Unlike what you might be accustomed to in North America, the Italian version of skiing involves frequent on-mountain stops to consume copious amount of food and drink, and if you’re lucky enough to be skiing the Dolomites you get the chance to experience ventures such as the Sella Ronda, the First WWI tour, the Hidden Valley, the Gourmet&Ski tour and many more.
The Sella Ronda for example is one-of-a-kind connection of lifts and downhill runs functions like an alpine merry-go-round, circumnavigating a particularly vertiginous chunk of the Dolomites named the Sella Massif. Skiers use lifts to move either clockwise or counterclockwise around Sella, negotiating four mountain passes and bombing down what amounts to 35km of intermediate groomed terrain.
In true Italian form, the Alta Badia ski region is rife with rifugios – mountain huts serving everything from pizza to Michelin-starred cuisine.
From the very first run you will appreciated the gentle slopes – anything more technical would be distracting from the scenery. As you ski you will gap at 360-degree views of endless snowfields peppered with pine forests set against a backdrop of colossal limestone buttresses, bluffs, shoots and spires. Even the rifugios were designed to showcase the landscape, with ample wrap-around porches so skiers can soak in the gigantic views and the sunshine – all while sipping on a Aperol-spritz aperitif.
You certainly won’t find Pétrus being mixed with Coca-Cola and guzzled like an energy drink here. But if you like a relaxed Italian vibe, exquisite scenery, uncrowded slopes and delicious food, then this is definitely the place to ski. Italian food + German organisation = South Tyrol. That is the one-line pitch for the Alta Badia ski region, near the Italian-Austrian border. It sounds too good to be true. But after a couple of sunny days in the Dolomites, I promise you to be completely seduced.
Culturally, the South Tyrol is an interesting crossroads. It was part of Austria-Hungary until 1919 when it was awarded to Italy in one of those deals brokered by the old Great Powers of Europe. Benito Mussolini proceeded with a brutal policy of Italianisation. Speaking German became illegal, forbidding Tyroleans from communicating in their common language. South Tyrol was dragged into Italy whether it liked it or not. German is still spoken more than Italian. But the old wounds of a divided community have mostly healed. There is a growing realization that South Tyrol now enjoys the best of both worlds: politically, it has a semi-autonomous status within Italy, and yet it benefits from the mellowing influence of Mediterranean culture.
As a skiing destination, the region is capitalising on one of its natural advantages: food. One of the great pleasures of skiing is being hungry: food tastes better when you need it. In many resorts, that fact is often lazily exploited, not so in the Dolomites. You will eat wonderful local food – both up the mountain and down it – without being ripped off. Eating seriously good Italian food, overlooking the jagged peaks that you’d skied that morning, soaking up the afternoon sunshine, with the prospect of proper espresso to come – does life get better than this?