Lapping up powder and cappuccinos in the South Tyrol
A group of us sit down to plan a village trip. We know we’re switching from La Plagne after umpteen years; the prices finally beat everyone into revolution last season. This is a selfish, no families trip, so cost is key. It turns out we can get a chalet in Selva for the same all-in price as an aapartment the year before. So we can claim to be good whilst ditching the washing up.
After some debate, it is agreed we will block out the third week in January and grab a last minute deal: it is generally pretty clear after our (and then the Russian) New Year weeks, so we were confident in getting beds for six or seven of us. All agreed? All agreed.
It appears we are booked into a Ski Total chalet in Selva. Hugh has spotted that this week is actually quite busy, contrary to the gloomy noises coming from the trade on the back of last season. So he has taken the bull by the horns (which, as a farmer, he is more than capable of) and overturned our careful debate.
No snow in Europe, loads in North America. Accusing glances at Hugh. Snow cannons have been hard at work in Italy for a month and the Sella Ronda is fully skiable.
Loads of snow in Europe. Relief. I have to go out a day later. Bugger. Not only have I tipped Italy, but I won’t be there to apologise if it isn’t as good as everyone is used to.
Huge snowstorms, but not much snow made it across the Brenner Pass from Austria into the South Tyrol. Double bugger. We could be in the appalling situation of delaying the flight because Innsbruck is snowbound, yet still have duff conditions on our side of the hill. Oh, how the weird microclimates of the Alps keep us on our toes!
I fly into Verona to catch up with the others. The transfer is private and almost lulls me into the sense that this destination isn’t quite my fault. Has the first day been OK?
Grins from the rest of the crew, plus the jolly bunch of 30th partygoers we’re splitting the chalet with, confirm that the skiing has met expectations. Pete B, who’s been here many times hiking and climbing in the summer, is nodding with appreciation. Hugh, who ‘enjoyed’ the crudfest we endured last year touring off the back of La Plagne, has clearly turned the wick up and reckons the pistes are as good as he’s skied.
And the chalet team are great. Young, enthusiastic and good at keeping the place clean and the food well up to scratch. I can relax.
Day 1 (for me): 0700
The alarm goes off in Hugh and Pete B’s room, which means a commencement of clattering, crashing, slamming and general readying that a medieval knight would have found tumultuous. The rest of the chalet collectively heaves, murmurs and follows suit. Breakfast is at eight, and filling; a bacon sarnie, some porridge, rolls and coffee.
Booted and spurred, we start trudging the half-mile or so to the lift. Everyone else has left their boots and rental skis in the hire shop next to the lift. Mental note – wear trainers and drop them off in the shop tomorrow.
Bump into two friends who have turned up from France and the US to see why I keep going on about Italy. Might as well start with a lap of the Sellaronda. I zip off to get my lift pass. We need Dolomiti Superski passes to complete a lap because we hit three different ski areas on the way round. It’s €185 for five days and around 1000km of slopes. 200km a day – no sweat.
Clip in, kick off and my, the first pitch of the winter is quite steep. I’ve cunningly packed Scott Pures fitted with Marker Dukes in expectation of endless powder and couloir straightlining. I really must a) look at a webcam and b) remember which trip I’m on before picking up the first bag in the loft. Oh well, let’s see if I can remember how to turn.
That was a bit quicker than was strictly necessary, but it seems the muscle memory is still there, even if the muscles could do with being a bit bigger. Everyone is bowling along at a fine pace, helped by stunning snow and quiet slopes. We’ll get round in no time.
First coffee on the hill is a mere €2. Yes, we’re all pleasantly astonished. And there’s a change to the plan. Conditions are good, no-one’s burst into tears: we’re heading up the Marmolada to get some altitude. At over 3100m it’s the tallest point around and is therefore attracting us like moths to a candle, and probably with the same ‘going down in flames’ result.
It’s a bit further than we thought. Press on.
There. At. Last. And, as is always the way after making the effort to go up three – count ‘em – cable cars to get to the top, the snow is a bit rattly and windblown. We take a (rubbish) photo and head down what turns out to be the worst snow of the week. It was very, very windy up here a couple of weeks back after it last snowed, which is why it’s so hard.
By 2000m normal service is resumed and we start piling on the pace. Pizza for lunch – €6, or five if you go without a fancy topping. See, I said it was good value.
Hmm, this will be tight. Lifts close at different times, so we’re hoping they get later as we get closer to the resort, because we certainly are not going to make Passo Sella by four, when the one we are on closes.
Arrive at Passo Sella, which closes at 1615, A whole minute to play with!
