The Passo Pordoi doesn’t need too much of an introduction. It’s one of the most famous climbs in world cycling and has made an incredible 39 appearances in the Giro d’Italia since its introduction in 1940. It has featured 13 times as the Cima Coppi (the highest point of the race) in the Giro d’Italia. It stands at 2,239 metres above sea level, and is often used as a summit finish.
The pass forms part of the popular Sella Ronda loop, and is the second climb of the Maratona dles Dolomites granfondo.
Built in 1904, the Passo Pordoi is a 20th century engineering masterpiece. It has no less than 33 hairpin bends and rises from the ski village of Arabba in a straight line at an almost constant 7%.
The road which crosses the pass is the highest surfaced road on any pass in the Dolomites. It connects Arabba with the alpine resort of Canazei.
The shorter but harder route over the Passo Pordoi is the one the Maratona takes, from Arraba to Canazei, and that’s what this article is based on. However, for completeness, we’ve also included some brief information on the reverse direction in the route section below, in case you’re riding it on the classic Sella Ronda route.
Route map and profile
Distance: 9 km (from Arabba)
Elevation Gain: 640 m (from Arabba)
Max Grade: 14 %
Avg. Grade: 7 %
All metrics in this guide are approximate
HIGHLIGHTS of the Passo Pordoi
The indisputable highlight of the climb is the glut of hairpins at 3.5 kilometres into the climb. From this point there are 22 hairpins (to be precise) over the next 4.5 kilometres which equates to one every 200 metres!
The beauty of the Pordoi is that it never gets too steep as the gradient hovers around the 7% mark from top to bottom, meaning that you can settle into a nice rhythm and enjoy the ascent.
As the climb starts at 1,600 metres above sea level it means that as soon as you have left Arabba you are virtually above the tree line and can soak up the natural beauty of the Dolomites all the way to the top.
Passo Pordoi route info
Arraba to Canazei
Starting at the Church of Saints Peter and Paul the Apostles (Chiesa di Santi Pietro e Paolo Apostoli) in Arabba, you will find a water fountain should you wish to fill up your bottles. On the opposite side of the road there are a number of cafes and restaurants.
Heading out in a south westerly direction you are soon climbing, passing underneath the ski lift cables and by the roadside marker signifying the official start of the climb. Ski chalets and rustic apartment blocks adorn the right-hand side of the road, all dwarfed by the imposing background of huge snow-capped mountains.
After a couple of kilometres or so you are on your own with just the hairpins and the mountain for company. You might also catch the occasional appearance and whistle of the alpine marmot squirrel!
By kilometre five you are now well above the treeline with the distant peaks now becoming something more of a reality as you continue to battle with the seemingly endless supply of strength-sapping switchbacks.
After eight kilometres (and over 2,000 metres above sea level) with the bends behind you the road begins to straighten, the once gigantic peaks are almost within touching distance and all you have to contend with is the wind. Just pray for a tailwind to guide you across this last exposed section of the climb!
With just half a kilometre to go, you will turn the last bend and see the Savoia café/restaurant ahead – you know then that you’ve mastered the Pordoi.
One final push and you’re at the top where there are a number of cafes and bars awaiting.
As you can imagine, from the summit at over 2,200 metres, the descent is long and rapid down towards the nearby commune of Canazei. From there you can access either the Passo Sella or the Passo Fedaia.
Canazei to Arraba
The Sella Ronda loop takes you up the western side of the Pordoi after you have descended from the Passo Sella.
You can extend this ascent by starting in the nearby village of Canazei, which provides a 12 kilometre climb with a slope of 6-7% distributed over 28 hairpin bends!
The road cuts through lush alpine meadows and affords breath-taking views of the Sella group of mountains.
There are plenty of restaurants, cafes and bars in Arabba at the start of the climb and a handful at the summit, but nothing in between.
Corvara is a good option as you could combine an ascent of the Campolongo with the Pordoi and then return over the northern side of the Campolongo. Alternatively, there is a good selection of hotels and apartments in Arabba where you are well placed for the ascents of both these two climbs.
Check out our Dolomites guide for more information.
Read our tips on cycling holidays in the Dolomites before you set out.
The Passo Pordoi is a very popular haunt for tourists especially in the summer months. If you visit the Dolomites in July or August, then you need to ride across the Pordoi before 10:00am to avoid the traffic. Alternatively, you will find June and September much quieter.
The last 2.5 kilometres of the Pordoi are exposed and subject to wind. You should check the wind direction before you ascend as a block head wind will make the climb twice as difficult and perhaps spoil the enjoyment of the day.
Take care as you start the descent, particularly on the corners, as the snow melt at high ground can lead to water on the road surface.
History on the Passo Pordoi
The road was the scene of intense fighting during the First World War and there is a small museum at the summit documenting this.
The climb boasts two monuments at its peak. Firstly, a memorial to the legendary Italian cyclist Fausto Coppi and also one to fellow countryman Gilberto Simoni.
There’s a plaque on the Coppi monument that says: “In the shadow of these majestic Dolomite peaks, this bronze tablet will testify forever to the incomparable feats of the greatest cyclist. To Fausto Coppi, Il Campionissimo, champion of champions.” We’re told the custom is to take off your cycling cap and put it on Coppi’s head.
Coppi, who won the Giro five times, adored the Pordoi. He said: ‘I was the first over the summit there five times, maybe because whenever I was in that area I could breathe beautifully’. There is certainly something about the incredible freshness of the high mountain air here!
If you’re feeling weary on the climb, you won’t be alone. There’s a story from the 1940 Giro. Bartali, Coppi’s Legnano team mate, turned left at the bottom instead of turning right to the Passo Sella. When Bartali caught up with Coppi, he was starting to crack and Bartali stuffed snow down the back of Coppi’s jersey to get a rise!
Maratona dles Dolomites climb number 2 (Arabba to Canazei)
Sella Ronda climb number 3 (Canazei to Arabba) assuming starting in Corvara and going anti-clockwise
Don't miss our main guide to cycling in the Dolomites - you'll find loads of information to help you plan your trip and links to all our other Dolomites cycling guides, including Passo Sella, Gardena, Campolongo, Falzarego/Valparola, Giau and Fedaia.
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