The Snow Angels of the Dolomites, part I

It’s April, dear reader, Yesterday’s watery sunshine, luring us briefly into thoughts of balmier weather, has given way to today’s endearingly British rain-hail-sleet combo. Or “April showers” as we like to call them.

But before April came March, which witnessed a couple of important events. Firstly, Britain’s non-exit from the EU on 29 March. Having been guilty in the past of being carelessly ignorant of important goings-on in the nation, I have tried manfully to stay abreast of developments with Brexit. At least every now and then. I have periodically read articles and blog posts by political analysts, which appear to come forth daily. But I find they all follow the same format:

  1. Last night [this thing] happened.
  2. What does [this thing] mean? or occasionally What happens now?
  3. We don’t know

What I deduce from each article is that, really, nothing is happening.

Happily, March also finally witnessed my long-awaited ski trip to the Land of Bialetti, with 23 fellow adventurers. I christened our group the Dolomites Snow Angels, and no-one objected, or at least not too strongly, and so that was that.

On the first or second evening, I can’t quite remember which, Emily – the holiday rep â€“ held court in our neighbouring chalet’s living room. Our chalet was the Traviata, theirs the Violetta. Both named after a Verdi opera. This pleased me.

Every chalet holiday I’ve been on has had one of these introductory chats from the rep. Never have I attended one before.  But this time I was numbered among the crowd that trooped over to the Violetta. And I found myself pondering what my sceptical non-attendance might have cost me all these years, as Emily engaged us in a whistle-stop tour of the area’s skiing highlights.. 

She waxed lyrical about La Longia – the 10.5km red run down into Oritsei, and went on to mention the legendary Saslong men’s World Cup downhill black run in Val Gardena, the La Crusc church in the furthest away corner of the map above the village of Badia, the lovely blue runs of the Alta Badia valley, and the Marmolada Glacier, with its spectacular views from upwards of 3000m, not to mention its WWI museum. 

Clearly all that plus the 1200km of general skiing available wasn’t going to keep us busy, so she was also offering limited places on a trip to Cortina d’Ampezzo and the Hidden Valley on Day 5. Cortina promised yet more stunning and unique Dolomites scenery, a ladies’ World Cup downhill, and a ski run featured in For Your Eyes Only. Meanwhile the Hidden Valley ski run is regularly voted one of the world’s top 10, includes a pub with two resident Alpacas, and the opportunity to be towed the last flat 1km or so by a horse-drawn cart. Oh, and there were tunnels left over from WWI to explore at the top.

Having come to the Dolomites with the express purpose of completing the Sella Ronda, by the time she was done I found myself less invested in that, and much more interested in the variety and quality of the unique skiing experiences to be had here.

Of course, there was no reason why these attractions had to compete, and so on Day 4, ten of us did in fact complete the Sella Ronda, interrupting our clockwise journey at Corvara to head off on a monastic pilgrimage to La Crusc, before rejoining at Corvara and skiing hard all the way home.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Day 1 was, as it always is, a day for re-acquainting oneself with one’s ski legs and remembering forgotten techniques. Having more or less found my way down the hill safely in the morning, I had decided to have an easy and fun afternoon skiing in the fun park, through ice tunnels and over pianos, but took the wrong lift up and instead found myself skiing black runs and moguls in Arabba with the some of the more adventurous Snow Angels.

But I survived, and on the way home found somewhere selling Baileys, with which we toasted St Paddy that evening.

On Day 2 we awoke to falling snow. It had been falling since the early hours, and so we abandoned any plans we might have had to ski hard and long that day. Truth be told, there probably wasn’t a plan for that day. Most days plans were formed late and on the hoof, which is not a bad way to approach a holiday, I reckon.

We headed away from the crowds of the Sella Ronda, up Val di Fassa, and took a gondola ride into a winter wonderland. Not that we could see all that much of it, initially.

Skiing in the falling snow, provided it’s not being propelled into your face by a Force Nine gale, is a wondrous thing. Sounds from across the mountain are muffled by the ever-deepening snowy blanket, and skiing must be done more by feel than by sight due to the reduced visibility. And everything is soft. Everything, that is, apart from my ski, which came off during a particularly inelegant wipeout at the bottom of a black run, and clattered into my face.

