After flying into Innsbruk a longish transfer was made easier by the anticipation of finally viewing the peaks of the Dolomites in the flesh or rock if you prefer and I wasn't to be disappointed. Made of dolomite rock and quite unique, well you've probably seen the pictures in books and magazines yourself. All I can say is they are infinitely better in real life. There are seriously not enough superlatives available and I'm not even going to try to convey just how beautiful they are except to say stunning, just stunning.
The base for the trip was to be Canazei in the Val di Fassa, an area which is Ladin in culture. In the 2011 census nearly 80% of Canazei inhabitants considered themselves Ladin speakers. The language is common around the Trentino area and although I knew I was in Italy there was definably a different vibe and it was good. Being Welsh although dim siarad Cymraeg, this is something I can relate to.
One thing I got very excited about was the pink bunting everywhere. Canazei was hosting a stage finish of the Giro D'Italia just a few weeks later. There was a second stage passing through the next day en route to the Passo Pordoi. To see the trapping of a grand tour whilst people carried skis was a bit strange to be fair but I savoured it.
The views weren't bad either. My room at the Hotel La Perla had two windows. One gave me a view of the Gruppa Sella, which was to be circuited next day, and the other the Marmolada, at 3343 metres known as the Queen of the Dolomites. Apparently scenes from the Italian Job were filmed there but I've never actually seen the film. I'm not a huge fan of Michael Caine and not a lot of people know that.
Sorry I've digressed a bit. This article is supposed to be about skiing, not cycling or bad acting so to the snow. We'd met our host Alice the night before and that morning we were taken to pick up our hire skis. As usual my size 13 ski boots were met with a mixture of astonishment and mirth but I'm immune to that now. Confident in my ability I asked for a slightly longer pair than I'd used in France a few weeks earlier and we queued for the gondola up to the route starting at Belvedere and taking the Orange clockwise circuit.
Alice had arranged a guide for the day and the first time I got my boots in my bindings he sensed I may not be that good. Now in true cyclist style I'm going to get my excuses in here. The weather was warm and by the afternoon the pistes were mogul fields, which I have little experience of. Also I'm always rubbish at first until I get used to my skis and warm up. On the flip side I do need to improve my technique but I hoped I'd be ok.
Descending the first slopes I was soon skiing better than I'd ever done thanks to tips from our guide and Alice and the others and we hit lift after lift and slope after slope before stopping for the Bombardinos which are compulsory when skiing in Italy. Whilst we sipped these warm, sweet and very alcoholic concoctions conversation turned to the upcoming Giro, which cyclists were doping, how it would be impossible to not too (don't agree) and the only thing getting me around the lack of technical ability I possessed as a skier was my fit body as a cyclist. My ski helmet did feel a bit tighter at that point.
Carrying on, I was sometimes led down the easier option if it existed, whilst the rest of group flew down blacks. I was also advised that I would need a good sauna that night to ease the fatigue due to the abuse I was putting my legs through. As the day went on it was getting warmer and warmer. Sadly some sections at the bottom of the valleys had to be walked but the resorts had maintained the slopes as best they could and far better than the conditions should have allowed. However by the afternoon the moguls had appeared and like I say I have little experience or knowledge in skiing these.
As a cyclist I'm proud. Being defeated by a hill isn't an option and on the very rare occasion I've had to push I die a little inside. Skiing ah well no such problem. So I had no problem in letting somebody carry my skis down the worst slope whilst I slid down on my bum. Finding I could pose whilst I did this and giggling the whole way down I saved face amongst the group who admitted they were a little envious. Whether they were envious later when I persuaded them to give me a piggy back is open to debate.
I'll be honest I do need more lessons to do the Sella Ronda justice but in normal conditions there would be nothing there to deter a skier of my ability from completeing the circuit. One thing that can be boring about skiing is doing the same slopes constantly, although the challenge of getting better each time is there. The Ronda provides a route with a purpose. I can honestly say that it's the best day on planks I've ever had, bum slides and piggy backs not withstanding.
Luckily, Alice had arranged a visit that night to the QC Therme Dolomiti, a spa centre a few kms down the road at Pozza di Fassa. The saunas were amazing although what worked best for my cyclist legs were Kneipp - which involved walking through hot water then very cold water then hot water and so on which was painful, but worked. What didn't work for me was the relaxation rooms or the food but hey ho each to their own.
The skiing was not done and next day we were taken to the other side of the valley to the Ski Panorama. An alternative or addition to the Sella Ronda. Accessed by a series of gondolas it takes a little while to get to but it's worth it with miles more slopes and perhaps a little quieter. Despite being a little tired from the day before I found myself skiing harder and harder runs and despite having a big, nay huge, face plant after flying off a mogul, I enjoyed more and more. Even forgetting I was actually supposed to be working and forgetting to turn my action cam on. So my crash ain't recorded. Not even the fact that Frankie our Inghams rep stole my chips at lunch could spoil a wonderful day and as the others skied down the black run to the lift back to Belvedere I watched from above as Alice accompanied me sure that black was doable and as I relaxed in the ice pool at the excellent wellness centre in the Hotel La Perla I started planning to get lessons next season to come back and do this place justice.
The Val Di Fassa and Canzei are breathtaking and whilst the skiing has more than enough for everyone from beginners up I'd say that those you are above that book yourself a guide and some lessons to get the full enjoyment out the area. Italy as always provides better value and as I sat guarding my pizza from Frankie before our flight back, watching the strange sight of cyclists in summer lycra and skiers in full kit mingling it occurred to me how much the pizza would have cost in a similar quality resort in France..... a lot more. The Ladin culture adds a welcoming atmosphere and fun to the town and I can't recommend it enough. The Hotel La Perla even has a Minor Bird.
Inghams is offering a seven night holiday on a half board basis at the four-and-a-half-star Hotel La Perla in Canazei (Val di Fassa), Italy, from £969 per person, based on two sharing in January 2018. Price includes return flights from London Gatwick to Innsbruck and airport transfers. To book, visit www.inghams.co.uk/ski-holidays or call 01483 791 114.
Many thanks to Alice from http://www.fassa.com/
and Frankie from Inghams for the trip.