Canazei, jewel of the Dolomites

Written by on February 17, 2016 in Europe, SNOW KIDS, SNOW TRAVEL - Comments Off on Canazei, jewel of the Dolomites

The key to a great Italian ski holiday in Canazei is to slow down, enjoy the “wine-with-lunch” lifestyle and absorb the sheer energy & visual feast that is the Dolomites.

The ‘Dolomiti’ dominate the alps.  Spires, pinnacles, plateaus and cliffs.  Ridges, bluffs, couloirs and escarpments.  Grey, beige, white and cold.  Massive limestone walls imposing their presence no matter where you ski, ride or lunch.  Mountains within mountains that hypnotise, enchant and enthral.  Nature at its finest, harshest, most rugged and wild.  Yet, so tranquil, timeless, peaceful and silent.  Best enjoyed with company, with time and a good glass of wine … or three.

The incredible Gruppo Sella & Langkofel Group

The incredible Langkofel Group & Gruppo Sella

What a privilege to again ski in this amazing place.  With such a riveting backdrop like no other on earth.  One of the most beautiful; certainly the most dramatic; undeniably the most unique.  Imagine skiing around the Grand Canyon, Uluru or The Great Wall of China.  The sheer grandeur and power is magnificent.

Having skied in the Dolomites twice before I had a nagging “been there done that” feeling.  But we’d never stayed in the quaint town of Canazei before, with colourfully muralled buildings, wooden balconies, a historical centre and genuine authenticity.  Our Italian neighbours, Francesca and Achille, gave it a glowing review, while its central location in the abundant ski region of Val di Fassa; proximity to the famous Sella Ronda; and direct Fly Ski Shuttle access to Venice’s Marco Polo International Airport (with two kids in tow) was enough reason to sway us to pay yet another visit.  And what a visit!

The Dolomites are great for everyone

The Dolomites are great for everyone

Previously I stayed in Südtirolean Val Gardena for a week, and upmarket Cortina for another, it was go go go as we packed in as many miles and hours as we could – and that was just the eating and drinking.  Sure it was fun, exciting and the skiing brilliant but the true awe and wonder of the Dolomites was a bit of blur.

This time was different.  This time, we had kids.  And the view from the balcony of our charming family room at the luxurious Astoria Hotel was the majestic Marmolada silently towering 3,342 metres over the valley.  A somewhat grim grey giant beckoning to be ascended.  So, like the slow food movement that makes dining in Italy a pure pleasure, I intuitively adopted the slow ski movement.

The mighty Marmolada

The mighty Marmolada

We would ski, enjoy a brief pause, a stop for coffee (always excellent), take a photo, stop for beer or bombardino (also excellent) and marvel in appreciation at the Dolomites reigning supreme in the skyline.

The skiing of course was outstanding.  Extensive snow making, hundreds of lifts (many recent or new) and meticulously groomed pistes all in a surreal setting, with an excellent mountain restaurant always a turn or two away.

Always save time for a nice glass or three

Always save time for a nice glass or three

To appreciate the Dolomites is to explore and tour them.  Previously, I’d skied the 90km Grande Guerra (Great War) Tour from Lagazuoi to Cinque Torre and the Sella Ronda in a counter-clockwise direction.  This year we tackled the 42km circumnavigation around the Gruppo Sella clockwise, following the orange signs.

My 10 year old Porshia was in charge of directions as she followed the colour co-ordinated (Green or Orange) extensively signed route.  There’s no need for a map (weather permitting) – the area’s too big and the map too small to really be of much use.  And the movement of people on a similar mission keep you moving in the right direction.  And if all else fails, what goes up must come down.  Commencing in Canazei’s massive Belvedere area under Piz Boe (3,151m) and Sass Pordoi (2,950m) then down and up to neighbouring Campitello’s sun drenched Col Rodella under the jagged arthritic fingers of the Langkofel Group.  We popped over the Passo Sella ridge and down and up and down we ventured via the famously challenging Saslong FIS downhill course into Val Gardena.  Ski’s off, over a bridge then up and onwards, with a stop for an excellent spätzle lunch & schnapps for good measure.  The 5km ramble down rolling red/blues from Dantercepies past Colfosco and onto Corvara was fun.  Then up and down to idyllic Arraba, onward to uber fancy & high Porta Vescovo (2,478m) and finally two more quads delivered us back to Canazei’s Belvedere.

