You can say what you like about all the different facilities you can now get in ski resorts, but there’s one thing you can’t beat in my view – a sunny setting!
My friends had headed to the Dolomites for just this reason. You get over 300 sunny days a year in Val Gardena, and the slopes are really good for intermediates, which was ideal for me!
We also had a burning ambition to ski the Sella Ronda circuit. It’s possible for good skiers to get around this 26m route (plus 14kms of lifts), clockwise, in around three hours, but we’d already agreed an early start, and leisurely ski so we could take in the scenery.
I’d heard it was good, but that is an understatement. It is stunning! The Dolomites is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and certainly earns its status … we kept stopping to drink in the sun and marvel at nature’s best.
The network of lifts that swoop you up and around are based around four Ladin villages, which take in three Italian provinces, and the views from each mountain top are magnificent.
This season’s skiers will get the added advantage of a heated, eight-seater chair lift – the first of its kind in Italy, providing skiers with a direct connection to the Sella Ronda green route (clockwise).
It takes slightly longer to ski the circuit anti-clockwise, as there are a few more lifts – but it is the quieter option for those needing time out.
Food, food, food
Adding to our leisure pleasure – lunch! We took ours in the Rifugio Fienile Monte – it’s a small hut, serving big portions, ideal after a morning on the slopes, with plenty more kilometres ahead of us.
I love Tyrolean food, as it’s fusion at its best. When South Tyrol became part of Italy almost 100 years ago, local people soon mixed the strengths of Austrian and Italian recipes to create simple, tasty dishes.
Potatoes, cheese dumplings, bacon, fine meats and stews are all on the menu, ideal when washed down with some local wine!
There are many good mountain huts, with great views of the Sassolungo (3,181m), which, in certain lights, has a pinky hue. This is due to the fact that when created – 20,000 years ago – it was underwater!
Look at these cliffs one minute and they are one colour, look again and they’ve changed quicker than you can turn your skis. It’s a magical place to ski.
Ski, ski, ski
The Sella Ronda circuit is only a part of the Val Gardena ski area. Add VG to Alpe di Siusi and you have over 500kms of slopes, which all benefit from the region’s great snow making facilities.
We also skied the famous Saslong piste, where the UK’s highest achieving British men’s downhill skier, Konrad Bartelski, came second in the 1981 World Cup Race.
And on our second day we found ourselves taking part in a race of our own – but it wasn’t quite up to Konrad’s standard!
Each year local and tourists sign up for the Spring Race Party, from Seceda to Ortisei.
Fancy dress is definitely the way forward for this, so we donned Union Jack flags and joined witches, gladiators and other crazily dressed folks for the challenge.
This included bobbing apples playing darts, golf – and a little slalom skiing for one super-speedy member of our GB team.
There are 115kms of cross-country runs in Val Gardena, and I would have loved to have had the time to enjoy them. The ski centre, at Monte Pana, also has 35 kms of runs specifically designed for skaters and classical skiers.
Those who like to keep their feet more on the floor, will find a wide range of winter hikers and snowshoe routes. I want to go back and hike the track to Vallunga, an untouched valley, originally formed by ice glaciers that leads nature lovers to a picturesque high-Alpine landscape. Magic!
You can also try out several toboggan runs, including the six kilometres run from Raschötz Alm (2,200m), which you can access via cable car.
If you fancy taking in an event as part of your trip, there is plenty to choose from, with a packed calendar which runs the length of the winter season – from December to April.
It includes ski racing, a snow sculpture carving competition, carnivals, ice climbing and much more.
And if you want to tap into the area’s history you won’t have to look far. Woodcarving has a long traditional in Val Gardena, with the trade becoming a major source of income for families during the 18th century.
Meet the local and many are likely to have these skills, and are also likely to speak Ladin, dress in traditional costumes and encourage you to try their local cuisine. It’s this link through the ages that makes this place so well worth a visit, as it adds soul to the whole ski experience.
Bars and restaurants are the main après option, although DJs visit regularly as part of the events’ programme.
We spent a long time in Ortisei centre after the fun race, enjoying the party, listening to the prize giving and boppin’ along with the town.
Tired and hungry we headed to Ristorante Pizzeria Mar Dolomit, and boy, what a pizza!
Thankfully we were also staying in this pretty town, which also has a wide range of spa opportunities.
Our hotel, the Alpin Garden Wellness Resort was a treat for fine dining, with a sink-into-gratefully spa centre and a genuine welcome.
Nearest airports are Innsbruck, Verona, Venice and Milan Bergamo with airlines including easyJet, Ryanair and BA