Sunday, February 19, 2017

Luxury in small doses - Necessities in large doses

Saturday - travel plus run 5km

We booked a fairly budget ski holiday this year.  OK OK, last year we lucked out where Neilsen were "testing out" a new luxury spa hotel and had upgraded all guests for free to extra large balcony rooms.  This year we were in a "standard basic" hotel for the same money.  But this year we booked the airport hotel and valet parking for our 4:30am start and bloody hell did we enjoy it.  Drop the car off for strangers to manage, big comfy bed, posh meal, saunter through the airport.  The downside? By the time we arrived at our resort we had been in climatically controlled environments for 24 hours - hotel, airport, plane, bus.  Ugh. So we went for a run.

Just as we were going out the hotelier advised us of a pedestrian walkway that routes all through town.  Perfect!  Traffic free running, past a castle then a turnaround and retrace our steps to the hotel.  Snowy, crisp, beautiful and kudos from our rep who couldn't believe we'd been out for a run after our 24 hours (including 6 hours sleep) of travelling.

Sunday - St Christina - 23 miles downhill skiing.

Everyone walks to the lift on the first day right? Chiampioni cable car and skiing.  Getting the leggies back, remembering to do my boots up, stuff like that... oh, and looking for some tree runs.  There may have been a little wading!  We started to hanker after walk routes.

We moved upto Col Raiser to knock off all the runs in the area, played on a slalom route and had coffee and cake in the sun where we decided to call it quits after a lot of staring into the distance and wondering if we could hike it to Alpe de Susi, which we could just see over in the next valley.

We roamed into Ortisei ski area for the 10km run from top to bottom which was a dream and then headed back to Santa Christina.  Screwed up our efforts to hop onto snow for a hike back to the hotel and ended up walking down the hiking route in our boots before catching a bus from the central bus stop back to Selva Val Gardena.  

Typical that our boots were the muddiest in the boot room.

Chicken with chips last night improved into the best tasting Carpaccio since the vineyards in Penticton.  The aroma of horseraddish.  It was AMAZING.

Unfortuately it was a promising start and I didn't really get that mouth-watering excitement about any other dish all week.

Monday - Ortisei and Mt de Susi 32 miles including a bunch of cross country

Took the bus back to Ortisei then the cablecar to Alpe de Susi.  On the first lift we saw a 'cross country map as we sidled overhead on the chair lift so we skied to it and skinned off across the plateau to Saltira hut for a coffee then on to the main cross country area.

As a ticket man was checking passes (you need a different ticket for cross country which we weren't about to buy on top of the 500 Euro's we'd just spent on downhill lift tickets) we continued by on the walking path, figuring they can't stop you walking on a national park footpath for free.  We debated whether to stop at the mountain restaurant for early lunch at 11 but it felt too early so we continued.  

Like an oasis in the desert, after 30 minutes we crested a hill to find one of those perfect hiker cafés lurking just out of sight.  Delicious food for less than 20 Euro.  

Back on the trail we lurched towards impressive looking towers with the intention of skiing around and beyond if we could but there was no way!  As my toes started to burn from an injury I picked up in the (now lost in time) snowy UK winter of 2015, I began to dread the return journey to lifts, downhill and afternoon respite.  Just as TSK started to complain about his back, we crested a hill and again, like an oasis, found a lift and downhill routes all back to civilisation... well, the rest of the Alpe de Susi area.  

We returned via lift to Ortisei and bus back to the hotel where we slept all afternoon... me with my foot in the air.

Tuesday - Sella Ronde downhill 27 miles including lifts.

Sella Ronde was on TSK's repeat list.  I must've been really tired from the previous day's effort because I followed him around like a lost puppy and, TBH, a lot of the scenery was lost on me.

...I don't know why
There was a lot of queuing, it being half term, and a lot of shoving so I didn't enjoy the lifts at all.  A lot of people we talked to said they were going to attempt the whole Ronde route on Thursday when their kids were in ski school.  We immediately vowed not to do anything touristy on Thursday which was a bugger since I had my eye on the hidden valley route again.

