Skiing in the Val Badia – the Italo-Canadian-Aussie Connection
January 10-17th 2015
We are headed to Corvara for a week of skiing – la settimana bianca. Though you would hardly know it. Driving from Trieste through Friuli and then to Belluno, it was actually colder in Friuli this morning than in Corvara. The first snow we see is as we arrive in Val Badia. But the snow is all on the ski runs and all around the fields are a wintry brown color. It had rained the night before in Corvara – a temperature inversion – where it is 11C in Corvara at 1,568m and -1C on the plains of Friuli.
Corvara is located in a sunny valley at the foot of Mount Sassongher and the Sella Group and is part of the Alta Badia ski region. It is in the South Tyrol or in Italian Alto Adige. The German name predominates because this region became part of Italy only after the first world war. For almost 700 years previously it had been a predominantly Germanic region. Here everyone flows easily from German to Italian and I would say quite proudly to Ladin. German and Italian are both recognized as official languages and often signing is trilingual. Corvara is an area where the majority of residents state that Ladin is their mother tongue. Ladin is an ancient “language” and its origin is subject to much debate. The accepted belief is that it derives from a form of Latin spoken by the Roman troops that colonized the area blended with the language of the people already living there.
Sunday morning the forecast is for rain and does not bode well as a ski day. We decide to go for a walk and take a trail as it follows a small stream to La Villa (1433m). The path is quite icy but it feels really good to be outside with the sound of running water on this mild winter day. La Villa is the site of La Gran Risa, where the World Cup giant slalom takes place every year and where Alberto Tomba won a number of races. Of course, if you are an avid skier, you would want to try it out and experience (somewhat) the thrill of a competitive ski run. We can only see the bottom part of the run but the skiers are coming down at quite a fast speed.
We take the gondola up to Piz La Villa and enjoy the view of the mountains and the ski runs. Then into the rifugio for a cup of caffe macchiato. In the brief time we are inside it has started to snow – heavy wet flakes of snow. We head back down in the gondola and now the snow has changed to sleet and rain. Luckily it changes again and the walk back to Corvara is a beautiful winter scene. Huge snowflakes cover all the branches of the trees and the snow accumulates quite quickly on the trail.
We awake Monday to a perfect winter day – a cloudless blue sky, a fresh snowfall and mild temperatures. Perfect for the non-skiers to take a walk to Colfosco (1645m), on a path that winds its way just above Corvara. Colfosco is a picturesque hamlet with its traditional balconied houses and an onion – domed church set against a backdrop of mountains.
Tuesday is again a perfect winter day and the first day of ski lessons. It is about 11:00 in the morning and the start of ski school. I am surrounded by little ones not more than three and four years old nimbly making their way to ski lift.
I start out on the Bunny Hill with all the three year olds. I try snowplowing about 15 meters and then “walking” back up to try a few more times. The “walking” back up with the skis is hard work and leaves me sweaty. My personal ski instructor has assessed my ability to stay upright and decides that I should take the ski lift up the Bunny Hill and try a bit of a longer run. I go up and down a few times. He re-assesses and then decides I should try a beginner hill. So we take the gondola and then the chair lift to a hill at Colfosco. From there we take a lift to the top of the beginner hill. Now I need to learn to turn. My instructor explains the theory of where my centre of gravity needs to be and shows me how to shift my weight from one ski to the other. Easier said than done for me. I manage a few runs turning as I snow plow. By now it is lunch time. I am thoroughly enjoying being outside in this setting and when my instructor offers up the option of going back to the hotel or heading up in the gondola to a rifugio I say yes to the rifugio option.
Once out of the gondola there is a short run down to the rifugio – Col Pradat. Short yes, but for me very steep and with a lot of other skiers racing by. I snow-plow – brake my way down.
The veranda area is completely filled with people enjoying the view and the feel of the sun. We find an unoccupied table – all picnic table style – long benches on each side that easily seat a dozen people or so. The view of the mountains with that clear blue sky is stunning and I start to take a few pictures.
For a Central Canadian, more accustomed to frost bite warnings and cocooning in the winter months, it does not seem real. First that I am here (skiing), in the Dolomites, with my personal ski instructor does not seem real. Second that I have taken my jacket, tuque and gloves off, and I am quite happy to be sitting outside on this sunny winter day does not seem real. Third the veranda is alive with colorful ski suits, the smells of sausages, goulaschsupe, and schnitzel, the sounds of people chatting and enjoying a beer, a glass of wine. It feels like I am in one of those glamorous pictures I have seen of St. Moritz or Cortina.
A young woman comes over and kind of motions – can she sit at this table too. I motion back – yes. Immediately the young women asks me in English if my ski instructor and I would like a picture together. I say yes. She takes the picture. I thank her then ask (in my ignorance) are you from Australia or New Zealand. She tells me she is from Australia. The rest of her group starts to join her at the table. I ask if this is their first time skiing in the Val Badia. No it is not. They come every two years or so. It is a family trip of about 35 people. It turns out that her mother was born in Italy and emigrated to Australia when she was five years old. Her father was born in Australia but his parents had emigrated there from Italy in the 1920s. Then I mention of course that I am Canadian with an Italian connection. And in the true Aussie style – they all introduce themselves, ask us our names. John – Giovanni – the father calls Dario by name and chats to us in Italian. His Italian is like mine – or perhaps like mine was when I first arrived in Trieste. He tells us that his family is from the Veneto, he has a cousin whose name is inscribed in the WWI monument at Redipuglia, he has an uncle that lives in Trieste in Via Canova. And so on. The young women – Lisa- comments that her gnocchi are very good with a perfect pronunciation of gnocchi. Even though she herself does not speak Italian her pronunciation is a clear indication that she has “an ear” for the language as the word gnocchi is very difficult for Anglophones to pronounce correctly. She is definitely Italo-Aussie! They are staying in the Val Gardena area. The amazing thing about this area known as the Sella Ronda is that you can ski from valley to valley through the mountain passes and taking various lifts can do the “round” of the passes.
Having thoroughly enjoyed our goulaschsupe, my ski instructor goes off to do a few more challenging runs on his own while I stay and enjoy the view. Then it is time to head back down. For me the slope is not only much steeper than my beginner hill but when I hear the sound of my skis on the now icy surface, some fear starts to creep into my thoughts. Then I fall once and a second time. Now I have lost my confidence totally and ask if I can take my skis off and walk back down. The response is that it would be very hard to do so with ski boots. I take some time to try and chase away the “ I am scared” thoughts. Slowly, I make it back down but not without falling one last time.
Wednesday is another bright sunny day. Day 2 of ski lessons and I am focused on trying to shift my weight properly. Then we move onto learning how to keep the skis parallel. Day 3 and the skis are starting to stay somewhat parallel but there is still lots of work to do on my form. With my left turns I seem to manage to shift my weight and bring my skis parallel, but with the right turns I am shifting my whole body. This is making me turn in a semi circle. My instructor, ever patient, explains that the point of down hill skiing is to go down hill not uphill! He encourages me to go a little faster which should help with the turns. Day 4 and after awhile my instructor leaves me on my own while he goes off to enjoy a few more good runs on our last ski day. I wake up Saturday morning thinking with one more day of private ski lessons I could have mastered that right hand turn! But our ski week in Corvara is over, leaving memories of perfect sunny ski days, stunning mountain scenery, good food and la bella compagnia.