A Non Skier in the Dolomites

Non Ski l ©ornaoreilly.com

Not having donned a pair of skis for more than twenty years, I wondered what it would be like to spend some time in a ski resort as a non skier. Tom – ‘The Man in my Life’ – has always enjoyed La Settimana Bianca (white week), which is traditionally when Italians take to the mountains for a week of skiing. So I packed my fur-lined boots and thermals and prepared for a trip to the Italian Dolomites.

Non Ski l ©ornaoreilly.com

This, the first of our two ski weeks together so far, was to be my introduction to all of Tom’s Italian, American and Canadian skiing friends. I looked forward to meeting them all for the first time and imagined that most, if not all, of them would be away skiing every day while I lounged around a roaring fire with a book and a mug of piping hot chocolate for company, while fat snowflakes fell outside. I was anticipating a week of indolence and complete rest.

Arriving at Hotel Adler in Villabassa-Niederdorf, a small town in the South Tyrol, for the first time, I noted that the quaint cobbled streets were suspiciously free of the white stuff upon which people ski, or, in my case, hoped to walk on in furry boots.

I need not have worried. First of all, these days in the absence of adequate snowfall, the ski runs are routinely covered in snow manufactured by special machines that blow it out in great white gusts. Secondly, Mother Nature delivered the hoped-for snow within a couple of days, turning the lower slopes and little alpine towns into a picture-postcard idyll.

The Dolomites are particularly beautiful; jagged peaks soar skyward and valley floors are studded with picturesque towns and turquoise lakes; many of them covered in ice at this time of year.

Non Ski l ©ornaoreilly.com

My dreams of sitting by a roaring log fire were soon shattered by the realisation that there were many non-skiers among the friendly group assembled at the Hotel Adler. As a result, on a daily basis, I happily visited many of the local towns and headed uphill on cable-cars and gondolas to various rifugi (wooden chalet-type restaurants) with terraces overlooking the most stunning scenery imaginable.

On my first trip to the Italian Dolomites I met up with Linda, who had travelled all the way from Canada to join her daughter Trina, a keen skier. Linda was, like me, a non-skier and we soon bonded over the Pear Williams. Before long we were travelling to rifugi far and wide for long leisurely lunches on sun-drenched decks in the snow.

On one morning, we visited Cortina, where we strolled around the tempting, expensive shops whose windows were filled with mink coats and jewellery.

We then took a cable car up to a rifugio by the name of Col Druscié where we had a delicious lunch of cold meats and cheeses washed down by the local red wine; in this case a robust Pinot Noir from the Sud Tirol – Alto Adige. The expression ‘ladies who lunch’ took on a new meaning altogether!

I cannot adequately describe the fantastic surroundings on our days out and about in the snow. The beauty of the clear blue sky and dazzling sunshine, coupled with the snow-covered mountains took my breath away. Travelling by cable car, suspended high over the pine trees, I felt as though I was in a dream.

Some days, we met the skiers themselves for lunch. We would arrive first and park ourselves in the sun without as much as a hair out of place while watching our friends arrive fresh-faced from their downhill runs. There was always a great deal of camaraderie around those lunch tables, while tales of derring-do and spectacular falls ruled the conversation.

Food was hearty and plentiful. I ate speck and salami with horseradish sauce, pickles and brown bread made with fennel.

Pastas, being Italian, were mouth-watering, with an Alpine twist.

Desserts were truly sinful in the way that only a good dessert can be.

The local wines were excellent too. I particularly liked Lagrein, which is red, full-bodied and went perfectly with the meats and rich goulash.

Goulash Soup

Goulash Soup

We lunched at Lorenzi Hutte, where the canederli (dumplings) were hot, delicious and nourishing; just the thing for the snowy weather.

Non Ski l ©ornaoreilly.com


We met up with our group at the Rudi Hutte on Croda Rossa. Here the grappa was served in little glasses arranged on a long hollowed-out branch, which certainly got the seal of approval.

Grappa on a branch!

On another day it was Rifugio Henn Stoll-Pollaio, where spicy grilled chicken wings and Padella della Sciatore were the most popular dishes.