See, we made it! To celebrate, Hugh takes a wrong turn on the final corner and has to walk back up to rejoin us. We collapse in the bar opposite the Danterceppes run end. It has ‘Apres Ski’ written above the door, so we obey. Rupert, who’s from New York, goes metric and sinks a litre in about 45 seconds. Within half an hour tiredness creeps up on us.
I walk back down the hill in my boots, mentally reminding myself to wear trainers in the morning.
Off up the hill. Mental note; remember trainers tomorrow. This morning we’re being taken around by Karin, who is Fall-Line’s contact from the South Tyrol Tourist Board. It’s a lap of the Sellaronda, and then to the Comici for lunch. I’ve written about the Comici before, and have eaten there a couple of times so am keen for the rest of the group to try it out. Karin advises us that even on a quiet week we need to book. The others feign indifference as we swan off.
Coffee in a great stop at the top of Sass Pordoi. They seem to have fitted the old roof inside the mountain hut as a feature. Nice, if rather extravagant detail; we suspect we might be the only people to have ever spotted it and that’s only because Richard, who builds things, picked it up. Guy, who runs coffee stalls, allows me to have my customary cappucino “because it is still the morning”.
We have been moving quite quickly. Karin has a mountain dweller’s ability to keep upping the pace without appearing to make any effort. The table is booked for now; we have the Danerceppes run and a couple of lifts still to clear. The pace is raised further. The left-hand red piste down to town is a belter – shaded, grippy and clear at this time of day.
Arrive at the Comici. The restaurant is heaving, and waiters are swirling about with giant piles of seafood, which is the speciality. We claim not to stop long for lunch, but by the time the mini petrol pump full of grappa appears, another hour has shrunk. The cups for the grappa have little images in the bottom which turn rude once the cup is filled, but disappear when empty.
We head back towards Ciampinoi and manage a run down the Sasslong World Cup piste. It feels like we’ve taken a few tenths off the current record, but the timer broke halfway down.
Apres Ski calls. A group of Germans who are slightly grumpy about seating arrangements suddenly invite us to experience their plum brandy, complete with plums. We are in danger of missing supper.
Trot down the hill on wave of World Cup-winning times and plum brandy. Really must remember trainers.
Another good supper. The chalet is a bit hostel-like in its appearance – all 70s furniture and oblong, featureless rooms – but the service is fine, cheery and the food is inventive and enjoyable. As a family we’ve been with Ski Esprit before – the family arm of Ski Total – and the staffing is consistently high level across both companies. For the record, this was a private trip so it cost me actual money…
Surprisingly tired. Piste skiing is harder than it looks.
Walk up the hill to the lift. Mental note; remember trainers tomorrow. We are passed by the courtesy bus.
A trip to Arabba today. We head out via Danterceppes through Corvara. The runs off Vallon and Crep de Mont are so good we get distracted for an hour, lapping the lifts. It looks like there should be a few cheeky bits of possible powder to poach should the snow come in.
The snow starts to come in. Not very heavy, but steady. We dip down to Arabba for lunch in a village restaurant in the square. It’s a very baroque restaurant at transport café prices.
The snow continues. We poach the edges of every piste.
Up the hill in the bus; no need for trainers. Arrive at the same time as if we’d walked.
It’s Guy and Rupert’s last day – we head over to Arabba to do the runs off Porto Vescovo, sneaking side runs on the way around.
Guy is blitzed by a young girl who appears from nowhere. He’s a bit rattled, especially since he was cleanly taken out of his skis and managed to skittle her mother before coming to a stop. Their instructor gives the girl a mighty rollicking and Guy the all clear. Since Guy is the most competent skier amongst us and takes a very measured line, we feel a bit less invincible and slow down. For an hour or so.
There are two pistes, same length, which meet near the Campolongo Pass. To celebrate our freshly invigorated invincibility, we split the team and race. Hugh’s team is comprehensively beaten which doesn’t stop him bowling us over, blowing three of us clean out of our skis. We feel less invincible, again. Hugh is rollocked by a passing instructor.
Lunch in Pralonga – visibility is very low. Jackets with helmet-compatible hoods win the day.
The runs in the trees over this side are building a layer of soft snow. We ditch the idea of Arabba and stay low.
The snow keeps falling – by the time we bounce back down under the Danterceppes bubble there’s about four inches – just enough to fill in the holes, but only for a single run. We take advantage, then celebrate in Apres Ski.
Walk back down the hill in boots. Mental note; remember trainers tomorrow.
The ice hockey is on. We think we get the gist – the experienced team uses raw violence to beat the living daylights out of the local guys until they gain the psychological advantage, and then they start playing properly and whup Val Gardena. We admire the speed, skill and prehistoric culture embedded in the sport.
