I was clinging to a rope alongside a dozen other skiers, waiting to be pulled along by (of all things) a shire horse, when I remembered what Nina, manager of the Las Vegas Lodge, had told me that morning. This was, in fact, my second tow of the day. A few hours earlier, I’d been dragged behind an altogether noisier skiddoo, which raced me and my two colleagues up the mountain at 7AM for a sunrise breakfast at the Las Vegas Lodge, high above San Cassiano.
It was there—as we admired the craggy peaks around us and salivated at the prospect of both breakfast, and the freshly-groomed slopes we’d have all to ourselves—that Nina first mentioned the horse tow at the end of our planned afternoon destination. “When you get to the Hidden Valley, that’s when you’ll see why this area is a UNESCO World Heritage Site,” she said. How right she was.
We were visiting Alta Badia, in the South Tyrol region of Italy, for a long weekend in March. The resort is one of 15 that make up the Dolomiti Superski pass zone, which gives you access to 450 ski lifts, and an incredible 1,200km of slopes. Consisting of six small villages, each with their own feel and an authenticity rarely found in the big hitters of France and Austria, Alta Badia is perhaps most famous for its access to the Sellaronda route, a circular piste-skiing tour around the rocky spires of the Sella massif.
It takes roughly a full day to ski, either clockwise or anti-clockwise, but it’s clearly marked either way: orange or green arrows act as your guide at the bottom of each piste, ensuring you always end up back where you started your day. This completely removes the need to look at a piste map, which is surprisingly liberating. Along the way you’ll find a wonderful variety of runs, not to mention some of the best restaurants and pit stops in the skiing world. But it’s the mountains themselves I am in awe of. Their pinkish hue, jagged sharp pinnacles and imposing faces give them a totally different feel to any I have seen in the rest of the Alps.
Valley of dreams
Nina’s words were ringing in my ears as our bus climbed its way up the mountain.
As we stepped out, we craned our necks to look up in wonder at our next stop. The Hidden Valley route is reached via a cable car to the Refuge Lagazoui—itself an iconic ‘must do’ in this area—which is perched on the edge of a sheer cliff at 2,752m above the Falzarego Pass, halfway between the resort of Cortina d’Ampezzo and the Badia Valley. The climb gave us a taste of what was to come, but we were still dumbstruck by the panoramic, vertigo-inducing views from the Lagazoui’s terrace. Snowcapped peaks stretching as far as the eye could see.
We spent half an hour snapping photos and shaking our heads at the surrounding beauty before our discussion turned to following the skiers we could see disappearing down the run below us. The eight-kilometre piste that leads down into the Hidden Valley would be nothing special elsewhere, but the towering mountains on either side seemed to engulf the slope, creating a feeling of solitude, despite the other skiers around us.
“Our lunch—washed down with a bottle of Amarone—was so good, we simply didn’t want to leave”
It took what seemed like an age to slowly wind our way down. We stopped time and again to enjoy the surroundings before reaching the Rifugio Scottoni, our lunch stop. This is another must-visit venue, with a suntrap terrace that provides the perfect place to take in the views—as well as sample some of the finest food and wine any of us had ever eaten up on the mountain.
The shared barbecued meat platter, washed down with a bottle of Amarone, was so good we simply didn’t want to leave. Of course we eventually had to get going, but we stopped again almost immediately, to gaze at the turquoise blue ice of frozen waterfalls adorning the walls of the valley. The magical experience of was only enhanced by that final horse-tow back to Armenterola, and civilisation.
Our trip concluded with two days of sunshine skiing on the immaculately maintained pistes of the area. It hadn’t snowed for three weeks but Alta Badia’s extensive network of snow cannons meant they remained in near-perfect condition until the late afternoon slush set in. By which time, we’d often stopped for aperitivo anyway.
The Dolomites had been on my bucket list for years. Having built it up in my mind, there was always a risk it would fail to live up the hype: like meeting one of your heroes, and discovering they’re bit of an idiot. None of that here though. There was something very special about this place. Just don’t tell anyone!
Food for the Soul
A massive part of any trip to Italy is the food, and the Dolomites are no different. Alta Badia has some superb restaurants in the villages and slope side, from Michelin-star fine dining to more simple fare. Here are three of the best.
Las Vegas Lodge, San Cassiano
The Las Vegas Lodge owner will pick you from Corvara or La Villa with a skidoo or snowcat at 7AM to take you up the mountain for sunrise. This is a wonderful experience. The continental breakfast is superb, but it’s the views from the terrace, and the opportunity to get onto the slopes before the masses that makes the €37 money well spent. There are also rooms available, if you would like to wake up to that view every day of your trip.
Rifugio Scotoni, Hidden Valley
A genuine mountain refuge, Scotoni’s is the only restaurant on the Hidden Valley run. Right next to the piste, it provides a warm welcome, good service and excellent food and wine. The dishes range from Polenta and pasta, to barbecued meat platters: the ribs were spectacular. We couldn’t fault this place. If there is a queue for tables, as there often is, make sure you wait, because you definitely won’t regret it.
Bistrot La Perla, Corvara
Michelin Star Bistrot La Perla is a pure treat. The prices are as high as you would expect for this level of food and service but, if your budget can stretch to it, it is very much worth it. Live music accompanies a varied menu and the biggest wine list we had ever seen. You can also take a tour of their wine cellar – expect the unexpected though! The 24,000 bottles of wine are an incredible sight, but the weird and wonderful touches throughout the tour left us in hysterics.
Jim and the team were hosted by Sunweb, who offer a wide range of accommodation in hundreds of resorts across Europe. Bookings include your lift pass, saving a huge chunk of your holiday costs.
Travel and passes
Venice and Innsbruck are the closest airports to Alta Badia. We flew to Innsbruck (2hrs away).
The Dolomiti Superski pass gives you access to 15 resorts and 1,200km of piste for €80 per day.
Where to stay
Jim stayed in the 4* Hotel Melodia del Bosco. Rooms are large, modern and well appointed, and most have balconies with lovely views of the surrounding peaks. It has a spa with multiple sauna/steam rooms, a nice bar area, and a restaurant serving hearty meals.