In order to burn off some of the calories that were, inevitably, being consumed, we did lots of walking along the river bank in picture-perfect Villabassa and out along the railway tracks where the ski train regularly passed us with its carriages full of skiers.

Non Ski l ©ornaoreilly.com

Dinner was served at Hotel Adler where we ate splendidly every evening. Helene Markart, our excellent chef, has even written a book on regional cooking.

When our settimana bianca week ended, we reluctantly left our cosy hotel, where Christian, the owner, made sure we were utterly pampered.

Non Ski l ©ornaoreilly.com

On January of this year I visited Villabassa again with Tom and had a fabulous time once more, visiting even more picturesque towns and rifugi.

I must mention that I never did manage to get any reading done during either of my non-ski weeks in the Dolomites, though I did notice the huge log fire as I passed through reception on my way to dinner or sped past on my way out for another day in the snow.

Unfortunately, we will not make it to Villabassa this coming January as we moved to Puglia a few months ago and have too many commitments. How I will miss my non-ski week! Hopefully we will return next year.

Orna O’Reilly

Ostuni, Italy


How to get to Villabassa. Click HERE
A version of this blog by me recently appeared in Italy Magazine. Click HERE for the link.

16 thoughts on “A Non Skier in the Dolomites

  1. Orna, you’re killin’ me! I usually go to the Dolomiti in the spring because I don’t ski. I think I may have to change my routine! Your pictures are gorgeous and your descriptions are so inviting. Maybe we’ll lunch together sometime.

    • The Dolomiti in January are magnificent. I can’t describe adequately the atmosphere in the rifugi at lunchtime. I honestly had a brilliant time on both visits, but quite hard on the waistline! Yes, lunch together whenever you’re down this way would be lovely. Just let me know. 🙂

    • Must be experienced! Snow and sunshine, combined with great food, wine and fun….what could be better? I had a brilliant time on both visits and am really sorry not to be there this year.

  2. I don’t ski any more. A nasty fall the last time I went finished that phase of my life. I was never that good, I started too late, but I did like it. That area looks stunning, well worth a visit even without the skiing.

    • It’s incredibly beautiful. I was a bit unenthusiastic about my first visit and I packed several books to keep me occupied. But I had a brilliant time and am now disappointed not to be returning this year. Well worth the effort. Those rifugi are bliss.

  3. Oh Orna,
    I will be happy to go to Villabassa for you! I suppose I’m near the bottom of a long list of volunteers, so sad.
    Gale S

  4. What a fabulous post! Stunning scenery, delicious food and a window into an aspect of Italian life we don’t all experience, often travelling to Italy in warmer months. Grazie.

    • Thank you. Up in the Trentino, winters are beautiful. In fact, before I moved her permanently, I used to visit Italy in summer and in winter every year – for many, many years – and I actually preferred my winter trips. Less crowds. Great walking in my warm coat and boots. Must be experienced to be fully appreciated.

  5. The description of your time spent as a non-skier sounds wonderful (I think you may have had more fun than your skiing buddies….). I’ve always wanted to visit a rifugio and now it’s nice to know that it can be done without skiing or hiking to one! I, too, became a non skier after a nasty fall and realized I never really liked it all that much – not enough to risk my bones over! I visited Cervinia in Val D’Aosta as a non-skier while others did some skiing and you’re post reminded me of that day. I,too, rode the gondola up to a beautiful spot where I could bask in the sun amidst all the snow. I ended up eating Polenta “concia” – polenta made with fontina cheese! It was the best tasting polenta I’ve ever had, and even though I tried to recreate it at home, it just wasn’t the same! Italian ski resorts are a culinary destination, don’t you think?

    • I must admit I’m really disappointed not to be going this year, but it’s impossible with our move to Puglia just three months ago and with so much to do here still. I would say that I ate my way through the Dolomites on both trips there….the only thing was that Tom – who skied every day – was a bit trimmer than I was around the waistline when we got home!

  6. Pingback: Nice reading on our wonderful mountains – dolomitesgreatescapeblogdotcom

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