Castles in the snow.

I guess in retrospect it's sweet that I spent Valentine's day paying more attention to my husband than the view.

Our neighbours in the hotel dining room took the time to leave little chocolate hearts at everyone's place.  

Sweet touch!

Wednesday - Vallongia cross country ski 13.4 miles

Someone let me get on the bus before suggesting that we walk back the way we've just come and buy lunch.  Someone (me) ignored that person and continued regardless.  Still, we had a bag of sweetened pineapple, a few nuts and a bit of chocolate - what could go wrong?

Set out on our "easy" walk up the Vallongia - after a few downhill routes to get there.  Avoided ticket man by following the path again.  We were so much more confident this year on the skins and the snow was hard packed, meaning we didn't have to break trail and half walked / half glided across the open fields, into woodland and beyond the places we recognised from last year.

We skied out on to the open plateau, far from any other nordic skiers and finally, around 12:00 approached a small patch of sunshine which was finally braking the frozen valley sides.  A Norwegian stopped for a brief, pidgin English chat and said, "This weather is just for us".  Little did we know that outside our valhallah, the rest of the resort was basking in +6 deg C temperatures.  

The Norwegian warned us that "beyond there is a point where you have to return".  He skied away and we sat under a tree, in a small circle of dry pine needles and ate our pineapple chunks and nuts.

We continued into the steep ascent that lay beyond the plateau.  Further than we went last year for sure.  The path narrowed and I wondered about the ski down.  No room for turns or snowplough through the trees and not enough snow to support a good tree-run ski.  It was getting a bit sketchy.

So we chucked our skis off the trail into a snow drift and continued on foot. Unfortunately we then topped out onto another plateau.

TSK spotting the view
 I insisted on continuing enough to photograph a frozen waterfall and secretly berated myself for not buying that lunch before we returned to our skis to strap them to our rucksacs for the narrow descent.
Me, rekindling the relationship with my mountaineering rucksac of the 90's.

Once back on the flat, we slid and glided back to the parking area of the cross-country ski area.  We will have to return another year to develop this route further.
in the meantime, we enjoyed ice crystals as fine as moth wings.
We ate lunch in tee shirts on the sun deck of the (now open) nordic ski centre before heading off up the steep sunny side of the valley to walk to Dannoi.  The snow got thinner and more tennuous and we took excuses to walk on foot, not skis, up to the ruin of the Wolkenstein castle (fort) before giving up on skis completely, strapping them to rucsacks and descending to the Skiway which was being regenerated with snow brought into the resort on a truck.

We nodded reverently at the driver of the pow-machine as we slid the remaining distance down to our hotel.

Thursday - Val di Fassa 50mile ski downhill

Val di Fassa is a tiny ski area off the main Selle Ronde with a few hotels at its extreme.  I agreed to go ski there on the basis that we wouldn't have to ever stay there in the future.  If it turned out to be amazing I could always reconsider.  It seemed like a good easy day.

As anticipated, the Thursday rush on the Selle Ronde was in full force and the two final lifts to get into Val di Fassa were excruciating.  Lifts that seem to be made for the elderly - cable cars that dock at the speed of a cross-channel ferry and slide away on their travel even slower to avoid disquieting those less steady on their feet..  

However, once beyond these natural cattle grids, the Valley was dreamily quiet and it really was very beautiful.  

Amongst the beauty we found a mountain restaurant offering healthy veggie pasta and demolished fig and beetroot pasta dishes before going on to ski the entire area in two hours.  We must've been shifting some though as we covered a total of 50 miles (including lifts) which is my furthest ever travelled on (or with) a pair of skis by 12 miles.

The great thing about short days is they end in bars, with hot chocolate, with rum in.

Friday - last day blow out ski mountaineering to pic de Comica

Andrew agreed it would be a nice idea to finally ski from our door so we hiked around the corner and joined the path 30B.  We skinned for some time around the suburbs of St Christina until we emerged at the Valentine's day castle and spent a good 30 minutes trying to get off the path onto the piste and then off the piste onto a path.