Signs are perfect for the folk from Downunder

Signs are perfect for the folk from Downunder

All up it wasn’t a bad days work, according to the Dolomiti Superski Performance Check we did about 32km on snow, through 6,035 vertical metres over 4 mountain passes, through 4 regions (Fassa – Gardena – Alta Badia – Arabba), caught 20 lifts, drank four coffees, two beers, a grappa, a bombardino, a couple of schnapps, devoured a ripper lunch and was home in time pick up 2.5 year old Jack from Kinderland at 3:30 sharp.

Gotta love a quick Schnapps

Gotta love a quick Schnapps

By contrast, there’s the Val di Fassa “Skitour Panorama”, commencing with a short bus ride from Canazei to Alba and up to the Ciampac-Buffaure ski areas which course their way across the valley’s southern ridge line up and down a handful of lifts/runs heading in a southwesterly direction climaxing in the aptly named 2,000m black run Vulcano down to Pozza di Fassa through 700 vertical metres.  Then aboard another shuttle, accompanied by a vivacious group of Italians, onto Pera then up to the delightful Catinaccio-Ciampedie ski area with its many wooded runs, technical descents, including the 900m black named in honour of Italian ski great Alberto Tomba and of course a superb lunch (deer gnocchi & a “toastie”) at Baita Pra Martin.  One more bus from Vigo di Fassa and back to Buffaure for our return trip including a well earned pit stop at the fashionably laidback Rifugio Al Zedron and then for our 4.5km descent (2.8km of which is black) into Alba.  Up to Belvedere via the brand spanking new Alba-Col dei Rossi funivia and a lovely long descent to home base Canazei in time for complimentary apres nibbles and an Aperol Spritz at the Astoria Hotel.

Buon Appettito indeed

Buon Appetito indeed

The great thing about this tour is that it’s away from the sometimes madding crowd on the Sella Ronda with a far more “local” feel about it.  That said, the immaculate standard of the lifts, runs & lunch where no less impressive than what we’ve grown to expect in Italy.

And that’s literally the berg’s tip.  The Dolomites comprise 12 interconnected single ticket ski areas with a surprisingly long 1,200kms of pistes.  To put it into perspective, that’s the distance from Canberra to Brisbane.  Admittedly, we skied but a fraction of the 1,200 but it was nice to know that my Dolomiti Superski pass provided access to all areas.  Which, with ample time, good planning, a decent pack, rudimentary Italian, Ladin or Deutsche and a handle on the local bus routes is conceivably doable.  (For the record, according to the Dolomiti Superski Performance Check I caught 86 lifts and skied an estimated 160km through 32,706 vertical metres during my 6 day visit … and lost count on the beer, vino and coffee consumption).

1,200 km Dolomiti Superski Area

1,200 km Dolomiti Superski Area

Distance, like most things, is relative.  Italians are always astounded and delighted to meet Aussies and can’t fathom that we’d travel so far to ski.  They also genuinely seem honoured and humble that we’d choose their backyard to play and their warm generosity and open hospitality is immediately laid bare.  Their attitude to children too is simply wonderful as no request is too difficult or childish behaviour, from them or me, too annoying.

Kindness is an Italian instinct that, along with the wonderful skiing, splendid food and breathtaking scenery will surely lure us back to the fascinating Dolomites yet again.

The excellent locally produced Grappa is also a good reason to visit

The excellent locally produced Grappa is another good reason to return

More info:
For packages, inspiration and know how: contact specialist travel consultant Tania Peccedi at www.skiitaly.com.au
The resort: www.fassa.com/EN/Canazei-Alba-Penia
Get the ticket: www.dolomitisuperski.com
Where to stay & eat: www.hotel-astoria.net
What to rent: www.canazeiskirent.com
Who to tour with: www.dolomitemountains.com
How to get there: Plane, then these guys www.flyskishuttle.com
The region: www.fassa.com and  www.visittrentino.it
How to get around:  Shuttle bus of course

Even the ski shuttle buses are charming

Even the ski shuttle buses are charming

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