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Skiing The Ortler Range

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I was over-caffeinated already, and it was only 10 am.  

What’s a bella to do?  Switch to hot chocolate, of course.  Which I did.  Except, in northern Italy, the hot chocolate is so thick you can stand a spoon in it, upright and unsupported.  And it is made with real cocoa.  More caffeine.  

It was a Saturday morning, and I was in Lecco, a very cool, very northern Italian town.  As such, I was surrounded by stylish people wearing amazing shoes, walking arm in arm through cobblestone streets below limestone cliffs that rise up to snowy mountains beyond – all on the shores of Lake Como.

I was trying to blend, but I don’t think it was working – my shoes were clearly not Italian, nor my height, nor my hair color.  So I couldn’t exactly be a fly on the wall, but I could sit in one spot for hours and watch, and drink coffee, and…soak it up.  

Italy.  Everything you eat tastes better than the thing before.  Every tiny town clinging to a mountainside has at least one church.  And every time you have a cappuccino, you want another one. 

Most of our group met in Lecco after various run-ins with travel Italian-style (not quite the smooth clockwork of Swiss travel, is it?), and by the time we reached Santa Caterina, the rental mini van was outsized by people and gear.  After the usual last-minute details (trips to the grocery store for gummies, cheese, and cured meat) we drove the windy road to the Forni hut and got checked in.

Note:  henceforth in this trip report I will be referring to the ‘huts’ in Italy.  Erase from your mind the picture of a rustic retreat with plywood floors and pit toilets.  Replace it with images of red-checked tablecloths, warm varnished wood, and the shiny chrome of espresso machines.  And showers.  

The next day – our first day on skis – went something like this:  Wake up.  Eat yummy breakfast.  Drink coffee.  Drink another coffee.  Pack.  Ski tour up to the Branca hut.  Unpack.  Check out sunny balcony.  Drink a cappuccino.  Ski tour up to a small summit above the Branca hut.  Ski down.  Drink wine.  Eat first course (antipasti).  Eat second course (salad).  Eat third course (pasta).  Eat third course again (seconds). Eat main course (meat with something awesome).  Eat main course again (seconds).  Eat dessert.  Drink wine.  Eventually go to bed. 

The days that followed were along the same basic pattern (eat, drink, ski, eat, drink, sleep), but with different activities interspersed.  Summits around 12,000 ft…that you can skin to.  Glaciers everywhere.  Blue skies…then fresh snow.  Then more blue skies, and powder turns in the fresh snow.  Travel to new huts.  Coffee and cake at 10 am on the way to another 12,000 ft summit.  Excellent food every step of the way.  The occasional shower.  The Gran Zebru (12,634 ft).

To try and convey it all, the trip highlights could be divided into categories.  Dining, skiing, and people.  

Dining:  The pasta béchamel we had at the Branca hut.  The discovery of the ultimate après ski beverage, the panache - half beer, half lemon soda (if you think it sounds dodgy, you’ve clearly never had one).  Discovering we could get more pasta in the afternoon after a ski tour and before dinner.  The strudel.  The table wine.  And most of all, the continuous pattern of overcaffeination – all of us at the mercy of the shiny espresso machine.  Martin had two in a row, several times.  Ben, who “doesn’t even drink coffee”, seemed to drink it quite frequently.  

Skiing:  powder turns off the summit of the Palon de la Mare.  Terri’s first 12,000 footer on skis.  Getting blasted by wind on the Monte Pasquale, then descending in thigh-high powder from the col as another group skinned up…and wished they were us.  The long ski descent from the summit of Monte Cevedale, from powder, through chop, down into smooth corn to the hut.  Kick turn lessons and skinning sessions…right, Wayne?  

And the people.  Our group was completely normal, of course.  Blending right in.  Not sticking out like the German guy wearing skin-tight quilted baby blue bibs circa 1981.  Never mind that we were a mix of giants (er, tall people) and telemarkers (neither of which seem to be common in Italy) that asked for seconds, thirds, and even fourths at dinner.  Compared to the tanned Austrian guy with the turquoise pantsuit who started yodeling after dinner one night – really good yodeling, mind you – we were looking pretty ordinary:  tanned, happy, drinking red wine and telling stories before, during, and after dinner.  

Viva Italia.  



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