A Collett’s Ski Safari

21 January 2013

The first Collett’s Ski Safari was a huge success and a truly memorable Dolomites experience for a group of 12 skiers. I was privileged to be one of them. (Occasionally one has to ‘up-sticks’ and leave the family in the name of product research!)

This unique ‘hut to hut’ skiing holiday in the Dolomites was made all the more special by a variation of sublime snow conditions and a delightful group of people – from Paddy and Carol in their late sixties (ex-members of the NZ ladies ski racing team) to Steve and Amy (a couple in their 30’s from Washington D.C .) As the week progressed, snowfall and fresh powder made way for immaculately manicured pistes and sensational panoramas set against cloudless blue skies. It was a great pleasure to witness people’s amazement as every turn revealed another staggering vista.

A Collett’s Ski Safari highlights the extent and sheer beauty of this vast ski network. The feel-good factor is immense and it is further intensified by the ability to ski from one beautiful valley to the next, covering miles of pistes (mainly intermediate, often easy and occasionally quite steep), starting perhaps at 3000m before descending into the lower tree-lined pistes that spill you out into picturesque, little-known resorts. From these you start your next ascent to another breathtaking launchpad, which, moments earlier, had been a distant speck against a backdrop of dramatic peaks. Sometimes ski buses and taxis were required to keep us on the move but these journeys were generally short and hassle-free.

If you stay in one of our catered chalets in the Dolomites on a conventional Collett’s winter holiday, you can certainly ski for miles, visiting several different valleys before heading back to your base. Indeed, this is one the key attractions of our winter holidays in the Dolomites. However, on a Collett’s Ski Safari you just keep going and going. And everyone in the group looked forward to sitting over a map and a beer in the late afternoons retracing the day’s route and marvelling at the distance covered. This particular tour took in Arabba, Pordoi, Canazei, the Val di Fassa (Vigo, Pozza, Moena & Predazzo), Carezza, Obereggen, San Pellegrino, Falcade, Alleghe, Zoldo, Cinque Torre, Cortina, the Hidden Valley, Corvara and the Alta Badia – but the sheer enormity of this ski area meant that we missed out on places such as the Val Gardena, the Marmolada, San Vigilio and Plan de Corones, all of which are gems and will surely be included in future Collett’s Ski Safaris.

Finally, a mention for the huts that accommodated us each evening. This aspect of the safari was certainly one of the most gratifying and heartwarming. It is a wonderful experience to ski to a hut in the late afternoon, take off your skis and settle in for the evening. It’s also a bonus to find your rucksack waiting for you. The first thing I did was to call the family and let them know where I was, describing the day and then the amazing winter landscape before my eyes. Some of the rifugios were perched high in the mountains just off the piste, some were lower down in wooded areas accessed by winter tracks. All were homely and provided more than adequate accommodation with en suite bedrooms and hot showers. We had such delightful evenings playing cards and other games. In one hut perched high above Cortina we were all on such a high that dancing and singing prevailed for most of the evening, admittedly fuelled by a drink or two. The hospitality in the huts was warm and welcoming. The staff fed and watered us very well and dinner was always excellent and an enjoyable focal point of the day.

After dinner we would usually stay at the table for a couple of nightcaps. Everyone seemed to have a recommendation in this department and our tired limbs would eventually hit the sack sedated by a certain grappa or amaretto – you name it, we probably tried it. But such was the camaraderie that inevitably prevailed on such a venture, no one really wanted to break up the party and be the first to bed.

Either way, every morning I woke up forgetting that I was in a remote mountain rifugio in the Dolomites, only to enjoy that realisation when I heard the voice of a room-mate that wasn’t my wife’s. Then I would throw back the curtains to be invigorated by the view, get dressed, enjoy breakfast and slowly but surely get excited about the day ahead…. the skiing, the scenery and the sheer exhilaration. I came home feeling 20 years younger.

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