June 14, 2016
The village San Cassiano in Badia, hotel Steinrösl, the Alta Badia and the Sella Ronda ski areas are the four great ingredients for a perfect ski holiday! We usually go skiing in France, in one of the smaller ski areas. First in the Jura, later to the Mont Blanc ski area in Mégève and surrounding villages. Time for a change of scenery. As a child, I spent many years skiing in South Tirol, in the North of Italy. We used to visit the small village of San Candido (Innichen), close to the Drei Zinnen, in the middle of one of the most beautiful mountain ranges of Italy and Europe, and part of the Dolomiti Superski area. San Candidio village has only a small ski area and the highest point on the Haunold is only 1500 meter, so one cannot always be sure there will be enough snow, and the ski area of San Candido is not directly linked to another ski area in the Dolomiti area.
So if there is not enough snow, one must take a car or a ski bus to a nearby village with higher ski slopes. We searched the Dolomiti area for other possibilities. Some friends advised us two hotels in Val Gardena. I focused my search on a large skiing area based in an authentic Tyrolian village. We are not especially fans of noisy après ski parties, but rather go for welness and relaxing après ski activities. And we would prefer a hotel close enough to a lift, so that we would not have to take a car or bus. A in/out ski hotel would be perfect, but a small walk to the lift was no problem. The Sella Ronda would be a great bonus.
We eventually found the smaller Steinrösl hotel in the smaller village of San Cassiano in Badia, directly connected to the Alta Badia ski area and the larger Sella Ronda ski area. The hotel is only a 3-5 minute walk to the lift, where you have a choice of rental shops that store and dry your skis and boots overnight (so no hassle with carrying skis and boots or looking for parking space for the car near the lift).
The hotel offers a very competitive price for a room and half board, and has a small but very comfortable wellness area. The cook (and owner) is very gifted and passionate, so dinner is something to look forward to every day. The hotel has enough parking space for its guests in front of the hotel, and the hotel is only a three minute walk from the centre of the village.
So with breakfast, dinner and wellness included in the hotel, there is very little reason to leave the hotel besides for skiing. The welcome by the owners is very warm, and the hotel is very cosy. The rooms are nothing very extra-ordinary, but they are comfortable, very clean, the beds are very good, and they offer free toiletries.
The wellness area on the top floor, although not very big, is very ingeniously constructed. There is a sauna with a view, a very good steam room, a cool down area and a relaxation area with a great view of the mountains.
Everything works perfect and is spotlessly clean, and there is always freshly made tea or water available. We visited the wellness every single day after skiing. It is the best way to warm up your strained muscles after a long day skiing. One is obliged to wear a bathrobe and slippers and bring a bath towel when visiting the wellness area, and if you did not bring that from home, you can rent out a set for 15 euro a week (bathrobe, large towel and slippers in a handy bag).
At seven PM every day, a five course meal is served, with a salad bar, soup, a first course, a main course and a desert. On the first day you need to be on time if you want to have dinner (we joined dinner at eight PM on the day of arrival, and had everything except the salad bar and soup).
Every Sunday evening they offer a complementary aperitif with finger food from a royal buffet.
Every Wednesday is Tyrolean night. They replace the salad bar by a royal buffet of cheese and meat cuts, local dishes and Apfelstrudel as desert.
On Thursday the desert is replaced by a very large local cheese buffet (really impressive). Cheese is one of the cooks passions, and the buffet is the result of it. Never tasted that many kinds of cheese on one evening, many of them flavoured with special herbs, whisky or truffle, finished of with a lemon sorbet.
The breakfast has everything one needs; different breads, toast and pastries, eggs, fruit juices, fresh fruit, cheese and meat cuts, home made jams, and a large choice of muesli, grains, nuts and dried fruits with yoghurt, and of course coffee or tea.
With that much food one does not really need to stop for lunch while skiing. A warm drink and maybe some pastry every now and then to get warm is more than enough. The typical local hot drinks you can choose from in the mountain refuge: Jägertee, Rum punch, Lubumba (hot chocolate with rum), Calimero (coffee, eggnog, and whipped cream), Bombardino (mix of eggnog and brandy served hot and topped with whipped cream), ski water (hot lemon juice, sometimes with blueberry syrup), mulled wine (glühwein), a grappa, a schnapps (plum or blueberry) or a brandy (William – the local pear brandy), caffé corretto (espresso with an added shot of grappa), or just a coffee, hot chocolate or tea. These a the typical desserts: Apfelstrüdel, Tiramisu, Buckwheat cake, Sacher pie, Blueberry pie, cheesecake. Typical mountain dishes like knödel, risotto, ravioli, potato noodles, polenta, pig, dumplings, bacon, cheese and meat boards, and breads flavoured with fenegreek, fennel and cumin.
San Cassiano is like Val Gardena connected to the Sella Ronda circuit but also has its own ski area: Alta Badia. To ski the Sella Ronda you have to buy the Super Dolomiti ski pass, which only costs 19 euro more for 6 days than the Alta Badia Ski pass. Choosing for the Super Dolomiti ski pass over the Alta Badia ski pass is a no brainer. The Alta Badia ski pass gives access to 53 lifts and 130 km of slopes. The Super Dolomiti ski pass gives access to 12 ski resorts, 450 lifts and 1200 km of slopes.
