Going Ikon Overseas, Part II
Dolomiti Superski, the Italian Stallion of Ikon access, offers up a whopping 16 resorts to explore.
For the Aspen Times Weekly
“Wait, what?” I said, looking for the rock named Sassongher that had impressed on me strongly five chairlifts earlier. It was lunchtime on the first day and, clearly, I’d already lost my bearings!
I’m here at Dolomiti Superski, a vast ski area within the UNESCO World Heritage protected mountains in the heart of the Italian “Rockies” or Dolomites, because starting this season they’re part of the Ikon package that comes with the Aspen Skiing Co.’s Premier Pass. We are seated at Club Moritzino, an on-mountain rifugio (literally “refuge”) in their red-carpeted roof-less outdoor annex with a panoramic view. Shying from direct sun, the host is playing milliner by outfitting me in a large floppy hat so flattering I’d have worn it glamming up the Amalfi coast in a convertible. The Viking — again accompanying me on an Ikon-fueled European ski sojourn — dons a slightly too-small straw trilby, jilted at an angle gangster-syle.
The huge caramel-colored Dolman-style rocks of Alta Badia appear to radiate peace as they beam beatifically in the warm sunshine. “These mountains are friendly!” I say, as the week’s procession of gourmet insanity starts. “I’ve never heard that before” says our local guide, smiling. The plate of tagliatelle with red mullet decorated with a fresh pansy set down in front of me is the prettiest pasta I’ve ever seen or tasted. Add on the local wine, tiramisu, and a grappa-filled mini chocolate waffle cone that almost finished me off and, well, I don’t remember now if we skied down via the Men’s Super G course before or after lunch — such was the terrific food coma and the distracting rugged scenery.
CHOOSING AN ITINERARY
When researching the Dolomites, “Ski Safaris” appeared everywhere but didn’t appeal.
“Sounds exhausting!” said The Viking over WhatsApp when I reeled off a suggested itinerary.
Call me a commitment-phobe, but I was worried tired legs or bad weather would make me want to plan the day as it came, no pre-set schedule.
The Ikon Base Pass with our Premier pass offers five days at Dolomiti Superski, no blackout dates. So as soon as Italy dropped off the pandemic no-fly list, I snuck out of town in late March and reinstated plans cancelled in December when COVID flared. All that was required now was a few clicks in the destinations’ app for vaccination details and a visitor QR code enabled all-access via a “Super Green Pass.” N95 masks were still required, even on lifts. No big deal, I had mine from the plane.
The weekend before the trip, the Viking had a little mishap at the motocross track (don’t ask). So with one hand in a brace, but determined to enjoy the adventure, he met me in good spirits at Malpensa in Milan. Still based in Italy, and having experienced the entire ski shutdown the previous season, he was super keen to see this area. We set off on the five-hour drive after a jetlag rest day for me. Milan worked for us, but depending on what resort you’re headed to, closer airports are Innsbruck, Venice or Verona and a London-Bolzano route should be in place next season.
As we snaked through the villages of Alta Badia, the switchbacks were lined with rockfaces so tall they darkened the sky. Finally, we pulled into Hotel Marmolada in Corvara, freshly remodeled before a COVID closure for the 2020-21 season. Delighted by its light-wood spacious rooms, pool, spa and welcoming lounge, we were grateful for the half-board hospitality. Wowed by a four-course supper including an incredible shrimp on wok veggie entrée and a hazelnut mouse sugar hit, we padded off to bed. Half-board sounds old-school but was brilliant for skiing with no reservations needed for dinner and delicious choices galore. I’d have happily stayed here a week.
Next morning, we were assigned the same cozy booth by the same warm chatty servers who were so grateful they’d had a whole season. Then we got our first taste of the Dolomite breakfast. It wasn’t just a Hotel Marmolada thing, though theirs ranked highest for us. Dolomite hotels put out the whole dang pantry. Custom eggs, speck, cheese, smoked fish, plus continental spreads of croissants, pastries, Linzer Torte, honey’s, jams and Schuttelbrot (love the word as much as the fennel-flavored local crispbread). It’s the whole gamut at every hotel. Even the small places provide the full fill-up including endless barista drinks. Cappuccino heaven.
