Billed as “The Height of Adventure,” the 1993 American action-adventure film Cliffhanger is the story of a mountain climber, played by Sylvester Stallone, who gets caught up in a U.S. Treasury plane heist. While the film was set in Colorado’s Rocky Mountains in the United States, little filming actually took place there. The majority of the movie was shot in Cortina d’Ampezzo in the Dolomite Mountains!
Throughout the film, a variety of prominent mountains, vertical walls, and manmade structures in the Dolomites were featured to depict the climbing landscape of the Colorado Rockies. While some say that the Dolomites were chosen “because of their spectacular similarities,” others indicate that “the producers realized [the Dolomites] looked more dramatic.” Check out the film and decide for yourself!
Most of the rock climbing in Cliffhanger took place on the impressive Tofane Group (3,244m / 10,643′). This impressive wide, solid massif is one of the most distinguished formations in Dolomites, consisting of three main peaks of similar altitude: Tofana di Rozes (3,225m / 10,580′) in the south, Tofana di Mezzo (or Tofana II, 3,244m / 10,643′) the tallest, in the center, and Tofana di Dentro (or Tofana III, at 3,238m / 10623′) in the north. If you have visited the Dolomite Mountains before, you’re sure to recognize them to the west Cortina d’Ampezzo, towering above. In some scenes toward the end of the movie, you can clearly see not only the three Tofane, but also the Croda da Lago (2,709m / 8,888′) and the village of Cortina d’Ampezzo itself, filmed from the top of Funivia Faloria (Faloria Cable Car), near the summit of Monte Faloria (2,123m / 6,965′).
Not far from the Tofane is Rifugio Lagazuoi (2,752m / 9,029′), one of the highest rifugi in the Dolomites. This magnificent hut was used as an operations base during filming, and posed as a Colorado lodge in the film itself. Over the course of filming, the crew stayed in Cortina for more than three months.
A number of adrenaline-inducing scenes include a bridge suspended between towering dolomitic rocks. These were filmed on Via Ferrata Ivano Dibona, one of the most popular ferrata in the Dolomites. Located on Monte Cristallo (3,216m / 10,551′) in Cortina, this via ferrata includes the well-known 27-meter (89′) Ponte Cristallo suspension bridge that featured in the movie. In fact, it is the longest via ferrata suspension bridge in the Dolomites. Along with ladders, tunnels, and a magnificent and airy line along ledges used during the First World War, the Ivano Dibona is a restored historical route used by Italian troops during World War I. Spoiler alert: Of course, the bridge was reconstructed immediately after it was blown up during filming!
But it wasn’t all over the top vertical; some scenes were filmed on easier sentiero – hiking paths equipped with cables for safety. You may recognize scenes set along the Sentiero Ferrato Astaldi, a well-equipped trail that sets out from Rifugio Dibona. The path travels along a ledge of Tofana di Mezzo, across colorful dolomite rock ranging from natural reds to browns to golds and greys – a spectacular setting for the film and our hikes alike!
The movie does venture into other parts of the Dolomites, beyond Cortina d’Ampezzo. About two hours west, the Catinaccio / Rosengarten Group in the South Tyrol was used for the base-jump scene. Sporting a 400-meter high big wall, with an overhang of 18 meters (59′), the Rotwand / Roda di Vaèl (2805m / 9,206′) with its incredible red tint was perfect. In the base-jumping shot from above, you can see a snow-covered footpath zigzagging to the right-hand bottom corner, leading to Vaiolon Pass (2,560m / 8,399′) in the southern portion of Rosengarten.
Think you’d like to try your hand at some of the rock featured in the film? Go for it! Need more encouragement? Stallone, who co-wrote the screenplay, is afraid of heights, and partly took on the role specifically to help himself confront that fear!
Sylvester Stallone, John Lithgow, and Janine Turner
Check out some of our favorite via ferrata and climbing trips in Cortina d’Ampezzo!
- Family Dolomites Climbing & Via Ferrata Experience
- Via Ferrata Traverse: Cortina To Alta Badia
- Via Ferrata Quick Getaway