The journey from the airport to San Cassiano wound through the Dolomites, climbing up mountain roads, going higher and higher over each pass. The snow began to fall, the roads got narrower and Heidi, our driver, spent more and more time on the mobile. It turns out she was finding out which of the high mountain passes were passable, and finally after a few calls, she settled in on a safe way over the mountains. Luckily she was a San Cassiano local and seemed very confident on the snowy and icy roads.
Located in the heart of the Dolomites, San Cassiano is a place of unsurpassed beauty with a villagy feel and, most importantly, good coffee! (Finally we have made it to Italy!!) It is nestled at the foot of towering mountain walls in a truly spectacular setting. Part of the Alta Badia ski region, San Cassiano, is a gorgeous town with southern Tyrolean and Italian heritage. (“Ladin” being the local culture and language)
The 4wheatleys are not renowned for their skiing prowess, and with slight trepidation, we collected our ski gear on the afternoon of arrival, wondering what the next 5 days of skiing would bring.
Day one broke, with brilliant sunshine and fresh snow up high. Strategically, we had booked lessons for 10am for the whole family. Time enough for us to shambollically get into our gear and stumble into the gondola for the ride to the top, and insufficient time beforehand to plunge down mountains inflicting damage due to lack of skill.
Will and Ele, were introduced the friendly Alex, a 30-something instructor born and bred in the mountains of Alta Badia. Fortunately, and with good humour, he established the fact that their total amount of skiing experience was the 50m from the gondola to the meeting point, and even then they had yet to clip into skis. Off they went with Alex to be instructed in the art of plunging down mountains whilst strapped onto sticks.
Two hours later, Alex returned to the meeting point with two confident, happy and uninjured kids who now could ski. The day ended with a ski home, down the long run all the way back to the village.
It was an absolute delight for Spike and Kate to be instructed by Guido, a bushy bearded, weather worn mountain man, 70 years of age. In his heavily accented English we learnt the Guido philosophy of skiing. We discovered that he had taught Alex to ski and the manager of our hotel to ski. In fact it seemed he taught virtually the whole San Cassiano local population under the age of 50 (yes, he had been teaching skiing for 50yrs). It was like being taught by Yoda. Every morning we would set off down the beautifully groomed slopes, following Guido as he expressed the joy of the first morning ski runs by yodelling all the way down to the bottom.
Over the course of the week, each morning Alex took Will & Ele off to another part of the Alta Badia ski area, returning with harder runs under their belt and demonstrating greater skill and confidence. It was also reported that Alex, too, yodelled his way to the bottom. Must be that mountain air.
Every afternoon after lessons we skied as a family, doing more and more runs with each passing day. By the end of the week, our family skiing runs became a highlight as we swooshed downhill together.
One of the joys of skiing from San Cassiano was stopping at the mountain huts and chalets for morning tea or lunch. On a sunny day we loved skiing up to a hut, taking a table outside on the deck and enjoying a cracking cappucino or snack. After some more skiing we stopped at another hut for late lunch of pasta or minestrone before tackling a few runs on the way back home.
Staying at Hotel Störes, we settled down at our family table for the week. At breakfast and dinner, the friendly Ingo served us, teaching us various Italian phrases and helping us to decipher the local Ladin cuisine. Whether it was a Deer Goulash or Apple Schmarren, we ate in true mountain style, although a few complaints about the extent of zucchini and saukraut were registered.
One evening, outside on the terrace, the hotel brewed up a few pots of mulled wine and had a local musician playing some tunes on the accordian. The lyrics went a bit over the head, however we did get into the groove of the music by joining in a Ladin style conga line. I think it was the below freezing temperatures and the falling snow that encouraged one to keep moving.
A unique experience for me was the morning Guido took me down the local black run. Used each year for a World Cup Giant Slalom race, the Gran Risa run into La Villa plunges near vertically off the side of the mountain, descending for an eternity. Taking me by surprise, Guido led me off a chairlift and before I worked out where I was going, he said, “follow me” and plunged over the side of the “cliff”. I followed, hanging on for what its worth whilst Guido yodelled and weaved effortlessly down the mountain. Fortunately I lived to tell the tale.
San Cassiano and skiing in the Dolomites was a highlight for all 4wheatleys. The sheer beauty of the mountains, the friendliness of the people, the relaxed vibe of the Alta Badia ski area and the enjoyment of skiing, meant that we all left wanting more. A big snow fall arrived as we started our trip back to Venice. While we journeyed through the white out, back over mountain passes, we plotted how to make a return trip.