NAVIGATING THE SKI ROUNDABOUT
The famous Italian connector-trail, the Sella Ronda, circumvents the Sella Massif and is about 26 km to ski. It can be skied clockwise or counter-clockwise – the laps-in-a-day record is 5.5 times! Our plan was to see it over three days, with detours and overnights in different villages — all of them part of Dolomiti Superksi. It wasn’t until we were chatting with our guide that next morning that I truly understood the magnitude and reach of this pass, and we were glad we had him because, although the Sella Ronda signage is color-coded, it’s a little confusing. Google the local ski schools here to get a guide.
All the water for snowmaking with 600 snow guns ensures they finish every season. It’s pure spring water that they call “borrowed” from nature, mixed only with compressed air and melting back to the water table. Plastic-free vendors abound, and ski passes made of recycled cardboard topped with local pressed wildflowers look like they’ve been purposed from a luxury stationary store– with a seasonal savings of 60 kg of plastic. They’re working on hydrogen-powered grooming machines next because most are still diesel.
One can’t argue with the math. Dolomiti Superski comprises 1,200 km (745 miles) of slopes, 887 runs and 16 ski areas over 12 valleys in 3 provinces over 3,000 sq km (1,158 sq miles). 450 chairlifts. Seriously? My tongue hung out hearing that. 14 new chairs this year? Gulp. There are only 20 chairlifts on Snowmass, total. Each ski area still has its own pass, but in the 1970s, the chairlift logistics joined so the terrain could be ridden as one, hence Dolomiti Superski was born.
The prettiest chairlift was named “Arabba Fly” which we ride on day two, swooping over Arabba like a bird on the way up to the Marmolada Glacier at 10,967 feet. Marmolada is the Dolomites’ highest point, their Highlands. Exiting the summit tram at Porto Vescovo, there’s a huge sundeck from which to marvel at it. Up here, we felt the camaraderie of a whole nation happy to be back on snow after COVID. It’s the gateway to the steeps and was bustling — tables littered with the ephemeral orange Aperol Spritzes. Local ski celebrities like retired World Cup racer and former Italian ski champ Denise Karbon and three-time Italian Olympian and World Cup snowboarder Meinhard Erlacher (Germany’s national team coach) were here. Denise, holding a clinic for ski instructors, was taking a refreshment break with her group. Meinhard, on skis no less, was completing his ski-teacher accreditation
Heres’ a fun fact: there’s a round trip Arabba-based Venice airport shuttle for an unbeatable 70 Euros and I’d seen a Denver-Venice ticket for about $300, so there are budget-trip options to the Dolomites? An 80-km World War I ski tour starts at Arabba, too, an outdoor museum of artifacts to get history buffs juiced up. Sadly, global warming of the glacier reveals new relics yearly.
After a pedestrians-only cable-car to a viewing platform and Rifugio Maria at the top of Sass Pordoi 9,685 feet (2,952 meters) a wide windy 360 degree viewpoint, we had some simple pasta and charcuterie, yet still impossible to have a bad meal. Once back down on our skis, he village of Canazei in Val di Fassa that we skied down to, with its signature painted houses, was so picturesque and the infra-red sauna located in the room where our bags met us at Locanda degli Artisti Hotel was a welcome sight. Restaurant El Pael, owned by a world-class sommelier, was a one-minute walk away. Not surprisingly, a wine-paired supper of venison and purple gnocchi was sublime.
On Val di Fassa’s slopes the next morning, we ski on a volcano, spot the crater and a few turns later sip an espresso in the sun from the bar inside it. A few turns and lifts later (we rode up to 14 new ones daily) we ski into a special place. The quaint Rifugio Fienile Monte feels like a mountain-top Nikki Beach, all reclaimed wood and glass windbreaks, yet sans customers with irksome egos and with music not so loud to drown conversation. Barely a few minutes in, a sizzling chateaubriand appears on a hot-plate in front of us and I have already taste-tested the skin-on roasted potatoes while swilling some delicious purplish South Tyrolian wine. A bluebird sky frames the Sella Massif and Passo Sella and there’s just enough shade to eat in comfort. The meat melts in the mouth, even without the dipping sauces and it amuses me that I’m not a food writer and yet this moment truly encapsulates the immeasurably enjoyable Dolomites. A free competitive market ensures each rifugio puts out something more spectacular than the next.