After some slope-side ministrations from the amazing Steve, who – Mary Poppins-style – conjured a host of medical supplies from his bottomless rucksack, I repaired to the nearest Rifugio, whereupon a host of friends patched me up with steri-strips, chocolate cake and espressos. I remained there for many hours, entertained by the inimitable Jamie and Kirsty, until I had recovered my courage sufficiently to ski a blue run a couple of times and then retreat back to the chalet.

January on the Wane

January is on the way out, dear reader, which can only be a good thing. The days are steadily getting longer, although not especially warmer, just yet.

Lying in wait is February, and in the blink of an eye it’ll be March, with a ski trip to the Dolomites. I am imagining much in the way of leisurely slope-side pizza-consumption in the early spring Italian sunshine. Followed by Tiramsu, and almost certainly an espresso. Then, with a sigh and probably a burp or two, strapping on the skis and hurtling down the hill towards Brexit Day.

The country feels in a state of some turmoil as Brexit approaches. Personally, I can’t help but think the whole thing was an extraordinarily bad idea.

While I accept that Mrs May possibly hasn’t done as sterling a job as she might in navigating these choppy waters, I do have some sympathy given that she wasn’t for leaving in the first place. And I find myself grieved by the overall air of grasping self-interest that seems to be prevalent in the country, not particularly unusual in Westminster at any time, it must be said, but seemingly magnified just now. It feels like the country’s in a bit of a pickle, and rather than everyone rallying round to try to find a solution, everyone is instead fighting their own corner all the more fiercely, with Ms Sturgeon eyeing an opening to sell independence to the Scots again.

Along with worries about the Irish border, the long-term loss of GDP for the UK economy, loss of jobs, port blockages and the like, of immediate and pressing concern is the state of the nation’s Empire Biscuits, and in particular, the depth of icing. Last Friday the icing was unacceptably thin. This week the Admin Supremo attempted an early EB acquisition on Thursday night at Tesco.

“Never seen such pale Empire biscuits” was the report Friday morning. 

Bring on a second referendum I say.

Meanwhile, January has seen a marked decline in the use of the washing machine at Only Here For The Cricket Towers. Over the festive period in particular, I was delighted by how long my clothes were lasting between washes. It belatedly occurred to me that, in employing the tried-and-trusted Sniff Test each morning to determine my clothes’ eligibility for another day’s use, I had neglected to take into account the cold that I’d been suffering from for weeks, and thereby unable to effectively smell anything.

I do apologise to all my friends, particularly the huggers.

January has also seen a marked upturn in my sleep quality. On becoming more and more aware of the shape and hardness of the springs in my mattress, I petitioned the landlord for a new one, and received the go-ahead a week or so ago. I was reminded of a previous flat tenancy, twenty years ago now, when I inherited a room in a flat on Magdala Crescent. Lovely flat, quiet street, perfect location.

After a month or two living there, I began to question the cuts that were appearing on my torso without any apparent cause, until one day I noticed that some of the springs in my mattress were actually poking through. Not an awful lot, but enough to draw blood periodically. Somewhat timid in nature at this point in my life, I never mentioned it to anyone, and instead found a narrow strip along the westward side of the mattress which was unmined, so to speak, and lay very still every night.

I note with some alarm that Facebook is about to integrate Instagram, WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger. Quite what that means I’m not sure, but I’m alarmed mainly by the implication that WhatsApp is owned by Facebook, a fact of which I was unaware. I was becoming quite fond of WhatsApp too. Ickle Bef uses it to send pictures of swans on the canal, which is charming. And Nicola, sporadically occupied in the Caring Profession between documentaries about the state of the Polynesian rainforests [subtitled], sends occasional informative updates to us all from drug dens in Leith.

If WhatsApp takes a Facebook approach to life and applies its cursed algorithmic approach based on one’s “liking” and “posting” activity… well, no-one will ever see anything I say, ever. 

I might have to start speaking to people in person from here on in. Eek.