A little history & re-tracing the Italian Job

A day off for both of us today.

We’ve taken ourselves on a self-guided history trip of our area today. During the period, 1915-17 in WW1, the Dolomiti and in particular this Arabba/Marmolada area was the site of a fairly significant scrap between Italy and the Austrian-Hungarian empire. It was trench warfare at altitude. Both sides dug a huge network of tunnels through the mountains. Some were dug entirely into the side of the glaciers. As with all trench warfare, there was a lot of effort and hardship for very little gain. We saw the remnant of their glacial tunnels today at the side of Lago di Fadaio. With the glacial recession, only the barest remnants remain.

The Austrians also let off some seriously big bombs. At one site between Cortina & Alta Badia – the Col di Lagazuoi their bomb created a huge new pass through the mountains. The hole was 200m high and 140m wide!  It’s now a pass where the cable car runs through! We’ve tried to ski to Col di Lagazoi earlier this week, but the strong winds have stopped the cable car from operating. We’ll get there eventually…and now we’ll know the history when we do.

On the way home we visited a war-memorial and chapel to remember the soldiers who fought the battles in this harsh region.

We also visited a famous ice-climbing canyon called the Serrai di Sottoguda. It’s a 2km long canyon with frozen waterfalls cascading down on both sides. At the moment it is closed while the ensure that the ice is stable and will not fall on people walking on the path at the bottom of the canyon. In good snow, you can actually ski through this canyon. Definitely on the list of things to do.  Since the canyon was closed today, I found a good clip of what it’s like on Youtube.

Graeme also found a fantastic outdoor shop. Possibly the neatest, tidyest gear store he’s ever seen. Aside from A Vieux Campeur in France, this store was first serious outdoor store we’ve seen so far in the Dolomiti. It would have been rude not to have purchased a T-Shirt!!

Best outdoor gear store found so far
Best outdoor gear store found so far….Much excitement from Graeme

Lunch destination was to drive along the shore of the frozen Lago di Fadaio, which at the time of WW1 was not a lake. Some smaller alpine lakes were dammed in 1955 to create a deep alpine lake which is used to generate hydro-electricity. But most importantly for Graeme, the dam wall on which we travelled today was the location for the re-make of The Italian Job. Here’s a clip from the scene featuring the bridge over the dam wall to watch first – and then our version….sadly quite a lot less snow, although the lake was well frozen!

And THEN ….or “Allora” as the Italians say can you believe it….a Mini crossed the bridge too!   We were overcome with excitement.   We will have to download and watch the movie tonight!!

And wait...there's a real mini!!!
And wait…there’s a real mini!!!

We then found a nice sunny picnic spot to enjoy a home-made lunch. You have to time this right. The steep sided valley only receives sun during the middle of the day for about an 1.5 hours. Fortunately we got it right.

Well tonight…New Years Eve….? We confess that both of us have been going at the skiing pretty hard. I’ve skiied 13 days in a row and Graeme 12. According to the electronic record from our season’s card, we’ve racked up 383km of piste and nearly 70,000m vertical. We’ve been invited to Bar Peter for a huge degustation meal and dancing tonight. And yes… we know it will be great, given the quality of the food we have enjoyed there before and the friendly staff, but we just can’t eat that much food. We have been scarred by our Lyon over-indulgence. So we have gracefully declined and promised to visit Peter & Miriam again very soon.

I was a bit depressed by our “boring old person” decision to stay in tonight, but this morning, I received a lovely “Happy NY” email from a good friend in Wanaka.  She informed me that she & her partner were cooking up a delicious Blue Cod, sipping on a cool Bogle Chardonney and being tucked up in bed by 10am to celebrate their New Year’s Eve. I immediately felt a little less old. Thanks mate!!

We also have a cunning plan to go to one of the far-flung reaches of the Dolomites tomorrow. It will be a 1.5 – 2hr drive from Arabba. We will be going to an area called the 3 Zinnen Dolomites – The 3 Peaks and we’ll need to leave before 8am to make a day of it. Everyone has assured us that the Italians party hard on NYE and the roads and slopes will be empty. We’re counting on it!


Off to Church …Dolomiti style

I met John at the Arabba chairlift at 9:30am today.   Graeme is having another quiet day at home.