After a couple of days of hospitality this good, the skiing could seem beside the point! Except, after lunch we scream down the Men’s Downhill course into Val Gardena, and I say a quiet prayer of thanks to Alex at Stapleton Sports back home for the excellent tune on my Rossis.
Ladin is a strong and enduring romance language here and all the signs are written in trilingual: Ladin, Italian and German. Ladin is spoken everywhere and the food influences like Canderli, a peasant dish of bread dumplings with speck and cheese appear on every menu and encapsulate Ladin cuisine. The traditional arts, wood carving and intricate house painting seen in the villages is all part of Ladin culture and its evolution. You remember this part of Italy was Austria back in the time of World War One as the German names and influences are strong.
Late that afternoon, we’d walk around Ortisei right out the door of Hotel Angelo, our traditional style accommodation — transfixed by the town’s signature wood-carvings — and later soak in the hotels’ indoor-outdoor grotto.
The wide, slushy slopes of Val Gardena’s Seceda Mountain the following morning were to the Viking’s liking as was the gin haze from Rifugio Sofie’s locally-distilled beverage (all juniper berries bobbing around). It accompanied traditional spring apps; new potato, egg salad, ham and asparagus. Less than 5% of downhillers ride snowboards in the Dolomites and the Viking conceded it was a skier paradise. If you’re a powder-chasing boarder, any narrow piste or high traffic criss-cross skiing is less fun, but he was happy riding place to place. It had been a low snow year and the late season’s hard-packed man-made conditions, icy mornings and slushy afternoons were exactly what I’d expected.
FINDING NORDIC HEAVEN
After photos in front of the Insta-famous Sass Rigais, slushy became grabby, so we jumped in a taxi a short way to the delightfully named Alpe Di Siusi (al-pee-dee-see-you-zee) known for Nordic skiing, located on a high alpine pasture at 1,900 meters(6,233 feet).
I loved Alpe di Siusi, partly because the hotels are ski-in and out for both Nordic and Alpine and also because the The Sasso Lungo, Sasso Piatto and “Schlern,” a former coral reef at 2,563 meters or 8,408 feet, commands attention.
Their ski mountain looked like Buttermilk, and their terrain park has hosted the FIS Snowboard and Ski Slopestyle World Cup and you can ski to Ortesi or Val Gardena. But I’d wanted a good Nordic ski trail and here, even in late season, the condition of the natural snow was fantastic. I’d wanted to get deep into the 80 km of forested trails but I only had an hour before lunch at the perfect Hotel Ritsch with its stunning views over the snowy pasture. Think Pine Creek Cookhouse with rooms to sleep over, a few cows for dairy, beehives for honey, herb gardens and home-made schnapps and you get the idea of the farm-to-table enjoyment here. And I finally got to taste Kaiserschmarrm, the South Tyrol specialty of chopped sweet fruit-filled omelet with jam and sugar and some off-chart local gelato.
You have to hand it to the Italians, they’re as serious about preservation as their food. Experiencing all these areas, we didn’t set foot in a vehicle for almost a week. Ski-in overnighting in villages saved time and carbon footprint. The only real drive, 1.5 hours, was from Alpe de Siusi back to the car at Hotel Marmolada with a fantastic taxi driver who sensitively drove the excessively tight, dizzying mountain roads that could have made me ill, but delivered us with my equilibrium intact.
It had been a great tour but only a small area of what’s available to Ikon-ers. I’d deliberately wanted to save better-known Cortina d’Ampezzo (yes, its on the pass) until 2026, when they will host the Winter Olympics. Until then, there’s still a whole handful of notable resorts to experience including Kronplatz, Civetta and Obereggen. As Arnie says, “I’Il be back,” or as I now say, “Will ski for food.”
It wasn’t just me, there’s a whole stack of mountain-food obsessives here: “Sunrisa” an all-winter first tracks breakfast experience, a wine ski safari and “A Taste for Skiing” where Michelin-starred chefs assigned a mountain hut perform a sustainable cook-off early in the season leaving a signature dish on the menu, to name just a few.
Susan Redstone is a British-born Aspen-based writer, author and broadcaster. Her fashion, lifestyle and travel contributions appear in The Sunday Times, The Times of London, The New York Post, ELLE, The New York Times, In Style, and many more. She has appeared on dozens of local and national TV affiliates such as CNN’s HLN, PIX 11 New York, and WGN in Chicago talking fashion and style. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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