THE WASHINGTON POST - How a middle-aged beginning skier learned to take on black diamond runs

THE WASHINGTON POST - How a middle-aged beginning skier learned to take on black diamond runs

Dolomites, Italy

While hiking in the Italian Alps, I learned about a roving adventure that involved tackling chunks of the Dolomiti Superski (12 ski areas spread across more than 700 miles of slopes on one ski pass) and sleeping at different high-altitude inns, or rifugios, each night. A local company aptly called Dolomite Mountains organized these small-group “ski safaris,” making the moving around (they also transfer duffel bags to each inn) seamless.

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Getting to the Dolomites is a pain. You fly into either Venice or Innsbruck and then drive about three hours to the mountains. But once I took in the storybook landscape during cocktail hour, the schlep was forgotten.

The first day, we skied Cortina d’Ampezzo among the snow-capped spires of the carousel of the Tofane that border the tracks of the 1956 Winter Olympics. Two certified mountain guides were on hand to navigate, but not to instruct. Thankfully, I could keep up, but jet lag and altitude adjustment made for a rough beginning. I wanted to call it a day after lunch. But in a group setting with no home base, I had to stick with the program. Espresso helped.

We moved between Civetta, Cinque Torri, San Pellegrino, Val di Fassa, Arabba-Marmolada and Alta Badia, in the shadow of limestone massifs (some of the highest vertical walls in the world) and spires formed of underwater reefs more than 250 million years ago. The days were long, but much of the pitch we skied — except for a white-knuckled traverse (I missed the tiny sign that said “Piste for expert skiers”) — was manageable.

Highlights included waking up at 7,916 feet elevation and coasting through fresh powder without the nuisance of gondola lines. Knocking back locally brewed juniper grappa from a sun-drenched panini shack in Col dei Baldi. And arriving by skis to each night’s lodging just as the primordial peaks turned pink.

The discovery of the tucked-away rifugios was great fun. Cheery rooms with blond wood and checkered curtains were a welcome sight for sore skiers. Each dinner was outstanding. Family-run rifugios take great pride in the culture of South Tyrol, and the cuisine, a refined mix of Austrian heartiness and Northern Italian gusto, reflects that passion. By 9:30 p.m., I fell into the fluffy duvet, having earned a deep sleep.

Agility acquired in skiing carried over into my life. My posture improved. Lower back pain decreased. And I was inspired to join CrossFit to enhance my athletic prowess when not on the slopes.

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