Skiing in Italy
As I sit in drought-ridden California, I dream of what many Europeans may be doing this time of year with their abundant snow. The answer— many are skiing in the Italian alps. The Dolomites mountain range of Northern Italy, which is among the most beautiful ranges in the world, provides quite a spectacular playground in the winter. More than a dozen peaks in the range exceed 9,800 feet in elevation. Snow is almost certain from November through April, and the season is often longer. And the Dolomites is just one of the many ski areas Italy has to offer.
That all sounds pretty good. But what I really wanted to know when I set about researching and writing this article is what Italian skiing is really like. Does it live up to the hype? I did a little reading, but mostly I consulted my trusted friend network in Florence.
According to Snow Magazine, they just do things differently in Italy, and skiing is no exception to that rule. “Forget that urge to be the first on the lift. Instead, make a lunch reservation at that beautiful mountain rifugio.” Perfect. That’s my speed.
The laid-back ambiance of Italy’s ski resorts makes them great for families and really anyone who is more interested in enjoying the snow and scenery, rather than finding out who can ski fastest, furthest and steepest. And as an added bonus, skiing in Italy tends to be cheaper than the other big European destinations like France, Austria and Switzerland.
To put the value discussion into context for an American audience, I looked up the price of a Dolomiti Superski pass, the ultimate ski pass of the entire Dolomites range, covering 12 different resorts and about 750 miles of slopes. Are you sitting down? It’s well under 1/2 the price of a lift ticket for Squaw Valley in California. And to make matters worse (for those of us not presently skiing in Italy), many of the Dolomites ski resorts are linked by lifts, providing for seemingly endless runs. Just look at the map. Personally, I’m not sure I possess the sense of direction to handle this challenge.
Of course, one doesn’t have to do it all in order to enjoy a fantastic ski holiday in the Dolomites. One particular ski resort in this area that is very well liked among my Italy-based friends is Alta Badia.
Alta Badia and several other Dolomites resorts are located in Italy’s northernmost province, South Tyrol. This is a sunny region in the Italian alps bordering Austria and Switzerland. More than half of the population speaks German, and the rest of the residents mainly speak either Italian or the local language, Ladin. Alta Badia happens to sit in an area where Ladin is the predominant language.
This is interesting. I would not expect to hit the slopes in Italy and find myself immersed in a language I’ve never heard of. But it is indeed an official language in this area, taught in schools and used in public offices. Ladin is a Romance language and has many sub-dialects of its own. The one spoken in Alta Badia area looks a little bit French-ish to me. It’s definitely very different from Italian. Good to know it’s not necessarily worth brushing up on my Italian before my next ski vacation in Italy!
Of course, as with almost anywhere else life takes you in Italy, the people are welcoming and many speak English. The way my friend described her ski trip to San Cassiano, a village near Alta Badia, made it sound easy, relaxing and fun. The ski runs are wide, sunny and appealing to adults and kids alike. Most of the lodging in town is walking distance to the slopes, and the restaurants in town are great.
And as we have already established, your ski pass gets you far— This village is on the famous Sellaronda, which is an enormous ski “circuit” of sorts. It consists of many miles of linked runs and lifts encircling the giant Sella mountain chain. If you have the inclination and at least 6 hours, you can ski all the way around and wind up back where you started.
Another friend recommended staying at the Hotel Cristiana, a beautiful 4-star lodge located in another small village in the Alta Badia area. In addition to providing ski in-ski out access to the slopes, it has a fantastic spa and great food.
Another nearby village highly recommended by a friend for the perfect family-friendly ski vacation is San Pellegrino. The village is quaint, the hotels are affordable and the food is authentic. One such ski in-ski out hotel recommended by my friend is Hotel Arnika.
We’ve only scratched the surface of ski opportunities in Italy. But I hope it inspires you to think outside the box when planning your next ski adventure with friends or family. And in case you do end up somewhere where they speak Italian, here’s a helpful tip: Sciare means to ski. It’s pronounced “she-AR-ay,” sort of. But let’s keep it simple— To tell someone you are ready to hit the slopes, just say andiamo (“let’s go”)!