John has had a nasty cold and that combined with his tumble last night slowed him down to my speed.  Which is good.  I really don’t like skiing fast on the busy & firm piste runs of the Sellaronda.

Camera shy John. Note TC stickers!!
Camera shy John. Note TC helmet stickers!!

As I’ve mentioned, the runs close to Arabba are the most busy.  Having said that, most people are not early risers and the slopes really don’t fill up until about 10:30am.  And to date…despite all the dire warnings, we really haven’t struck a major lift queue.  I expect the combination of lack of snow and the sheer size of the lift capacity in the Dolomites is the reason.

John has been coming to Arabba for the last 15 years and he was the perfect tour guide today.  He took me to see a very old church sitting high (2045m) above the valley with the spectacular Santa Croce mountain range as its backdrop.  The sanctuary has been here since 1484 and is one of the many catholic pilgrimage churches.

I keep thinking how amazing the tramping would be here in the summer months.  Imagine…no sleeping bags, cooking or camping gear.  All you need is a change of underwear in the your backpack and a credit card as you wandered from village to village over the mountains.   John has been to the Dolomites in the summer and he tells me that all the fields are a brilliant green and dotted with colourful alpine flowers.  Sounds idyllic.

After lunch, we headed back to Arabba and I dropped John off at his nightly haunt…R.Plan Boe and he assumed his usual position in the back corner of the room.  After 15 years…everyone knows him.   He is rather like the Godfather of R.Plan Boe.

Not wanting to risk another run in the dark, I headed home to Graeme and to cook him a delicious steak topped with our dear friend Georgie’s home-made relish.  YUM!!

Bistecca and Georgie's home-made relish...yum!
Georgie’s delicious home-made relish! Tx G.



A quiet day and loud evening!

A rest day today.  And the wind has stopped.  Surprisingly even though it’s a sunny -5°C outside it doesn’t feel as cold as the last two days when the temperatures were above zero, but a cold wind was blowing.  Wind-chill factor indeed.

So, some “mooching” for us today.  Domestics like washing, catching up on reading and a bit of computer work.

But this evening we’d been invited to join John, Peter, Sarah & the girls at R.Plan Boe for apres ski.  Graeme didn’t want to go, so at 4:30pm, after the slopes were closed I donned my skins and headed up the piste.  I was surprised how many skiers were still on the piste, coming down from higher up the mountain.   I hugged the side of the slopes as always and I wore a flashing red head torch as it was now twilight.  Skidoos were zooming past making deliveries and taxi’ing people to & from various refugios above, but they all gave me a wide berth, thank goodness.  All was going well until I heard rumblings behind me and turned to see the glaring lights of 3 groomers driving side by side coming up the piste behind me.

Imagine 3 of these monsters coming at you?  Covering the entire width of  the run :-0!!

Eeek!  I sped up, now almost jogging on my skis.   I was in a narrow section of piste which has been dug out from the side of the hill. I was hard up against the netting protecting skiers from the significant drop-off on this side of the run.  There was no-where else I could go.    I turned around and I’m sure the look on my face would have been hilarious to the groomer drivers.  Think “rabbit in the head-lights” combined with frantic hand movements.   There was no discernible change in speed or direction of the machines…so I somehow managed to hook my skis in the bottom overlap of the netting and hung like I was climbing a chain link fence while dangling over the abyss.   Turn’s out that I had over-reacted a tad.  Despite looking as is if their front blades filled the entire slope, there would have been about 1 metre clear for me to stay standing on the snow right next to the netting.  Of course I didn’t know this at the time… and to be honest I’m not sure that I want to test the theory again.

Needless to say I broke the speed record up to R.Plan Boe – 22 min vs. our usual 31 min.  The party was in full swing with the music so loud that the bass was making all the wood in refugio throb.  There were people dancing enthusiastically in ski boots and at one point there was a spontaneous congo line which I was pulled into.  Conversation was impossible – so… “I may as well join them”.   The enthusiasm of the German table next to us knew no bounds and the leader of the pack, a very attractive blond young woman who had the physique of a well-honed gym instructor was in charge.  She had kicked off her ski boots and was risking serious foot injury by enthusiastically dancing with her large, ski boot clad compatriots.

There were howls of protest about the music from our English speaking corner as the music was predominantly German drinking songs – including a particular favourite which was played over and over again…”Schatzi schenk mir ein Foto” [loosely translating to “Darling give me a photo”….???]  Have a listen for yourself..it’s not pretty!

