17 August 2016
Join Collett’s Beth Lloyd on days 1 – 4 of a 7-day ski safari in the Dolomites as she gets to grips with the slopes, samples some wonderful food and enjoys a visit from a baby deer.
And so it began! The ski safari team for the week had all been collected from Venice airport and everyone was settled in well for the first night in Chalet Baita. Nestled on the corner of a hairpin bend, surrounded by forests that lead up past Castello and the Falzarego pass, Baita presents a welcome and homely atmosphere. The owners are friendly and attentive, the décor traditional and quirky, there is even a fat, friendly cat wondering about the ground floor giving the place a truly homely feel. It didn’t take long after moving into the rooms for the group to relocate to the bar area to get to know each other over a few drinks. There were seventeen of us in total and so the jumble of names and back stories had us all busy well into the evening. Nibbles were bought to the table and before too long our ski instructors for the week, Diego and Pietro, a fine double act, arrived to give us the low down for the week to come. After our mini office hour we moved through to the next room for an incredible home cooked dinner of Barley soup followed by Sirloin steak cooked in a salt and hay crust –a traditional, local dish that had the whole group piling on the compliments to our hosts. It was beautifully cooked and very tasty. Desert was a classic tiramisu, lovely. We then retired to the bar for a digestive and more chatting. Despite the long day that many had travelling from home to the mountains, the atmosphere had been one of excitement for the rest of the week, and as the snow continued to fall outside it was hard to imagine why anyone wouldn’t be looking forward to it!
The first day drew to an end with a chalet full of tired, full and happy people. We travelled far, starting in Arraba after sorting our ski hire. The snow that had been promised arrived and changed the view considerably. The trees had become laden with fresh powdery flakes and the pistes covered in a decent blanket too. This proved for some more challenging conditions in the afternoon, with moguls and choppy slopes making for tired legs all round. We headed over to Corvara first and the Pralongia plateau before dropping down into San Cassiano to catch a taxi up to the Falzarego pass. A short ski took us along to Cinque Torri, with the famous towers enveloped by low lying cloud. We had a long lunch at refugio Averau, sampling many lovely dishes including a carrot gnocci and some local wine too. After lunch we skied down through the Cinque Torri area and caught a bus down to the Tofana ski area, but not before a quick snowball fight, instigated by those pesky ski instructors! Diego and Pietro are both jokers and a great double act fuelled by a very long friendship. Throughout the week they were forever messing around, keeping us entertained in the worst of weather and at any time we found ourselves waiting at a lift or bus stop.
We left the majority of the Tofana slopes until the next morning and retired to the hotel Cantoniere where we would be spending the night. At first impressions this building doesn’t inspire much confidence. From the outside it is a distinctive, old red house standing alone on the hillside, but what it hides underground in a modern extension is just amazing. The rooms are fresh and clean and the bar and communal areas very welcoming. We all had a delightful three course meal, but retired early to bed on the most part feeling a little stuffed!
Well if we thought it had snowed a lot the day before…! We woke to the gentle swaying of trees sodden with snow. Big flakes, clumped together were falling at a fair rate and had seemed to have been doing so most of the night. The Cantoniere hotel was completely enveloped in a winter wonderland! Sleepy faces appeared one by one to negotiate the extensive spread of cakes, breads, fruit and cereals that had been laid on for breakfast. The owner popped in and out, bringing the coffees of people’s choice which seemed to help clear some of the sleepy dust. At a leisurely pace we got ourselves ready and met at the front of the hotel.
The instructors told us how we had a short ski through the woods to reunite with the main ski area. The forest was magical with the snow dampening down sounds and giving almost a slow motion effect as it fell. We joined the Tofana area again and went in search of the ladies world cup black run! The slopes were quiet, the cloud was still quite low and the visibility not the easiest but at least we had it to ourselves. The run in question lies between two pillars of rock, which became known to the group as the gates of Modor! It’s an impressive setting for a race, that’s for sure, and everyone gave it a good shot in the less than ideal conditions. After a little more exploring we sought some warmth in a refugio for coffee then descended into Cortina to cross the valley toward Faloria! A short bus journey through the centre of town took us to the bottom of the main cable car, which we found was closed due to technical difficulties… But that was no problem! Alternative transport was arranged and soon enough we were at our lunch stop.
After some well-deserved and warming food we skied the rest of the afternoon away amongst the trees where the visibility was much better –despite the ever continuing snow! We even played on some off the steeper, off piste slopes which was great! Smiles all round! With weary legs we caught our transfer off the slopes and away from Cortina, next stop San Candido and Hotel Capriolo where we would be staying for the next two nights! San Candido is a beautiful town, the buildings are old and traditional, with numerous churches dotted about amongst the shops and bars. I headed down for an evening walk and bumped into the instructors, joining them for a drink in a local bar, and chatting with them about the day.
After this it was back to the hotel for dinner. The hotel was much bigger than our previous nights of accommodation but didn’t fail to be just as welcoming. There was a bar area and large dining room as well as sofas for taking the weight off of those tired legs. The staff were all very helpful and friendly too. Dinner was much appreciated by all after the hard work put in on the slopes and was followed by a few grappas in the bar, looking over the maps to see what ground we had covered on the trip so far.
The perfect day. Fresh snow, blue skies and perfectly groomed pistes. We woke just in time to see a dramatic sunrise over San Candido and we treated to our first view of mountains since the trip began and like they say, absence makes the heart grow fonder. Croda Rossa stood proudly across the valley, its jagged peaks accentuated by the fresh snowfall of yesterday. The good weather had people considerably more motivated than previous mornings and before too long everyone had gathered at the front of the building with skis at the ready. We had a short ride on the train to the bottom of our slopes for the day, exploring the areas of Sexten and Vierschach. We split into two groups at the top of the first gondola and headed off to explore. I joined Pietro’s group for the morning. With the good visibility we could all really start to focus on technique more –rather than just trying to negotiate the best way down soft, moguly slopes! He started to tweak peoples’ posture and performance whilst leading us around the resorts’ long runs. We headed over to the steepest black in northern Italy, Holzier, which everyone survived in style, and then went for coffee.
It really felt like the group bonded that day. Without the distraction of weather, or midday transfers, everyone could just ski and enjoy the mountains at their best. Everyone seemed comfortable in each other’s company and happy to help each other out, a good team. After coffee we headed over to a race course to do some video analysis, not before bumping into a baby reindeer… yes an actual reindeer who was roaming the slopes. One can only assume he’d gotten out of an enclosure somewhere as they’re not all that native to the Dolomites… He was also very tame.
The whole group met for lunch in the sun at a refugio at the bottom of the pistes and then divided again for round two in the afternoon. I joined Diego for this session as we did a few more runs and headed back towards our day’s start point before last lifts. Our lift back to the hotel wasn’t due to arrive for another hour as we cruised onto the last piste of the day so we went to another sunny refugio and did a bit of Apres –would be rude not to!
The Apres continued when we got back, throughout dinner and beyond which was all a great laugh.
If this has inspired you to try the real thing book a ski safari in the Dolomites now.