A Gourmet Ski Safari — In the Italian Alps
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because this foodie heaven has a twist (hopefully, not your ankle).
Forget the usual safaris through Kenya’s wilderness or South Africa’s bush, with lions chowing on antelopes and hyenas devouring carcasses. On the snowcapped peaks of Italy’s Alps, you’ll be the only predator destroying your waistline with delicious deer fillet and roe burgers while sliding down the pristine slopes.
It can be tough, going on a gourmet skiing safari in the Alta Badia region, a place where locals are essentially born on skis and speak three languages (French, Italian and Ladin, a modern, incomprehensible twist on Latin). Given that the sport burns up quite a lot of calories, people here have a knack for skiing and eating at the same time — I’ve seen them munching fries on ski lifts. But if you’re a tourist who’s seen snow fall just twice in your entire life (and from behind a window both times), or you’ve never been tempted by the pull of Italian haute cuisine, beware of two risks.
First: Don’t break a leg trying to digest eight sausages while on a vertical black slope. Second: Avoid piling on 10 kilos in four hours.
This is how the safari works: You buy a card that treats you to Michelin-starred food while you enjoy the skiing and sunshine in a sort of hop-on, hop-off eating tour.
It takes me ages to fasten my ski boots back on at the end of the humble meal. My head is swimming and my stomach grumbling.
Scattered on the pistes and at all altitudes are 14 wooden huts, each featuring a dish created by a Michelin-starred chef and based on a melding of traditional Ladin cuisine and modern recipes. There are seven female and seven male chefs, and they occasionally accompany guests on their own skis.
Extravagant dishes range from hay soup to mountain goat ham served with oysters and caviar. Yep, despite being miles from the sea, there’s some great seafood up here. Imagine savoring orange-scented giant prawns while sipping a glass of sparkling wine, looking at families clambering in and out of cable cars, sweaty from carrying skis on their shoulders.
It might sound and taste like bliss, but it’s an endeavor that requires a good dose of physical performance, powerful jaws and an expandable belly.
“You need to at least taste each of the 14 signature dishes, otherwise the cooks get upset and think you prefer one plate rather than another,” says Nicole Dorigo, who does PR for the region in addition to taking visitors on the safari. “It’s a democratic food-skiing rally, please don’t forget that.”
The first stop is breakfast: A snowcat takes you up to 2,500 meters, where you start off with homemade jam pies, honey cakes, delicious fatty yogurt, a cheese platter and fried bacon. Then you slide down virgin powder snow — oh, the thrill of being the first skier of the day! At 11:30, there’s a pit stop to recharge your batteries: strawberry dumplings, fried eggs and a steaming mug of hot chocolate with whipped cream. Next, back to skiing again for an hour or so. Lunch, at 1:30 p.m. on the dot, is at a very chic chalet. There’s a four-course menu with four different wines, red and white. And a final grappa shot.
That’s when the tricky part starts.
It takes me ages to fasten my ski boots back on at the end of the humble meal. My head is swimming and my stomach grumbling, sure signs that I’ve overstuffed myself with food and flooded myself with booze. An Englishman close by is having a hard time balancing his swollen stomach, which has turned into a magnet pulling him down to the ground. As I let the force of gravity bring me downhill, trying to make the least possible exertion, I almost ram into my ski-buddy-slash-Michelin-starred-chef Matteo Metullio, who’s right in front of me.
Now, Matteo’s not really a mountain freak — he comes from Trieste, so he’s more of a sea dog. Plus, he spends most of his time in a kitchen, not out on the slopes. He’s huge, muscular with a generous belly. And as we all know, the more you weigh, the more you pick up speed on skis and the harder it is to stop (or avoid running into a tree). And so Matteo trips over a little bump in the piste that almost sends him flying. Miraculously, he’s able to regain control and land safely on his skis again. Trouble is, I hit that same stupid bump and come within an inch of landing face-first in the snow.
“Whew, that was close! We nearly crashed into each other just then, and that would have hurt,” Matteo says when we meet at the chairlift. Yes, that is one way to state the obvious. He adds that this is one of ”the negative side effects” of a gourmet ski safari. “I never train, but that just makes it all the more fun!” Yeah, risking breaking my leg and sacrificing months of strict diet… Might give it a second thought next time.
Oh, I forgot to add: There’s also an evening snack and a final on-skis dinner.