Finally …after the fourth repeat of “Schatzi” the English speaking crew and I piled out of the Refugio, ready for the more death-defying ski home in the dark.  My head torch wasn’t bad but they had the snow guns running full tilt so it was like skiing through a blizzard which reduced the effectiveness of the torch.  Poor old John, took a tumble, but we put him a back on his skis and I drove him back to his hotel before heading home to Graeme.  Not sure if he’ll let me out again on my own ;-))


San Pellegrino…but where’s the water?

Today we circled the Marmolada by car, going to a little valley on it’s southern flanks called Passo San Pellegrino (E pink circle) and Alpe Lusia (SW pink circle).  Road trip in red & Arabba is the red dot.


It took us about an hour.  Partly because we were stuck behind a campervan…same rules apply as in NZ.  Big G performed his first overtaking manoeuvre today!

I was disappointed to learn that this San Pellegrino is not where the famous brand of mineral water is sourced, however we weren’t disappointed with the skiing.  While it’s sunny, the strong and cold north wind is still blowing.  We thought the first cable-car ride  might be a tad exciting as huge gusts of wind hurtled down the mountain.  But they were running the car very slowly and there was not even a bounce.   However we were totally blasted when we got to the top.

Due to the wind, none of the lifts on this side of the valley were open, so there was only one way down.  A new black run they’ve put in this year.  It had very good snow and we enjoyed the first run so much we did it 3 times in total.  Here’s a little clip and our commentary from a couple of the runs.  I think one of the extraordinary things you have to understand ….there’s not a real snowflake to be had in the Dolomiti (except for perhaps at over 3000m on the Marmolada glacier)…. and yet, in a total of 15 days we have skiied !    We also think that during this busy period, finding resorts away from the Sellaronda area (which Arabba is part of) is not a bad idea.  The roads are actually not that busy and today in these small resorts we’ve not had to wait in a queue once.

We then headed over to the sunny side of the valley which was very much a beginner area.  We just ticked of the lift numbers and found a lovely place for lunch.  Alas, despite the healthy options available we succumbed to pizza and hot chips.  Soup & salad for dinner tonight!   Again in contrast to yesterday, while this Refugio was self-service, it was family run and they really had their systems sorted.  You ordered your pizza at corner of the servery and it was cooked fresh for you in a proper wood fired pizza – same even with the chips.  Not a heated glass food cabinet in sight.  The interior was very quaint as well.

Italians are a funny bunch.  They really don’t get uptight about chaos.  Leaving the restaurant after lunch we had pick our way through a complete jumble of skis left at the front door.  We were thankful that we had been diligent and hung ours up in the racks.  There were several people searching for their equipment amongst the huge mess of skis and poles.

Down to the valley again, we jumped in the car and headed further down the road to another resort called San Lusia.  This resort had some seriously steep terrain, but being mainly in the shade, the snow was holding up well even late in the afternoon.   We did choose one bad red run, that had been in the sun and the wind had polished to an ice-skating rink consistency.  I am such a whimp on ice!  I pretty much side-slipped the whole run…a bit embarrassing really.  One day I might bother to learn to use my edges!   Graeme just let his skis run to try & get off the run as quickly as possible.   After that survival ski, we knocked off another 4 runs including the black run back to the car in the valley floor.  I think we’ve finally started to get some ski fitness into the legs.  It was the last run for the day and we weren’t completely wrecked as we were a couple of weeks ago.

Continuing my search of horrendous piste fashion statements, in the shop windows at the Alpe Lusia gondola station were some excellent contenders.  I am seriously looking for a second hand ski clothing store! It’s time to update my TC closing day outfit!

Plan A, Plan B….oh let’s just go shopping!

Well we had a plan….!?

Alas strong, cold northerlies are blowing this morning and the cable-car we needed to access a special little valley between Cortina and Alta Badia was closed. Unfortunately we didn’t know this until we were almost there 😦 !

But we’d had fun getting there this morning. Graeme found an amazing children’s play ground all made out of timber. There was an incredible elephant constructed entirely from huge tree trunk sections. It was an amazing work of art.  And Graeme, being the big kid that he is…..