Off for drinks in the Hotel Nives opposite the chalet. Downstairs is a TV lounge, upstairs is sitting around posh tables, and around €3.50 a small beer. No turning up in messy droves, please.
Walk up the hill in trainers. Man in shop enquires why I haven’t done it any other day.
Off to Arabba. We rattle round in a slightly exhausted way before lapping the Porto Vescovo lift three times, finally finishing on the unpisted black to get a taste of soft snow.
Concensus over a pizza agrees the Vallon area the finest of the week’s skiing, and the short tree runs in soft snow the best runs. The best way around the Sellaronda is clockwise, and the most exhilarating long run is the Sasslong. The sweetest collection of long runs are off Porto Vescovo. Best base for another trip? Probably Corvara or Arabba for the sort of skiing we like. A breakaway group had headed down to Santa Cristina earlier in the week and reckoned the runs above there would make the best family skiing – there are hotels on the top and there isn’t the relentless stream of Sella Ronda-rotators passing through.
Into Jimmy’s Hutte on Passo Gardena for Bombardinos – a sort of eggnog which looks a bit gooey but turns out to be the perfect restorative.
We’re going to lap Danterceppes a few times to finish.
I finish after one lap.
Stagger out of the bar. Jog down the hill in boots in time for supper
No lift pass and a late transfer, so the only reason I need to walk up the hill in boots is to pick up the trainers I left in the hire shop last night.
Embed myself in a coffee and cake bar in the little square at the lower end of Selva and start writing this. Embed two sorts of cake and three cappucinos in myself. All the week’s calories are replaced.
BEST BLUE TO LEARN SWITCH AND BUTTERS ON…
Head up the Ciampinoi lift to the Piz Seteur area – lots of wide, gentle blues for cruising that aren’t too busy though you need to be aware of crossing pistes. Or take a day to relax above St. Cristina on Monte Pana.
BEST RED FOR A WARM-UP…
Take the Dantercepies lift, off to the left looking up the valley from Selva. It’s the start of the clockwise Sella Ronda circuit and has a couple of belting reds and a not-very black. All are long, rolling and worth running a few times.
BEST BLACK TO SCARE THE HELL OUT OF YOURSELF…
To be honest, there aren’t any really scary runs. There are plenty of very long, flowing and shattering runs though, especially off the Potro Vescovo lifts over Arabba. Red or black, they have steep pitches with good run out.
The classic has to be the Sasslong above Santa Christina. It’s a rolling monster of a run, with blind leaps all the way down. An early morning howl down this gives you the full Bode.
BEST OFF-PISTE IN THE AREA…
You’ve got to be careful with off-piste in Italy. You need the full saftey gear, and if you go in a designated no-go area the cops will get very pissy. Under the Piz Boie cablecar near Arabba is excellent, legal, testing and holds the snow. Corvara has a few short tree runs to get your style together, or not.
Stats are a bit misleading, because you’d be mad not to get a Dolomiti Superski pass to cover the whole area at an extra €30 for the week.
Number of runs: 112km
Number of lifts: 59
Terrain Parks: 3
Highest Altitude: Col Rodella – 2485m
Village altitude: 1563m
Adult one-day pass costs €44
+39 0471 777 777
My favourite link on the dolomitisuperski website is the ‘snow’ page. It’s all white.
Pensions start at €29 per night B&B. There are dozens all around the Sella Ronda and in Selva. You can stay on a pass if you want a more authentic mountain experience.
3* hotels are around €65 upwards for B&B: add €15 for supper which we’d recommend.
Selva is going upmarket, and there are some excellent 4* and 4*s hotels. Prices start at around €120 per night half-board for cheaper weeks.
We went packaged with Ski Total via Innsbruck.
Fly to Verona or Innsbruck for organised €29 transfers with Terravision. The South Tyrol website has the details right at the bottom of the page.
EATING & DRINKING
In town: the bar with Apres Ski above it has the full Tyrolean nonsense going on – beers around €5 for a half-litre. It’s at the bottom of the slope. Below it is a club which is a bit hipper, and live music is 100m down the road in another club who’s name escapes me but is easy to find.
For an afternoon tea experience the hotels are relaxed and all have cakes, hot chocolate etc. We liked the Hotel Nives, about 400m below the main lifts.
Eating out – there are loads of small local restaurants – you want to try the Knodel, stuffed ravioli and the Gewurztraminer wines.
On the hill
We didn’t find a duffer. You’ve got to try some high-spec grub at least once, so the Comici and Gostner huts get special mentions, but there are dozens. Corvara has a policy of gastro on the mountain, so the Michelin-starred restaurants in town have produced menus for mountain huts in the area to deliver a comparable lunch for €15. This whole area is a very good, reasonable place to eat.