What do we all want from the perfect ski holiday? It’s a question that I’ve mulled over for many years. The ski industry is pretty clear about it: POWDER! We should all be heading off piste into perfect light, fluffy powder. Bouncing through it effortlessly with unrestrained whoops of glee. It makes great video footage too.
If you don’t want to ski or board powder, well, we don’t like to say it directly, but to be honest you’re a bit weird and you’re missing out.
And yet, to be honest, powder is pretty hard to find. The good stuff at least. Fresh light fluffy snow doesn’t fall often in the Alps and even places where it does – Japan, Utah, BC – it’s probably more likely any week of the winter you won’t find fresh fallen powder than you will. In Europe those odds are much, much worse, and those who can’t do without it are wise to hire the service of a local guide in resort to seek out those “secret stashes”.
Fresh snowfall is usually accompanied by bad weather – low visibility, high avalanche danger, poor access, often strong winds too as the front comes in. Not so much fun to be out in.
And besides do most Brits who, if they’re lucky, only get to ski one week each winter, really have to have powder? Is it the main thing we want from our ski holiday as the ski industry and media (mostly run by powder-obsessed men incidentally) tells us?
These musings became more prominent in my mind on a recent trip to the Dolomites. I’ve been to the Dolomites quite a few times over the years, and I absolutely love the area. The scenery is quite simply among the most stunning on earth – no surprise it’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site – and for me it’s worth going for that alone. Fortunately there’s also a great relaxed atmosphere on the slopes, lovely local people, phenomenal skiing and great food, all at pretty reasonable prices, so you win at least five times over.
But last January I was particularly interested to visit after the area had had a lot of snow.
Snowfall in the Dolomites seems to vary a good deal. Some years it gets huge snowfalls, but the previous three winters, particularly at the start, there was very little snow. In terms of opening up the massive 1,200km of slopes on the area’s incredible Dolomiti Superski pass that wasn’t actually much of a problem due to one of the world’s most powerful snowmaking systems, which can cover the lot of it with snow so long as it’s cold enough, which it was, and it did. But still I imagined that with lots of natural snowfall as they’d had at the start of the winter, the area was expecting a boost in business.
So I was surprised when the area’s media relations manager, Nicole Dorigo, put me right. Last season, she told me, the area did record business. Having sunny days and glorious, groomed slopes suited their core Italian market. Italians, it seems, aren’t so fussed about powder, but they do like good skiing, good food and good weather. Also known as the good life or “Dolce Vita”.
Image Credits: Freddy Planinschek
So that winter, Nicole told me, the few bad weather days they’d had so the snow could fall meant fewer people wanted to come skiing, so they were waiting to see if their numbers stayed up.
This bit of news tallied with a report we’d received a few weeks earlier (we get lots of reports with lots of stats each autumn from various PR companies hoping for a headline story for their clients, often with fairly wild numbers based on dodgy-looking research) which claimed around a third of Brits were booking their ski holidays based on the food available in resort, not on the skiing, let alone the likelihood of powder snow.
I was staying in the Alta Badia region of the Dolomites, a collection of half a dozen villages that have got together for joint promotion. Located next to Val Gardena, the area is one of a dozen or so that make up the huge Dolomiti Superski area. It is also located on the famous Sellaronda, a network of lifts and ski runs surrounding the vast Sella Massif, which an average skier can ski around in half a day, although it’s more fun to take a day over it and stop to take in the sights at one of the area’s many authentic mountain cafés and restaurants.
While the area does have its famous “steep and deep” powder runs, some of which like the Val de Mesdi are world-famous descents on any hardcore freerider’s bucket list, the majority is just fast on-piste cruising and for that powder snow doesn’t help – although it does look pretty.
Alta Badia has an additional claim to fame. It has put a real focus into becoming a haven for skiing foodies. That doesn’t mean the elite gourmand Michelin-starred restaurants that are way out of the price league of most of us, but that the region’s restauranteurs have committed to serving really top-quality food, usually to a traditional recipe using locally sourced ingredients in many of the mountain restaurants (yes, I know that sounds a bit of a cliché these days, but here it really means something!). Alongside their standard menu there is usually a daily special at a very good price meeting this criteria.
Alta Badia’s affinity with food was well demonstrated in the hotel where I stayed, a remarkably affordable family-run 5★, the Sassongher, at the top of the resort. This not only had all the luxurious trappings you’d expect including very comfortable rooms and a great wellness and spa centre, but a selection of restaurants (including an authentic Stube restaurant which dates back to the 16th century) so you could choose a different theme each evening, but the quality was always excellent. As was the polished musical performance of the inimitable Carmelo in the bar.
This winter the Hotel Sassongher will see the addition of five new rooms in the main building and the completion of a second building next to the hotel. This will house eight further rooms, a new wellness area, gym, children’s room and cinema, as well as a sun terrace and sky spa with open whirlpool and panorama sauna.
For more information, head to: altabadia.org/en/
Hotel Sassongher (sassongher.it +39 0471 836085) has rooms available from €175pp (around £155pp) per night, based on two adults sharing a Comfort Room on a half-board basis.
Fly to Innsbruck, Venice or Verona.
Featured Image Credits: Südtirol Marketing – Alex Filz