ITALY: Thanks to some cool high-level work from Volvo excavators, skiers and snowboarders in Italy faced an exciting new challenge this winter
by John Bayliss
Part of the northern Italian Alps, the 18 peaks of the Dolomites – rising to more than 3,000 meters and covering 142,000 hectares – are stunning features in one of Europe’s most beautiful mountain landscapes stretching across the top of Italy to the north of the city of Verona.
Throughout the summer, the Dolomites are popular for their rock-climbing facilities and trekking trails. In winter the area comes into its own with its hundreds of kilometers of ski pistes – ranging from beginner slopes to the much sought-after ‘black’ runs – attracting a wide variety of ski and snowboarding talent.
The 1,200km of ski pistes in the resort of Pozza di Fassa in the Buffaure ski area attract thousands of people each year, giving the local economy a significant boost. Winter sports are big business in this part of the world and resorts have to work hard to keep up with the competition. In a bid to encourage more tourists to the Valle di Fassa region, not far from the border with Austria, a new black run was added.
Aptly named the ‘Vulcano’, the new run – categorised as more difficult for experienced skiers – covers an area of nearly 74,000 square meters. A great deal of thought went into the design of Vulcano to ensure sufficient variety and challenges on the downhill run to make the descent exciting for the most proficient freestyle skiers and snowboarders whilst, at the same time, eliminating unnecessary risks and dangers.
Creating the slope in a terrain completely covered in pine trees and subject to extremes of weather required some careful maneuvering and expertise provided by top-level operators working with high-performance Volvo machines in a potentially dangerous environment.
The task of clearing the area before 80,000 cubic meters of groundwork could begin fell to the construction firm Misconel Srl. Originally a local firm dating back to 1700 and responsible for building the bell tower of the church of Santa Maria Assunta of Cavalese and other buildings and churches throughout the region, the company has a nationwide reputation in the construction industry, although it is still a family-run business. Of its 21 Volvo machines, from wheel loaders to a range of excavators,Misconel opted to deploy medium-weight Volvo crawler excavators ranging from 22 to 26 tonnes – specifically four EC220D and three EC250D – as being the best adapted and ideally suited to carry out the work.
The new piste starts at a height of 1,900m and drops 600m over the 2,150m length of the steep downhill run. That meant the machines worked at an average gradient of 40% increasing to 49% for the last section of the slope before disappearing into the valley meadows.
According to the company’s owner, Giulio Misconel, the Vulcano project posed multiple challenges.
“To manage a project like this, which is surrounded by high mountains, you are faced in particular with the problem of steep slopes combined with adverse weather conditions,” he says.
Heavy rainfall over long periods during the project made for treacherous conditions. Efficient drainage systems were vital to avoid landslides and a large retaining wall had to be constructed along one section of the slope.
“We had to do a lot of work to contain the earth, mechanically stabilizing it,” says Misconel. “We used the latest available techniques on the market to construct ‘green’ walls. It was very complicated, very precise and technologically very advanced.”
Misconel site manager Franco Piazzi is impressed at how well the Volvo excavators handled the difficult and at times lethal terrain and says he is proud of their performance. “To work in this kind of environment, you must be able to guarantee high digging performance, stability, swing torque and cab visibility as well as maximum safety,” says Piazzi. “We are very satisfied with the performance of our Volvo machines.” As with most Volvo customers, he points to fuel efficiency as being top of the range for this type of machine on the market.
In June 2009, the Dolomites were designated as a World Heritage site by UNESCO, based on their natural beauty and the fact that they offer some of the most attractive mountain scenery in the world. To help limit damage to the environment during the work it was important that the machinery was easy to control and that fuel consumption and pollution were also taken into account.
“We had to work very carefully,” says Misconel. “We used Volvo machinery of the latest generation to avoid and reduce pollution of the environment. They are of relatively small dimensions so we could do our work with more precision in order to have as little impact on the environment as possible. In our field, nature is our main project manager, the highest executive manager to whom we are accountable.”
Alongside the construction work on the slope, another important element in the project centred on the landscaping. This was carried out when the excavators moved out, the aim being to return the environment to its natural state and appearance as closely as possible.
Lorenz Cristian, president of the Buffaure Ski Society, sees the new Vulcano ski run as an important additional asset to the area.
“This new ski slope will bring added value. We needed new ski slopes of a high level in terms of technical difficulty to encourage more tourists to the area.”
Bearing in mind the physical conditions of the location, the challenging weather and the comparatively short construction schedule, it is a credit to the Misconel team that they completed the work in time for the 2014-15 winter ski season.
Misconel acknowledges that the Volvo machinery proved particularly reliable and was the obvious choice for the project. And since Volvo CE maintains a high level of maintenance for all its equipment there have been no after-market concerns with the machinery chosen for the project.
“We have never had any problem with them. Normally we solve any problems ourselves in our own garage, but whenever we need Volvo’s services they always respond quickly and competently,” says Giulio Misconel.