Despite my adventurous pedigree, your author is somewhat of a late bloomer when it comes to skiing, picking up some poles and donning my boots in the exotic Milton Keynes snowdome at the ripe old age of 38. And while a ski trip has become somewhat of an annual pilgrimage, it has been very much a set of variations on a common theme.
A concrete micropolis high in the French Alps, inhabited by a multicultural meleé of seasonnaires, University ski club trips and ski-school snakes. Up early, ski hard, drink harder, repeat until the legs or the liver gives out. This year I vowed to discover something more nuanced, more cultural, more compelling. With my hunters hat on, my cappello da cacciatore perhaps, I headed to the Italian Dolomites.
Travelling in my usual style, trading a wipe-clean pay-to-breathe Ryanair flight for a jaunt on a Skyalps turboprop was a dream. A nimble little plane (more private jet, less cattle car) whisked me to the small and delightfully efficient Bolzano airport in a little under two hours. 20 passengers on a plane built for 80, and service to match.
On board, an unusual snack of caraway and cumin spiced Schüttelbrot set the tone for the trip; where’s the trolley of soggy sandwiches? As this is the only way to fly into Bolzano (SkyAlps is the sole commercial airline operating from the airport), I’d recommend that you jump on this new route before word gets out. It feels like a boon from the travel gods.
A further advantage of flying into Bolzano is the brisk transfer over the Passo di Costalunga, down into the heart of Val di Fassa. In an hour we were deposited into the luxury of the Hotel Ciampedie. And what luxury. The hotel’s spa has everything you need to unwind, with a sprawling indoor and outdoor pool connected to an array of sauna, steam, jacuzzi, relaxation rooms, and even meditation for those seeking ultimate zen. No need to worry about shopping for the chalet or fighting for a spot in the sauna here, just focus on melting away any tension with their extensive range of treatments. It’s an experience designed to recharge and refresh after racking up the miles, on-piste or off.
Outside of the hotel, how does the skiing compare to the packed slopes of the French Alps? Collecting our equipment and taking the gondola up to the Ciampedie ski area, the spectacular peaks of the Torre Vajolet are breathtaking. A word has to be said about the sheer stunning beauty of the place. Majestic spires of pink-orange stone ring the ski area, particularly resplendent in the afternoon light. It’s a truly unique landscape. Hard to compare to previous experience, Torres del Paine in Patagonia and Yosemite Valley in California were the closest I and my colleagues could get – and this is a ski centre?
With it being my first day of the season, the quiet, well groomed pistes were ideal to shake off the rust and instil some confidence. An afternoon with an expert ski instructor and a steady progression of exercises (more weight on the downhill ski please) was also a great way to bring back some focus on correcting my largely self-taught skills. In comparison to the crowded runs I’m used to, it’s the perfect environment to focus on improvement. Outside of the local area, a short shuttle bus from the hotel to Campitello or Canazei unlocks the Sella Ronda, the 6-hour, 40 km circuit around the Sella massif, and access to 12 ski resorts and a total of 1,246 km of piste. As one of the largest ski areas in the alps, there’s plenty for all levels of skier.
Off-piste, or more off-the-side of the piste at Biata Checco, the cuisine is a world away from the canteen burgers, flabby pizza and limp chips so prevalent in mass-market resorts. As well as wider Italian influenced fare of pasta and risottos, local Ladin specialities of polenta, barley soup and apple stuffed savoury ravioli tempt the gastronome, ideal mountain food for a long day in the mountain cold. As with all of Italy, a great place to begin to explore the culture and history is with the food, and what better way to develop your rapporto over lunch than with earthy wild mushroom pasta dishes, locally sourced venison, herb-packed dumplings and sharp salty Trento Padano cheese.
Back down in the valley, a more relaxed apreś experience awaits than your author is used to. But fear not, banging ski boots on chilly tables are comfortably replaced with a fur-lined armchair and a glass by the fire. Trentino is a wine region renowned for its sparkling, with the award-winning Trento DOC on-hand to perform an admirable aperitivo duty. The rose from Ferrari is a particular standout, bringing notes of crunchy strawberry and round cherry. Delightfully blush-pink fizz to match the blush-pink sunset peaks outside. And if wine isn’t your tipple of choice, you could do much worse than finding your way to the beers served in the local Rampeer Birrificio Osteria.
This nouveau Tyrolean must-visit has been recently renovated and relaunched by Daniel Riz, with a fine selection of small-run craft beers developed and brewed in-house. Highlights from our session were the winter ale and a spiky Cirmolo blonde, a well balanced beer sent wild with a locally produced pine infusion. Surprising indeed, but bound to work given the global success of piney-hopped American IPAs. And yes, your spirit of choice is available too – although if you weren’t to try some amaro (Ginificio from Trento is my pick) you’d miss out.
So far, so good? Well, just wait until your calves and quads begin to burn at the mere sight of another precipitous piste on day three of your week-long trip. Time for a break, and maybe to try an alternative means of conveyance? A trail-breaking excursion up the valley on horseback proves an enviable way to experience the magnificent vistas of the Fassa valley.
At her ranch in Campitello, the saintly Charlotte rescues horses from difficult situations, bringing them to an idyllic corner of the Fassa valley. Although I’m not sure lugging your author up an icy mountainside is necessarily the easiest of situations (the corpulent ghost of Christmas past yet reminds me of festive folly), it’s heartening to see the animal husbandry that the ranch is renowned for first-hand.
You can consider my cowboy aspirations well met by this exciting gallop up a snowy trail to the picture postcard view up Val Duron and the snowy peaks behind. Still yet, there’s a panoply of outdoor activities available in the locality for non-skiers, both in the winter and stretching into the summer months. Snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, tobogganing, walking, climbing the via ferrata and mountain biking seem to be the most popular, and all easily accessed from the village using the bus network that runs through the valley.
So – is there a different way to approach a week of skiing? Of course. And is it here, in Trentino? Most definitely. And will it be the ski trip that I plan for next year? Well, I might just plan two.
The Arb stayed at the Hotel Ciampedie where a double room costs £341/night. A ski pass for the Val di Fassa area is €70 a day. Full-area Dolomiti Superski passes are €80/day in peak season, with bundle offers available at www.dolomitisuperski.com
A 2-hour trip with Charlotte’s horse-riding centre is £68 per person.