For some, a ski trip is all about the aprés. The hurtling, glorious swish-swish down a snow-covered mountainside is merely the most efficient way to the next bar, the next glass, the next joke about being “totally piste”. Most come for the sport: getting up at the crack of dawn in search of that particular brand of adrenaline joy and full-body exhaustion. For me, however, a ski holiday is about food.
The first time I had a proper Italian pizza was on a family ski trip in some long-gone alpine chalet. I still vividly recall the wooden booth, the finally-indoors warmth, and the way the cheese grease glittered under the restaurant’s low-hanging lamps. That thin wood-fired thing of pliant, crisp beauty, so far removed from the doughy discuses back home, changed my view of pizza – and skiing – for good.
Wonderfully I’m not the only one who feels this way. In the splintered limestone of the Italian Dolomites lies Alta Badia, home to the little-known Ladin people, awe-inducing scenery and the annual “Gourmet SkiSafari”. As the snow finally sets into its valleys and the season opens, Alta Badia’s star chefs fire up and take their finest dishes to the piste.
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Three huts across Alta Badia’s peaks play host to the chefs: Ütia I Tablá at Braia Fraida, Ütia De Bioch at Biok lift’s top, and Ütia Las Vegas beside Ciampai. Each Michelin-starred chef presents their locally-inspired dish in person, paired with a South Tyrolian wine highlighting the local viticulture.
The courses can be enjoyed in whatever order you care to, allowing skiers to set their own pace during the safari’s four lunchtime hours. The huts aren’t so far apart that your ever-grumbling ski stomach is screaming for sustenance before you make it to the next course, but far enough that you feel you’ve earned that first, salivating slurp.
This season saw one-star chef Simone Cantafio from La Stüa De Michel take over Ütia I Tablá to serve up a stunning cauliflower soup – a description rarely attributed to such a dish for good reason. But Cantafio’s satin-smooth soup spiked with teriyaki cockerel sauce gives warmth and sweetened saltiness, while the generous pile of rich mountain mushrooms adds depth and tang. Served alongside are absolutely inspired potato churros: great tilled tubes of crunch and a creamy, carb-full interior, dusted in salty umami. The wine pairing is remarkably done too; an endlessly drinkable, near-green Gewürztraminer Riserva from Kellerei Kurtatsch, which brightly balances dry and sweet with a deep, floral perfume.
A short ski through freshly-laid, silken snow and sentinel trees brings you to Ütia Las Vegas. Don’t let the terrible name fool you: Las Vegas is a Dolomite legend, with flamboyant owner Ulli making the rounds about the restaurant floor throughout the day to meet, greet and occasionally hand out homemade grappa to unsuspecting powder-flecked punters.
Las Vegas hosts Fulvio Pierangelini from Rocco Forte Hotels, who proffers up the second soup of the day. Far from feeling repetitive, Pierangelini’s warm barley broth with mint chickpeas and black cabbage is another divine detour from the mountain’s chill. Juicy barley pearls, iron-rich cavolo nero and a healthy dose of pepper to knock the snow from your boots, Pierangelini’s spicy soup is an entirely different, equally delectable beast. The wine too is another knockout: a tangy and far-too potable maize-coloured Chardonnay from Castelfeder with notes of pear and anise.
‘Cook the mountain’
At the nearby Ütia De Bioch, Norbert Niederkofler from St Hubertus is one of Italy’s 11 three-Michelin-star chefs. He’s perhaps the most tried and tested of them all. His stars came under fire a near decade ago when he changed his menu to be wholly local, at a time when “locally-focused” sustainable ingredients just weren’t that prized. Niederkofler’s “Cook the Mountain” ideal pulled no punches; if the region didn’t grow citrus, then he would have to produce and pull citrus flavours from elsewhere. Though critics and colleagues labelled this a bold move that risked his status, Niederkofler came out on top with not only three stars but a green star too.
His sustainable menu extends to Ütia De Bioch, where he serves up gnocchi and Puccia bread with graukäse cheese cream and speck ragout. Some of the softest gnocchi I’ve known, the potato pillows practically melt on your tongue, chased by a sauce of smoke, fennel and mild herb bitterness. With De Bioch being one of the best cellars on these slopes, it’s little surprise the wine doesn’t disappoint. The only red of the day, the St Magdalener from Untermoserhof, is light with cranberry notes, giving tartness and depth in equal measure.
Sommeliers and sustainability
The SkiSafari isn’t just for gourmet lovers like me. The eco-conscious dishes have been created with waste reduction, top-quality Italian ingredients and Alta Badia’s new Global Sustainable Tourism Council certification in mind. Awarded in August, the resort is one of only four places in Italy to hold the accreditation, making Alta Badia an alpine beacon of sustainability. Better still, a percentage of its SkiSafari ticket sales go to charity – it’s one of the finest excuses for culinary indulgence there is, and there’s a lot more indulgence to be had.
When the Gourmet SkiSafari is done and diners sent on their merry, glutted way, the pistes are still packed with great gastronomic opportunities. There’s “Sommelier on the Slopes”, a surreal event where black tie butlers serve up some of South Tyrol’s best wines in ankle deep snow. Taking place over six dates across December to April, the event pairs skiers with a guide and sommelier, who conduct piste-top tastings at seven of the resort’s huts. The Gourmet day’s sibling, the Wine SkiSafari, takes place at the end of March, where six hours of special local wines round off the ski season in style.
Sensational local food and drink
Mid-March will also see the Roda dles Saus Ladin cuisine festival, but missing it doesn’t mean missing out: you’ll find Ladin specialties at many of the mountainside huts. Try goats and grey cheeses produced in the neighbouring pastures, beef and honey farmed nearby and locally-hunted venison. Huts like the freshly renovated Crëp de Munt, by the Boé lift, serve up sensational local food and drink. Munt’s lunches have made waves since 1953, and its new menu is doing the same. With the smell of freshly sawn pine still in the air, there’s no better dish than their divine pine risotto with gorgonzola – a violently lime coloured rice that sings of the slopes and salty, blue cheese umami.
One of the best parts of gorging on these snow-packed slopes is that finding the will to move your stuffed, sated, happy self from its post-prandial warmth is non-negotiable. Exercise inevitably follows, leaving you free and righteous to tuck in at dinner and find space for some aprés too. When you finally look up from your bread-mopped, fork-scraped plates, you’re rewarded with some of the best skiing on the planet: the Ski World Cup Gran Risa slope, vast flowing pistes and Alta Badia’s soaring Dolomite scenery.
Where to stay
There are plentiful hotels to choose from, but the five-star Hotel Sassongher in Corvara offers a refined stay with a local feel, featuring large rooms, traditional alpine décor, unbeatable outdoor hot tub, spa facilities and a phenomenal bar to soothe those end-of-the-day aches. Doubles from £450 a night; sassongher.it. There are direct flights from the UK to Innsbruck, from where you can get a transfer to Alta Badia.
Jo Davey was a guest of the Alta Badia tourism board; altabadia.org
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