8th February 2015
I have just returned from the perfect ski holiday. What made it perfect? The sun shone every day but one, the snow was good, the slopes carved their way through spectacular scenery and our hotel ticked all my comfort and cuisine boxes.
Were we just lucky? Not really as we had done our research before we even booked the holiday. There is so much information on the internet that a few keystrokes will give you everything you need to know. As the snowline gets lower it is important to find a resort with a skiing area high enough to ensure there will be snow somewhere in the resort – around 2,500 metres. Look at the resort information to get these statistics and the piste map to check the variety of runs. We stayed in Madonna di Campiglio in the Italian Dolomites and before booking we checked both the resort website and the ski lift website. Be wary of small resorts that are advertised as being ‘linked’ to larger ski areas – check that the links are ski lifts and pistes and not just infrequent ski buses. Also check the snow-making facilities. Artificial snow is so much better than it used to be and it is almost impossible to tell the difference except that those resorts that can make snow will have a better cover of snow than those that do not. If natural snow does not arrive early in the season as soon as the temperature is low enough these resorts can start laying down a good base.
Good equipment is vital for good, safe skiing. An increasing number of skiers now hire their skis in resort due to prohibitive airline carriage charges. Some ski companies will include these charges in the cost of the holiday and some skiers get round it by using a large ski bag as their one piece of luggage and putting all their belongings in that one bag. But is it worth the effort when ski hire shops offer a wide variety of equipment including the very latest models and also the change to change skis if conditions change – or to swap for a day on snow blades or a snowboard? Well-fitting ski boots are essential and if you do not own your own boots consider hiring to buy then you can try them first. Modern ski boots can be as comfortable and cosy as a pair of slippers. Try different boots until you find some that firmly encase your feet without bruising the end of your toes or blistering your shins. Take them back and change them if they are hurting – and do this as soon as possible so it is important to hire your equipment locally. It is possible to hire equipment more cheaply online but check the whereabouts of the collection point first – it may not be easy to get to. Skis, as a general rule, should come up to your chin, otherwise the choice is yours. Some brands suit certain skiers more than others. I go for the lighter models as they are easier to carry and easier to ski on and I insist on a certain length even though it meant I once left a Swiss ski hire shop with the derisory shouts of “children’s skis” ringing in my ears. After many years I know what suits me and I keep notes of the models I particularly like – sometimes I email the shop in advance to book particular skis.
Ideally the hiring of equipment and purchase of ski passes can be done on the day of arrival so you are ready to ski the next morning. Once you have your equipment make a note of the number or better still label them. In the early morning chaos of the hotel ski and boot room this will not only remind you which skis are yours but it will also deter other guests from taking the wrong skis. If you are unfamiliar with the resort and have not skied for a while it is a good idea to start in an area that offers a few easy runs to get you going again. If you are skiing with a group make arrangements to meet somewhere for coffee in case anyone gets mislaid. I like to ski in resorts that have plenty of mountain restaurants for coffee, lunch and afternoon tea breaks and in this respect Madonna di Campiglio is one of the best resorts I have skied in. Each ski area has a good variety of mountain restaurants. Patascoss at the base of the Cinque Laghi ski area is ideal for a coffee break as there is plenty of room to sit outside, the coffee is always hot and there is a lift to whisk you down to the toilets on the lower level. Viviani in the Pradalago ski area is my favourite place for lunch – not just because it offers a good variety of tasty dishes (the menu changes every Thursday) but the friendly and efficient staff ensure you can enjoy either a quick one course meal or a leisurely three-course lunch. Booking is essential.
If you are not already an expert skier ski lessons will enhance your holiday. For complete beginners I would recommend daily two hour group lessons. That first experience on the slopes is best shared with others in the same position as together you discover hitherto unknown talents for doing the splits and veering off the beaten track into knee deep snow. For those who can ski there is always more to learn and one two hour private lesson early in the week will refresh and improve your technique. Some people prefer to take a private lesson on a one to one basis but two or three together is a good idea as you can learn from other skiers’ mistakes.
Of course the weather is beyond everyone’s control but some resorts cope better with adverse conditions than others. Fresh snow on top of well-groomed pistes is idyllic but if frozen rutted snow lurks below that virgin layer then it is not possible to throw caution to the winds as your skis swish down the mountain. Skiing while it is snowing requires careful planning to avoid long, wet rides in exposed chair lifts. Plan your route using enclosed cabin lifts and covered chair lifts and regular stops for warm drinks and a chance to dry out. Holding wet googles under the hand dryers in the toilets works wonders.
Accommodation in ski resorts varies from basic apartments to luxury hotels but whichever is your choice position is important so check the ease of getting to the slopes. Most resorts run a regular ski bus service. These used to be free with the lift pass but several resorts now make a charge to use this service. Many hotels run a free shuttle bus service to the ski lifts – the ideal situation. Ski-in ski-out accommodation is the most convenient but not if there is no snow and sometimes a lack of snow may mean a long walk to the nearest lift. My ideal hotel – I like a bit of luxury – is the Hotel Lorenzetti in Madonna di Campiglio. All the rooms are comfortable and spotlessly clean, the food is amazing and the staff friendly and helpful. After a good day’s skiing there is nothing better than relaxing in the bar with a mug of mulled and some homemade cake enjoying a splendid view of the Brenta Dolomites.
And the final ingredient – a large dash of fun.
- Getting there
Several airlines fly to Verona including British Airways and Easyjet. A ski shuttle from the airport offers a very reasonably priced transfer at the weekends and on Thursdays to Madonna di Campiglio and Val di Sole. Otherwise there is the frequent shuttle between the airport and Verona station. Regular trains depart from this station for Trento. This website only shows the regional trains (the cheapest trains) 7 days before the departure date. The Dolomiti Express, a small mountain railway runs from Trento. These small trains have comfortable seats for the scenic journey and free WiFi is also available. For Madonn di Campiglio take the public bus from Trento bus station which is next to the train station.