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So Plan B? We headed towards San Cassiano and then planned to loop back towards Passo Campolongo where we had parked the car . While the temperature was above zero, the wind chill made it seem much colder. The crowds have certainly arrived, although despite what looked like a bad queue at one of the gondolas, it moved remarkably well.

We were really at a bit of loss this morning for a Plan B. It was seriously cold and the slopes were really icy with any soft snow being blown off by the strong gusts of wind. We stopped at new refugio at the top of one of the lifts.  We had been admiring it when we’d passed by previously. But we were very disappointed. Expensive self-service food with no atmosphere whatsoever. It seemed very chaotic. We couldn’t quite figure out how you ordered and collected your food.

As a general rule we’ve stayed away from the bigger “corporate” style restaurants at gondola stations and instead we’ve chosen to have lunch at the many small family owned huts that dot the sides of the runs.   We’ve found their food to be a lot better, more affordable and their service quick & friendly. Plan B lunch venue today proved the rule… we had our food about 5 minutes after ordering.

Sometimes you just need to know when to “flag” a day. If we’d wanted to go ice-skating there’s a rink in our village and we’d use skating boots instead of our skis. So we called it quits about 2pm and came home to thaw out. We’re going for a shopping mission in our village when the stores open again at 4pm. I expect that my “shopping guru” mates, Steph & Leanne won’t believe me when I say that neither Graeme or I have visited any of the ski shops in the village despite being here for nearly a month now!   We’ve been to busy skiing!!

Well…1 hour later. We smacked our hands together…shopping done.  Seriously there are no shops of any interest here in Arabba.  There’s 3 ski rental shops that sell a bit of clothing & gear, but nothing else.  There’s one tourist shop with souvenirs, but it was closed and then it was just  a couple of small supermarkets, pharmacy, newsagency (with not a single publication in English),  butcher, baker and then the rest are bars & restaurants.  No homewares or local produce shops….I imagine Arabba would rate very poorly in my shopping guru’s opinions!

So back to the apartment to make sure that we have a Plan A & a solid Plan B for tomorrow!

Socialising in the Dolomiti

Graeme leapt out of bed this morning. An unusual event itself, but then he threw back the curtains …”Look it’s sunny….again”. I know I shouldn’t begrudge sunny weather but it would be great if the snow gods could see their way to make a fairer distribution of snow around the planet. It’s time for them to stop sending all the white stuff to the Rockies and allocate some to the Dolomiti and European Alps.

So being the spoiled “first-world” girl that I am, I reluctantly dragged myself out of bed and donned the “uniform” …long underwear and ski attire. It’s the same every day for me, unlike Graeme who has at least 3 jackets he hasn’t worn yet…you know the story.

Graeme’s plan. “Let’s go thrash the Marmolada glacier, today.” Mumble, mutter, gripe…after all the wind yesterday, it will be stripped bare and be as icy as anything I thought. How wrong I could be!?  Apart from a flat section on the valley floor which was quite icy, the snow on the Marmolada was primo. We had a great run.

Stopping for our morning coffee after the run down, we met a delightful older lady. She had noticed Graeme’s telemark skis and began talking to us in Italian. “Siamo spiacenti, non capiamo. Parli inglese?” Without batting an eyelid, this lovely lady switched to perfect English. For a lady of her generation this was highly unusual, but she seemed enthusiastic to continue the conversation and we were charmed at her friendliness. She explained that she began skiing on skis like Graeme’s…but now they would be in the museum. She loves to ski the Marmolada and except for an operation this year, she would be joining her son & daughter-in-law skiing today. She wished us good skiing and we headed up on the cable-cars for another go at the glacier.

The lovely Marisa & Giant Graeme
The lovely Marisa & Giant Graeme

Another fabulous run but we could not believe how quickly moguls had appeared on the narrow entrance to the glacier. We do remember our disbelief that there were moguls on the Glace de Mer in Chamonix, but it’s just a function of the number of people skiing in a very narrow section of piste. No problem, good soft snow made them easy to negotiate.

Returning to the valley floor, we returned to our coffee spot for lunch. To our delight we met up again with Marisa, our lovely lady from our earlier coffee stop. With her, was her son Marco, and her daughter-in-law, Katja. They also spoke perfect English and we enjoyed a lovely lunch with them. Marco is a scientist and travels the world for his work, and Katja works for a magazine distribution company. Originally from East Germany, she took up skiing late in life, but we think she’s had a good teacher in her husband!  Marco has been skiing since he was three years old.

