.

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