The ski slopes of Alta Badia are great, not too difficult, boasting many great wide blue and red runs, and are all very well taken care of. It was very quiet on the days it was cloudy or when it snowed, on sunny days the amount of skiers suddenly doubled or tripled. People here are so spoiled they expect only the best conditions and easily complain if the weather is not continuously sunny, with a good amount of fresh snow on the slopes, perfectly trimmed at night for their enjoyment. If you come from other ski areas, you really appreciate the perfectly kept slopes, wide, with good running lifts, and you price yourself lucky when it snows, so that you can enjoy the feel of soft fresh snow under your skis, even if that means that you have to ski while snowing! We enjoyed our skis making fresh lines in the freshly falling snow, it is the best feeling ever!
The Sella Ronda ski circuit passes around the Sella massif, one of the most spectacular of the world. The tour can be done in one day, passing through four Ladin valleys: Val Gardena, Alta Badia, Val di Fassa and Arabba. It can be done clockwise or anticlockwise, starting from any of the four valleys. Clockwise the colour of the signposting is orange, anticlockwise it is green. It covers a total distance of 40 km, of which 26 km are ski slopes. The Sellaronda tour can be done by skiers of intermediate level.
Most forums advise you to arrive on the slope by 10 AM if you want to do the Sella Ronda in one day. We arrived on the slopes of San Cassiano by 10 AM, and followed the clockwise route. We had trouble finishing the tour in one day because the slopes were quite hard to ski after two days of continuous snowing and on top of that we lost our way around Selva Wolkenstein, missing a turn and going down into the valley of San Cristina. It was already 4 PM when we arrived in San Cristina and decided to take a taxi back to San Cassiano. It was too late to take the lift back up and arrive in San Cassiano by 5 PM. The taxi drive costed us 100 euro :(. You can easily find a taxi at San Cristina, good to know!
On another day we skied the part of the Sella Ronda we had missed out on between Corvara and Selva Wolkenstein in the anti-clockwise direction. So by the end of the week we had done the whole tour, though not in one day. The views of the mountains on the Sella Ronda are stunning, and in the clockwise direction you climb to the highest point at Porta Vescovo to an altitude of 2478 km, where you feel like you can touch the tops of the magestic rocky peaks around you.
Be aware that not all slopes are easy, in the clockwise direction we had to take two black slopes and some of the red ones were also a challenge. Some of the red slopes feel like black ones by the end of the day when many skiers carved large bumps into them. Some slopes looked like a war zone by 3 PM with too many tired skiers trying to get home in time, lacking energy to tackle the many bumps created during the day. Best count between 5 and 6 hours to finish the Sella Ronda tour, so 9 AM looks like a better time to start, if you want to take a rest every now and then and enjoy the scenery. The orange clockwise route is in my opinion more difficult than the green anticlockwise route, while the green one is a lot less crowded, making you lose less time waiting at the lifts.
We rented our gear at the Ski Bar at the bottom of the San Cassiano, Piz Sorrega ski lift. It is quite a large outlet with good gear, and perfect if you have experience and know what kind of material you need. There is very little personal help with fitting your boots or diagnosing what kind of skis you best rent out. If you need more personal help I advise you to opt for Peppi to rent out material, it is very close to the lift as well. Prices are everywhere about the same.
We chose the Ski Bar because they were closest to the slopes. I changed my skis after two days, because the first pair were a bit hard for me to control. (a bit too long and small especially with the deep snow on the slopes). They have a lot of space to put on your gear and an ingenious system to store your boots and skis, making it very difficult for people to take the wrong pair of boots or skis. We paid about 148 euro for boots and skis for 6 days per adult.
There is only one bakery (Ploner) in the centre of San Cassiano, but it is a good one, we as many others tourists stocked op on pastries and breads for the route home.
There is one drawback though. Many of the South Tyrolean ski villages all come together on the same one-lane road leading to the Brenner pass. This road, which is the only way in and out, gets clogged very easily on Saturdays, the typical day of arrival and departure. There is no alternative route. If you are heading North you have to take the Brenner pass. When there is a lot of traffic, they release the cars in blocks onto the Brenner pass and you have to wait in line on the one road that leads to it. We spent two extra hours in a traffic jam getting to the Brenner pass.
An idea for next time: you can book at the Steinrösl hotel from any day onward for a week, so you can also stay from Sunday to Sunday or from any other day in the week. It might be advisable to start our week on another day, to avoid the massive traffic jams on the roads.
These are some of the ski-huts we tried on the slopes:
I Tabla – San Cassiano – Alta Badia – at the top of the Brancia lift: good quality hut, nice interior, friendly service, good price-quality.
La Brancia – San Cassiano – Alta Badia – also at the top of the Brancia lift: same good quality, very nice pastries, you can order a 0,5 l ski water, they mix blueberry syrup with the lemon water, which makes it a whole lot sweeter.
La Baïta – San Cassiano – Alta Badia – at the bottom of the Pralongia lift: they offer a good deal for a cappucino or coffee with a warm apfelstrudel with vanilla cream for 5 euro.
Salei Hutte – Fiz Sella – Val di Fassa – this hut offers great views of the Sella range. The cappucino is very good at a very good price. We did not eat here but the plates looked delicious, you have a restaurant on top and a self service counter at the ground floor.
Dantercepies Hutte – Fiz Dantercepies – Selva de Val Gardena – the best views of the Sella Ronda, with great seats inside and outside, and great food. At the top of the Dantercepies lift from Selva.
Bar in Hotel Gran Risa – La Villa in front of ski lift entrance, in the Villa valley. Very nice bar, very friendly service, very good Calimero!
Most huts offer very great food and drinks at very correct prices, it is one of the many great things about skiing in Italy, very good cuisine and drinks at very low prices, it makes every stop a real enjoyment.