You get five ski resorts for the price of one with Cortina, plus, Italy’s Top Sommelier; cioccolata calda to die for; ski instructors dressed by Armani; and probably the most beautiful mountains in the world. Oh, and lest I forget, the Corso Italia, spiritual home to the conspicuous shopper, rivalling Courchevel, St Moritz, and Gstaad in proving Dorothy Parker’s observation that, ‘If you want to know what God thinks of money, just look at the people he gave it to’.
The town, a couple of hours from Venice, nestles in the centre of a geological ‘cupped-hand’, the ‘fingers’– pinnacles and towers of jagged rock – surrounding it. At sunset or rise the rock turns pink, Enrosadira in the ancient Ladin language of the Dolomites.
Three mountains delineate the ski area – Lagazuoi (2,800 metres), Tofana di Rozes (3,225 metres), and Monte Cristallo (3,221 metres). This is definitely not ski-in-ski-out territory, free buses being the best way to access the five separate areas. There’s a wide range of skiing to be had, from tree-lined cruising highways, to steep gullies. Just a short walk from the centre a cable car runs up to the Faloria area, pistes snaking through woods, perfect for dodgy light, while a tad further at t’other end of town another lift takes you to the Tofana sector with much more challenging slopes.
It was here, outside the Pomedes restaurant that I bumped into locally-born ski hero, former downhill racer, Kristian Ghedina, filming a promo as Cortina’s host ambassador for the FIS Ski World Cup Finals, March 2020. Kristian’s 13 World Cup victories are the best by any Italian. One race defined his legend, the 2004 Hahnenkamm, when he took the final jump at 137.6 km/h in a straddle (known in my book as ‘make-a-wish’). Ouch. Funny who you meet at 2,200 metres.
As part of a (long-overdue) upgrade, €70 million is being invested in the Dolomiti Superski region for the coming season; €12 million on improvements to snowmaking now covering 97% of the area’s 1,200km of piste. A testing addition is the new Scoiattoli slope whose steepest section is a vertiginous 55%. Providing there’s decent snow (as there was in mid-December when I tried it out) It’s a question of keeping your nerve and launching positively down the hill; falter and you’re a goner. But, massive bragging rights if you survive.
Post-ski, time to saunter – passeggiare- along the Corso Italia and take a drink in town. THE hot ticket is Il Gusto Antico, a wine bar run by Mattia Antonio Cianca, who holds two top honours; 2017 Best Sommelier of Australia, and 2019 Miglior Sommelier d’Italia. His bar is cool personified. I study the biblical wine list, my eagle eyes zoning in on a ’95 Leroy Les Cazetiers Gevrey-Chambertin 1st Cru (naturally) at €1,200, but decide to leave the choice to Mattia. He returns with ½ dozen Breton oysters and a bottle of 2018 La Lemollina di Gavi Marchese Raggio, at a much more manageable €5.50. The clean flintiness of the Piemonte wine assaults my taste buds with the brinyness of each oyster. Mattia smiles at me. I smile back. Not for nothing has he won his awards
Back on the Corso, time for some window shopping. The latest buzz is all about Dior’s ‘pop-up’ shop, there for the season only. No price tickets on show, but the x-ray stare of the bouncer is enough to move me on. Across the street Franz Kraler has some real bargains: a Crocodile blue Peekaboo Fendi bag, a snip at €19,000. Must have been a snip for the poor old croc. too.
This high-life has me a tad jaded, so a visit to the Birreria Vienna, definitely not at the chic end of the street, revives my faith in real people. With very decent house wine on tap (yes!) at €1.50 a glass, and ex-ice hockey star Stefano serving it, the pizzas are the best in town. Eat in, take away. No Deliveroo though.
Lifts queues in Cortina are something of a rarity, 70% of visitors don’t ski, and the remoter slopes can be deliciously empty. Off the Pomedes sector are the stunning Cinque Torri (Five Towers). Not hard to imagine Frodo and Gandalf lording it up here. It’s worth mentioning one of my absolute Rules of Skiing: stop, listen, smell, and look. Don’t even think about taking photos, and certainly don’t you dare let me see you selfie-ing. Take mind pictures, absorb the moment.
Another of my Rules of Skiing is: 11.00 is cioccolata calda time. Nobody, but nobody makes better hot choc than the Italians. It’s so thick you can almost stand your spoon up in it, innit? There are good mountain restaurants everywhere. But I was saving my appetite for the evening’s activity, snowshoeing by moonlight up to the Rifugio Mietres for a dip in the hot-tub and a 5-course traditional dinner.
A taxi dropped us in the middle of a farm above town from where we began the gentle trek through the snow. Light from our head-torches threw weird shadows on the banks of snow each side of the forest path. Much ‘Woo-Hooing’ and wolf-noises went on. Eventually, the glow of the Rifugio could be seen ahead. The wood-fired hot tub was waiting, steaming on the terrace. After changing I shivered my way outside and, immersed in the hot water, was brought anti-pasto and Prosecco. It was magical. Stars above, the lights of Cortina spread below. But, to avoid getting overcooked and wrinkly (not a good look), I eventually dried off and sat down inside to a belt-busting meal with wines to match. It required a supreme effort to don winter clothes and snowshoes for the return journey. I managed it, but one of our party persuaded host Michaele to give her a backy on his snowmobile.
One of the many pleasures of Italy are family run hotels. Mine, the 4 star Cristallino was central, comfy, and all that I needed. There are many good Ski Schools, but I strongly recommend Snowdreamers. With average classes of no more than 8, all the instructors speak excellent English, and construct lessons around client’s wishes . The team in SnowService looked after my equipment hire .