Italians are noted for their fashion, their food and their fabulously relaxed pace. But skiing? Not so much… the Swiss, French and Austrian Alps are far better promoters of their powder and ski slopes. I’m going to cue you in on Cortina, The Dolomites, and 10 reasons you should put Italy on your ski bucket list. We skied the Italian Dolomites in March and loved the skiing, the people, the scenery and the style that Italians bring to the sport. You just have to experience it to understand “La Dolce Vita.”
This is skiing in Italy, and here are 10 reasons you should do it.
1.The Dolomite scenery
The Dolomites are stunning, towering gray rock formations – also called the Pale Mountains — that jut into the brilliant blue sky. They are different than the Alps of Switzerland or Austria because, while these jagged cathedral cliffs are jaw-dropping steep, the ski terrain around and below is well-prepared, groomed and very pleasant. There’s some crazy off-piste terrain but the majority of the skiing is ego-pleasing intermediate.
2. The one-pass Dolomites are vast
Italy’s huge Dolomite Superski Region pass encompasses 12 ski regions, 450 lifts and 1,200-kilometers of prepared ski slopes among 45 ski villages. To grasp the sheer size of the Dolomites, that is 4 times more terrain than Killington, Sunday River and Sugarloaf combined, all on one ticket. Not all the Dolomite ski slopes and areas are inter-connected by lift, but they are all within an hour’s drive.
3. Dolomites = a deal
Italy is a deal compared to pricey Switzerland, now that the Euro is on par with the US Dollar. A Dolomite lift ticket is $38 a day (based on a 7-day ticket) for all this amazing terrain. Fantastic Italian lunches at gorgeous on-mountain huts are $10 to $12 a plate for homemade pasta with local prosciutto and parmigiana and a side basket of crusty fresh bread with olive oil. Wine and beer is typically $4 a glass.
4 Ski Touring defined in the Dolomites
You can ski for many miles on beautiful brand new terrain each day. Popular ski tours take all day to circle around these Italian peaks. The Sellaronda is a 26-mile ski marathon across four ski resort regions — Alta Badia, Val Gardena, Val Di Fassa, and Arabba, with multiple ski areas within each region. We did the Sellaronda riding 28 lifts one day, but it can be skied in as few as 14. Another amazing adventure is to ski to Marmolada Glacier, riding three long cable cars (not for the acrophobic) to the highest point in the Dolomites at 10,725’. The panorama and the 7.5 mile, 6,000’ vertical run in a word: wow!
5. More skiing for you
The Italians are relaxed about their skiing. The majority only ski from about 10 or 11 a.m. until lunch, then take a run or two after their 2-hour lavish lunch at a mountain chalet before heading into town. As serious skiers, Greg and I appreciated having the lifts and slopes to ourselves each morning and afternoon. With our electronic Dolomite Superski lift pass, we tracked over 327,000’ vertical, skiing 320 miles in 12 days, riding 311 lifts. If Italy once had a reputation for aging lift systems, for the most part that has changed with ski resorts like Kronplatz featuring 21 gondolas (some with Wi-Fi and heated seats).
6. Italian ski lunches
Dining in the Dolomites is amazing. Peaks and plateaus are dotted with beautiful chalets and huttes flying their welcome flags by the slopes, serving wonderful homemade cuisine. With no less than 400 on-mountain restaurants, more than one hut per each kilometer of skiing, you might feel like you are just skiing from meal to meal, from one drink to the next sun deck. The pasta, the antipasto plates, the soups and desserts are to die for, or at least to ski for. Afternoons, the slope-side chalets pump up the American pop music, pour drinks, and encourage sun worshipping on their scenic decks.
7. Après ski in Italy is a fashion show
While Austrian après ski is all about beer drinking and dancing in ski boots, Italians are much more sophisticated. Departing the slopes midafternoon is the trend, and skiers go to their hotel to change into something more elegant for browsing boutiques and sipping espresso at cafes. The beautiful pedestrian villages of Ortisei in Val Gardena and Cortina offer stylish piazzas. Later, an extravagant multi-course dinner is the chic evening pastime, wining and dining at Tivoli or El Camineto in Cortina, or Anna Stuben in Val Gardena.
8. The Italians are bellisimo
Italian hospitality is legendary, “La Dolce Vita” is not just an expression — it’s their daily mantra. These fun-loving, friendly people love their food, and their socializing. Hotels and restaurants welcome you with genuine service, happily speaking English, Italian, and even German. What the Italians don’t do well is market themselves. As Stefano Barbini of the exclusive San Lorenzo Mountain Lodge said, “Italians are too lazy to market our immense treasures, because most of us like the “Far Niente” lifestyle for ourselves — the joy of doing nothing.”
9. The Dolomites are historic
It’s fascinating to be skiing amid cathedrals of sheer rock peaks and see gun turrets tucked in high caves. These Dolomites were filled with troops in trenches a century ago during World War I, and now Germans, Austrians, Italians, Americans, and even Russians ski peacefully side by side sharing the snow, riding trams, skiing past mountain churches, and admiring the scenery of the hostile harsh limestone cliffs. It’s also intriguing that these Alps that dominate the sky line were once underwater reefs.
10. World Cup, World class skiing in Italy
We skied World Cup ski runs at Cortina, Val Gardena, Alta Badia and Arabba. The World Cup stops here annually, and of course Cortina is home to Alberta Tomba. We also discovered a few ski resorts not on the World Cup circuit you may never have heard of – Kronplatz, Plose, Gitschberg and Jochtal — all included on your Dolomiti Super Ski Pass.
The Italian Dolomites are extraordinary in so many ways, amazingly scenic with so much skiing, friendly fun Italians, and did we mention the food?!
By Heather Burke, Photos and Video by Greg Burke