You’ve done Aspen, Jackson Hole, and Big Sky. For a less predictable ski experience—one that involves criss-crossing the lunar-looking peaks and valleys of Alta Badia, Cortina d’Ampezzo, Cinque Torri and other, lesser-known ski areas while sleeping at cozy mountain inns—it’s time to try a ski safari in the Dolomites. Yes, this is the steep and deep land of World Cups and Winter Olympics, but the Italian Alps is also home to wide, groomed runs (86 percent are blue and red, the easiest), which means paradise for intermediate skiers with a daredevil streak.
Here, there is no central mountain base. The Dolomiti Superski is comprised of 12 ski areas, or “carousels,” spread across 800 massif-spiked miles (all on one ski pass). Navigating the various areas, each one more scenic than the last, can be tricky. Lift systems originate in obscure turn-offs from narrow mountain passes. And in order to tackle maximum terrain, you need to swap fancy hotels in the mountain towns for rifugios, or simple high-elevation inns, accessible only by ski, snowcat or funicular.
Though it sounds chaotic, the right guide makes the moving about seamless. Dolomite Mountains, the local company behind the structured ski safari, takes care of complicated details, and employs UIAGM/IFMGA certified mountain guides to navigate the zig-zagging itinerary. The element of surprise is a highlight of this adventure. Each day, you’ll ski a different resort and have lunch in the type of rustic, postcard-perfect eatery that commands an Instagram video. Then, as the alpenglow turns the primordial peaks pink, you’ll arrive by ski at a backcountry lodge replete with local charm.
Trips kick off (and end) at a luxury hotel: Cristallo or Faloria in Cortina, White Deer in San Lorenzo, Ciasa Salares in Alta Badia, where you can get your bearings (stocking up on cashmere and artisan leather boots helps), collect ski rentals, and kick jet lag to the curb in the various saunas and hydrotherapy pools. The next morning, it’s time to head up to the slopes. And the luggage? Suitcases are left behind and transferred to the final hotel. For the nights at altitude, you’ll be given a duffel bag to pack essentials like toiletries, casual dinner ensembles and pajamas. Though no cars can reach the rifugios, the duffel magically appears at each inn, transported by staff via chair lift or snowcat.
The skiing is glorious. Each day, as you move between Val di Fasso, Kronplatz, Civetta, Arraba-Marmolada and Sella Ronda, schussing amidst cloud-kissed limestone crests and descending into pine-studded valleys, you can’t help stopping in your tracks, gaping at the otherworldly beauty of the UNESCO World Heritage mountainscape. Another reason for frequent stops? Rustic panini huts for espresso and home-brewed herbal grappa (a tonic rumored to improve one’s skiing skills). Some days you cross the valleys by ski lifts and gondolas; others require transfer by van. Depending upon ability level, it’s not uncommon to ski five resorts in one day.
And you’ll find no chili, greasy burgers, or nachos here. Not on Italian mountains. The Veneto and Trentino regions are celebrated for gastronomy, and on-piste meals live up to the hype. Think charcuterie boards of speck, soppressata and tangy parmesan, pine nut and gorgonzola stuffed gnocchi, caponata and grilled tagliata, all accompanied by insanely good wine. Beyond being deeply satisfying, these hour and a half lunches are a welcome respite for burning thighs.
Though the landscape is dreamy, the rifigios may be the star of the ski safari. These middle-of-nowhere, family-run huts, fashioned of blonde wood, cheery checkered curtains and a traditional burning stove to heat the public rooms, feel like a page ripped from a South Tyrol storybook. Mama greets guests. Sons and daughters man the kitchen, restaurant, and bar. Lederhosen look perfectly natural. It all feels warm and cozy, especially after that first glass of Gewürztraminer. Though the ambiance is ultra-casual (guests walk around in slippers), rifugio dinners are surprisingly refined. As you feast upon ravioli stuffed with ricotta and figs, taglioni with venison, speck-filled “knoedel” dumplings, and desserts like Kaiserschmarrn, carmelized pancakes served with with cranberry marmalade, you’ll taste the region’s strong Austrian influence. In the morning, you’ll wake up to steaming latte macchiato and a spread of alpine hams and cheeses, freshly baked pastries, and eggs. At some spots, rooms are basic; just a side table and twin beds topped with a fluffy down comforter. Others feel more boutique, with in-room saunas and modern bathrooms tricked out with heated floors and Villeroy & Boch appliances. Either way, there’s no languishing in bed. At 8:45 a.m., grab your gear and hit the powder with the guide.
With luck, your trip will culminate with a night at Rosa Alpina (the hotel depends upon itinerary), a glamorous bolthole in San Cassiano where you can address aching muscles in the just-renovated spa (most five-star hotels in the region have state-of-the art spas) and decompress—Prosecco in hand—at the swanky bar as Mauro, the resident piano player, tickles the ivories. Gourmet trips feature a dinner at the hotel’s acclaimed St. Hubertus, where chef Norbert Niederkofler’s Cook the Mountain concept (a multi-course meal entirely inspired by South Tyrol and the Alta Badia valley) has earned the restaurant three Michelin stars.
Finally, there’s the shopping. The boutiques in Cortina (Guerresco 1945 and Gentry Portofino) and Corvara (Sport Kostner and Monika) brim with niche brands that nobody will have at home: sumptuous cashmere, stylish ski garb, and sporty boots handcrafted with smells-like-luxury Italian leather. Though free time is sparse, you can arrange your flights to have a few hours on arrival and departure day to snap up a few pieces. Or, simply add an extra day to the trip.
If you go: There are multiple iterations of the ski safari. You can sign on for either a group ski safari (solo travelers welcome) or design your own bespoke version (on-piste, off-piste and back country). The trips range from 4-10 days and run from December through mid-April. The six-day guided gourmet ski safari starts at €2,620 per person. Airfare, lunches, and airport transfers are not included in rate. You can fly into either Venice Marco Polo airport or Innsbruck. From there, it’s a two hour drive to the mountains.
Photo: Courtesy of Dolomite Mountains