The Stelvio, one of the true classics among the alpine passes, was completed in 1825; at that time an incredible achievement. For more then a century it was the highest pass that could be used by carriages, cars and .... bikes. In 1936 the 12 meters higher Col de l'Iseran was opened. This record was broken in 1960 when the Col de la Bonnette (2803 m), a former military road, was opened to the general public.
From a scenic point of view the Stelvio is almost unsurpassed. Each of the three ascends are truly magnificent. The north slope (from Prad am Stilserjoch / Prado allo Stelvio) and the ascends/descends via the Swiss Umbrail pass offer the opportunity to make a 70 km round trip. First, we have done this round trip clockwise, i.e. Stelvio uphill and Umbrail downhill (see data and images below). Next day we have taken the same roads anti-clockwise (see Pass Umbrail for details). The third ascend (south slope from Bormio) has been put on "climbs to do" list.
The climb from Prad am Stilfserjoch is dominated by its 48 hairpins bends. They are nicely numbered from 48 (8 km after Prad) to number 1, a few hundreds of meters from the summit. In the Alps there is probably no other paved pass with so many hairpins (the Bormio side has 34 of them, the famous Alpe d'Huez only 21). Hairpins are - to my opinion - ideal to overcome serious elevations. When looking back, you can see a steadily growing number of twists (far) below; it gives you the encouraging feeling of real progress.
The roads are on average in good condition. However, the pavement of the hairpins above 2000 meters seems to have retained their original 1904 state; care has to be taken, in particular when descending ! The Stelvio is a popular pass among tourists. We have climbed the Stelvio on a late July Friday morning, which was fine, but descending on a Saturday afternoon was different. Lots of motorcycles, cars and some unexperienced drivers. Fortunately, you can easily overtake two or three cars per hairpin. When looking at the summit photo below, try to ignore the distracting display of trash.
Profile and more images.
The gradient profile of the Passo di Stelvio - starting at Prad am Stilfserjoch - has been made by Ward Oud in Matlab, based on the read out of his Ciclomaster HAC 4 cycle computer. Click here to download a more detailed version in pfd format (12 k).