Italian Food and Fun 2011 - The Dolomites: what a place, what a week!
The Inside Out Ski Club has just returned from a week in the Italian Dolomites. It was our first trip there, but most certainly not our last. We were based in the pretty village of San Cassiano, on the edge of the Sella Ronda circuit amongst the absolute splendour of the limestone cliffs that tower over the gorgeous valleys of this quarter of Italy. We stayed at the Albergo Frohsinn, run by Mountain Sun who we partnered with in Tignes for out pre-season skills clinics (and will again in June for our summer ski camps). The hotel has a perfect location directly on the intersection of two pistes and just a 10 seconds slide down to the gondola out of the village. As a late addition to our winter programme this trip was intended to be small scale to allow us time to get to know the area in addition to working with our clients, who benefitted from a special deal of a free lift pass for the entire Dolomiti Superski domain. As in Tignes, the hotel staff were friendly, knowledgable and helpful, and provided us with terrific food during our stay.
Apart from a little bit of high cloud on our first day of skiing the week was characterised by unbroken sunshine and unseasonably warm temperatures. This made it felt much more like the end of April rather than the end of March, but piste preparation by the Dolomite's pisteurs is nothing short of superb so we were blessed with perfect spring conditions. Just about all the pistes were open and had full snow coverage, with icy conditions first thing, grippy snow in the middle of the day and warming up to lovely slushy goodness at the end of the afternoon. This range of conditions made it possible to mix and match the skiing and the coaching, with lots of drills to work on specific skills and plenty of time to tour from area to area, from village to village, to sample the best that was on offer. At no point were there any lift queues of any kind, it was just ski straight on to everything. The pistes were accordingly quiet, so no need to worry about waiting for a gap in the traffic to do your ski drills.
Widely regarded as among the most beautiful mountains, the Dolomites provided a stunning backdrop to our skiing. Some of the classic tours, like the Hidden Valley or the Cinque Torres, are truly breathtaking. As a first time visitor what also impresses is the modern lift system composed of big gondolas and fast chairlifts, so we were whisked from valley to peak in great comfort. The Sella Ronda circuit laps around the Gruppo Sella mountains and was a great way to get a feel for the scale of the place. Skiing through and past half a dozen or more villages provided a great range of pistes to ski on (we did a great team synchro ski down one very, very long Red piste from top to bottom, mixing up turn shapes and radii) as well as sampling mountain bars and restaurants along the way. An easy tour in a day, we finished off with Bombardinos at the last bar on the ski home. Perfect!
While Inside Out club trips are not designed as gastronomic tours we did manage to find time for some outstanding meals on the hill, with especially good experiences at the Scotini in the Hidden Valley and Punta Trieste above San Cassiano. The Scotoni mixed grill was a particularly delightful challenge, although it did help with the schuss on the flat section at the end of the piste!
As the week went on we saw great changes in our clients' skiing, with much more dynamic movements helping them to cope with heavy snow and steeper slopes. The hour we spent teaching 360 spins on piste was a real laugh-out-loud moment for all of us (and a scream-out-loud moment for at least one of our clients). So, good work team!
Overall we were delighted with our first visit to the Dolomites. The snow was as good as it could have been thanks to great piste preparation, the weather was perfect, the ski area was very quiet and offered a great range of slopes to teach on and a massive area to explore. All this plus the great charm of the Italians and their fabulous cuisine. It's difficult for us to think how how we could have improved on the trip! We're already planning next year's visits, with a week likely in the middle of January for an introduction to race training working with coaches from the local ski school (a brilliant way to sharpen up your piste performance) and another week at the end of March for all-round skills development.
But wait, there's more…
Venice Marco Polo airport is one of the choices that you can fly to and be collected (on the free airport transfer) by the Albergo Frohsinn that was our base for the week. Marco Polo is just 20 minutes on the Express Bus from Venice itself, with two departures an hour, and there is a cheap Left Luggage facility to deposit ski gear at the airport. We had booked a relatively late flight so we had the time for a day of exploring the canals and piazzas and alleyways of this amazing city. It really is the most amazing place, and wandering around in the warm weather of an early April day was a wonderful way to complete a brilliant ski trip.
For more photos check out our Dolomites 2011 gallery or view the following slideshow:
Photo credits: Rob Rees, Scott Pleva, Ruth Gordon, Sam Gee