Talking more to Marisa, we learned that she was originally from Padua in Italy, but her husband was German. He was a diplomat, which explains why her language skills were so perfect. She has a lovely welcoming personality and, like Graeme’s mother, Wilma, I think she could go into any social setting and make friends…and probably negotiate a peace treaty too!

We gave Marco & Katja our details and we sincerely hope that we will meet up with them again some time. Katja has a good kiwi friend where they live in Munich…so maybe there’s a chance they will visit NZ. Fingers crossed.

What a fantastic fun day…and it wasn’t over yet. Hurtling back across the top of the mountains and down to the Arabba valley we raced to meet up with John and Peter’s family at Rifugio Plan Boe.

Graeme.. you haven't been that height for 52 years!
I still don’t know why G wanted me to take this photo?  Something about telemark skier height on the lifts???  “G you don’t get down that low, honey!”




The Kronplatz and meeting new friends

Christmas Eve is traditionally the time Europeans celebrate the religious holiday. But like all tourist towns, most of the people are working. All the restaurants and shops in Corvara and Arabba were open for business as usual.

Today we headed north-east from Arabba to a big area called the Kronplatz. Again a very Germanic area, this resort has the most and newest lift system we’ve seen outside of Arabba. 35 out of 36 lifts are running here and the runs are covered in the best man-made snow we’ve experienced so far….Sadly we’re starting to become quite the connoiseurs!

It’s a big resort, with 3 interconnected mountains. But it’s was easy to get to as the road down from Corvara and La Villa is pretty straight forward, no steep passes with endless hairpin corners. Arriving there we started our usual plan of trying to ski every lift on the mountain. And if we hadn’t stopped for an hour’s lunch break, I think we’d might have made it. We missed the target by one run and one gondola!

It was our first cloudy day in 10 days straight of skiing.  But the views back to the Sellaronda and the Marmolada and Arabba were very good. The runs at Kronplatz are super long and wide and there’s quite a few black runs that kept us entertained.  There will be another World Cup race here at the end of January.  If we decide to go, I’ll pack the ear plugs!!

At the top of the Concordia, one of the mountains in the Kronplatz is a huge Peace Bell. It was installed at the turn of the millenium.  It rings most days at noon.   It is seriously loud and echoes right through the mountains – have a listen.

The panorama from Kronplatz
The panorama from Kronplatz – Arabba marked with arrow.

While we don’t indulge everyday….you can see why a glass of wine at lunch time is very tempting. The house white wine is very good and it’s the least expensive drink on the menu. Soft drink and beer is more expensive than a glass of wine – hard to imagine?  €1.80 vs. €3 for beer or €2.20 for lemonade.

On the way home we stopped in Corvara to see the Christmas market and nativity scene. It was pretty small, but there was a lovely fellow there with his pet owls. I had forgotten how big these birds are. They sat very regally on their perches, and were not fazed by all the people and cameras flashing & whirring.

After a little shopping, we headed home for our Christmas Eve dinner. We headed up to Bar Peter, where we’d met the very friendly Miriam earlier. This place is a bit of a surprise. Between 3:30 and 6:30 pm it’s a true apres ski bar with pumping music and drinks flowing freely. But then at 7:00  pm it morphs into a restaurant. The whole building is owned I think by Miriam and her chef husband Peter – hence the name. They appear to have guests staying in the floors above as well.

But the big surprise is the quality of the food.  In my mind, a fillet of beef is always a good test of a restaurant.  And Peter cooked us one of the best pieces of meat we’ve had in a long time.  Topped with honey, butter & walnuts and served on a delicious selection of roasted vegetables, it was lip smackingly good.   I’m not really a trip advisor person, but the food was so good, and the service genuinely friendly that I gave them a glowing review.  Hopefully it will be helpful to their business.

On the table next to us was an English family and we couldn’t help but to introduce ourselves and wish them a Merry Christmas… and then off we went.  Of course they know our neighbour John and like him, they have been coming to Arabba for over 15 years.  Peter, Sarah and their two 20 something daughters, Suzanne & Victoria were great company and we agreed to meet up again with them Boxing Day night for apres ski at Plan Boe.

It was after midnight when we tucked ourselves into bed.   Oooh …we are such “stop-outs”!!