More uphill hiking - now at least on some kind of trail until we finally emerged at the Monte Pana lift area for lunch.  As a location for bunny slopes and cross country, there was just a snack bar but we were already pretty tired and wanted to get going so we stomached short espressos, microwave pizzas dolled up with fresh rocket and cherry tomatoes and french fries with a peach iced tea for sugar.

We walked around a path I'd skied down earlier in the week - mainly to take a look at goats that were bleating and dancing around in the snow.  We then acquired the 'cross country ski trails which led us to following route 30.  Sadly, this followed a road so we used cross country skiing and touristy paths to try and keep the best track of the road.

The forest trail we found was keeping us far more entertained than following the road itself so that's what we stuck to.  We knew we were off route but were having too much fun to care. 

When we popped out of the trees, I was still adamant on heading for Monte Susi to claim that we'd skied from our door to the most remote end of the resort.  TSK had other ideas and headed off towards Mont de Sura.  I was pretty annoyed but realising how tired he was, I followed and eventually conceded (once we rose above the scenery) that it was the smart move.  Monte Susi was on the other side of a steep valley and still some un-tracked distance away.  Neither of us would have been fit for anything if we'd attempted it and we would have been pushing the boundaries of sensible skiing, potentially descending the closed runs late in the evening when we were tired and the piste bashers are trying to do their job.

The consolation prize was that we would achieve a Col and I was pretty sure that on this day, no-one else had got this close to the towering cliffs that make up the skyline of the Dolomites.

We gained the ridge and walked on up to a wall of rock, mud, ice and a little snow.  It was pretty tenuous.  The route around it would have involved us skiing around a boulder field which neither of us was really up for.  I offered to go ahead and see if there was anything over the top for us to exit onto rather than lead him up something awful only to have to retrace our steps.

He nodded enthusiastically, I left my skis and took a run at the slope ahead whilst he caught me up.  The slither of icy snow narrowed to 6 inches so I used rocks and poles to scrabble through a few heart-stopping moments when my rubber-soled ski mountaineering boot toes refused to hold and my life dangled on the grip of a ski pole tip.  

Pic de Comica
Then there was the shin deep snow that my boots now punched through and finally I stood on the summit of Pic de Comica, not feeling at all amused.  There was no time to celebrate now, as I ran over the top to be absolutely sure there was no cliff face between us and the sweetly humming chair lift at the top of Mont de Sura.  Hurragh!  A clean run-out.  A short, non too technical off piste descent onto a lovely rolling blue piste.  

I ran back from whence I came, this time shortening my poles to minimum length thinking that, should I plummet down the rocky ice slope, I could at least attempt to use them like an ice axe. The side effect was, they put my body into the perfect position for down-hilling and I managed every step in control.  As I reached TSK I noticed two people bringing themselves up behind us.

TSK was persuaded that my description of the route ahead was easier than retracing our steps so far through poorly conditioned snow and coming away without the prize of the col - though I'm sure that wasn't at the fore of his mind.  I also mentioned the couple behind us in a hope that this would reassure him we had assistance available if we needed to seek help.

We strapped the skis to our rucksacs again and kicked and swore our way up the rocky slope, across the shin deep snow and finally up to the Pic.  

The two behind us had obviously decided better of our alpine trek and entirely disappeared from sight.  Perhaps I imagined them.  The sense of satisfaction was immense for me.  I believe it probably came later for Andrew.

Looking over towards Monte Susi, TSK prepares for the descent.
The downhill off the top was too thin, therefore disappointing.  The pride in sliding off the top of the highest point, right at the bottom of the massive Dolomite crags - all under our own power - was immensely satisfying.  We hadn't seen another person for 3 hours and suddenly we were silently dropping in from the backcountry to head to the base with the Half Term holiday crowds.

We dressed in downhill clothing and rocked up at our favourite hot chocolate spot to order more rum.  It was a day for being inside and eating strudel.

I can absolutely say that we totally nailed the last day.

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