Unless you’re Lindsey Vonn, or so addicted to the white stuff that only the finest off-piste will do, then a ski trip should be like any other holiday – one dominated by good food and drink. And, on those terms, there are few more satisfying destinations than the Italian resort of Alta Badia.
Visiting amid reports that mountains across the continent were bare of that all-important component of skiing (snow), I’d been lured to this corner of the Dolomites with the promise of world-class cooking and fine wine. Indeed, no other valley in the Alps can boast a higher concentration of Michelin-starred restaurants than the pretty resort of Alta Badia: a fact its chefs are extremely proud of. So much so, that they take part in a yearly event called Taste for Skiing.
Kicking off with a gourmet ski safari in December, this season-long culinary festival combines haute cuisine with local wine and head-in-the-cloud views. Available until 3 April, the ski safari is made up of 14 dishes (costing between €14 and €28 each) created by 14 internationally renowned chefs (with 15 Michelin stars amongst them) and marrying South Tyrolean and southern Italian cuisine; try them across 14 of the region’s rifugio (mountain huts).
Forget the heavy cheese- and potato-laden slope food you know – here you’ll find the lightest, silkiest folds of handmade pasta, creamy barley with local suckling pig and earthy marjoram, and fine seafood in delicate sauces.
At Piz Arlara, Corvara, some 2,040m above sea level, you’ll find Matteo Metullio’s chosen dish (the highlight of my first day’s skiing) – tortelli stuffed with goat’s cheese and beetroot purée, topped with salty peanuts and a rich suckling pig ragu – elegant but hearty, familiar yet different. Matteo, who can normally be found behind the pass at La Siriola, at Hotel Ciasa Salares in San Cassiano, wears his Michelin achievements on his sleeve, literally, with an eye-catching tattoo of a star and the date his restaurant won it.
Of course, to get to each rifugio, there is some skiing involved. The 130km of slopes at Alta Badia might only have been powder white on my visit thanks to a well-established network of snow canons (the rest of the mountains looked as if someone had dropped a sugar shaker) but there was more than enough to guide me to my next meal.
Indeed, there are 90 tracks to tick off, should you want to work up a real appetite, and even a free snowpark for more experienced winter sports fans – aerials, moguls, jumps and bumps galore.
You won’t be judged, though, if you merely ski with the next feed or drink in mind. In fact, it’s actively encouraged. Sommeliers on the Slopes (yes, it’s good as it sounds) is a new addition to the Taste for Skiing program this season. On these occasional trips (they run three times this season), a qualified sommelier turns tour guide, leading you from chalet to chalet at your own pace, whereupon they’ll let you taste (responsibly, naturally) a selection of local Tyrolean wines.
The Italians like their wine sprightly and fresh, so don’t be alarmed if you’re given a young vintage. And be sure to get your nose stuck into each glass before taking a sip. Not only is smell a crucial part of tasting wine (and anything, for that matter) but these high altitudes can make the bouquet of your plonk that much more intense, especially if you’ve chosen a sparkler. Our first stop involved two whites from the region, Klaser Weingut Niklas 2012 and Osma sauvignon blanc 2014, plus wafer-thin folds of silky pink speck, aromatic with juniper and smoke, and fennel-studded savoury biscuits. (This aniseed hit is a recurrent flavour in the food here.)
The next, fondue and venison burger with a fruity, lengthy red from 2014, a Pfarrhof Kalterersee Classico Superiore. The tours take place on 25 February, 3March and 10 March, need to be booked in advance and (incredibly) cost only €15. You’d struggle to get a plate of chips and a jar of beer in other European resorts for the same price.
Legs thoroughly lubricated with all that wine tasting, returning home is quite the adventure. But, back on ‘dry land’, in the comfort of your base – we had the luxurious, and newly renovated five-star Rosa Alpina as our home for the weekend – make the most of the resort restaurants for your après ski.
With influences from Italy and Germany, and traditional Ladin delicacies – such as barley soup and spinach-filled ravioli based on old family recipes – on the menu, it’s food worth investing in. In Alta Badia there are three Michelin-starred restaurants alone – Rosa Alpina’s St Hubertus, Ciasa Salares and Hotel La Perla. If not for the food, definitely visit the latter for its wine cellar. Like nothing you’ll have experienced before, this is an immersive 10-minute tour. I won’t spoil the surprise, but bring a waterproof…
That’s not to say, though, that the food in this region is unaffordable or inaccessible – far from it, it’s seriously easy eating. In Rosa Alpina, which has two other restaurants besides its fine-dining offering, has a great selection of dishes thanks to head chef Norbert Niederkofler including, on our visit, a bowl of gnocchi that came in a comforting blanket of cream, cheese and freshly grated truffle. If your thermals don’t keep your warm and cosy, this certainly will.
There are plenty of other food and drink events throughout the season to look out for, including a wine ski safari to celebrate the end of the season on 20 March, an exclusive tasting of some of the region’s best bottles at four of the rifugio, along with more local charcuterie and live music.
There are alternatives to skiing or boarding if that really isn’t your bag. There are 80km of mountain tracks for Nordic walking, snowshoeing, and toboggan trails. And if you book in for a Powder Snow breakfast at Las Vegas in San Cassiano (€25) to be the first on those freshly groomed slopes, you can even ride a snowcat. Whichever medium you decide to take, though, see if you can spot Marmolada mountain – the highest in the region at 3,343m. And bring salopettes a size bigger than you’re used to…
How to get there
Three-night Ski Weekends at Hotel Rosa Alpina, in San Cassiano cost from £1,605 per person, b&b, including concierge service, return flights and private transfers (powderbyrne.com).