Skiing the Dolomites may prompt the question, “Am I in the Alps?” Geographically, of course, the answer would be yes. Shooting up some 10,000ft from the chain’s southeastern foothills, this jagged ridge of 18 limestone peaks stitches together a region vastly independent from the rest of the Alps, like the bohemian branch of a grand old aristocratic family. Politically, they sit in northern Italy, though they don’t inherently feel Italian: rustic mountainside dining rooms serve more spaetzle than spaghetti and a “guten tag” goes further than a “grazie’.’ Mussolini annexed the region from Austria in 1918 and pushed Italianisation, but it never quite took; even today, many locals prefer speaking the mountain dialect, called Ladin, over Italian and German.
While glitzy towns to the west—Switzerland’s Verbier, France’s Courchevel—draw in a Moet-swigging crush of svelte snow bunnies and loud-money oligarchs draped in Bogner parkas, Dolomite villages like San Cassiano welcome Italian families who, season after season, ski its powdery slopes in winter and hike its lavender-lined mountain paths in summer. And amid all this distilled Alpine gorgeousness are the rifugi—traditional cosy mountain huts sprinkled across the valleys, villages and slopes that act as restaurant, pub, inn and cafe in one, offering hearty dumplings and ragu, simple rooms and the requisite espresso hit between ski runs. But that’s not to say the Dolomites don’t telegraph an understated European glamour. For decades, the towns of Cortina d’Ampezzo and Bolzano—bookending the region from 132km apart—have been a landing spot for the moneyed with taste.
Yes, you can find a Prada sweater or two here, but there are also Hapsburg-era castles, stately main squares and a new wave of stylish luxury chalets (helmed by equally stylish innkeepers who know their Frette from their Fiordilino). From now through April, regulars will be hitting the area’s 1,207km of gently sloped terrain, which is often blanketed in dry, powdery snow. Since the Dolomites are protected from the tempestuous northerly storms, chances are you’ll get a cloudless sky (there are 300 glorious sun-flooded days a year here, apparently more than anywhere else in the Alps). And unlike in Colorado or Jackson Hole, once the boots are off for the day, plates of thin-sliced speck and salume served with preposterously excellent glasses of Gewurztraminer and Pinot Grigio are waiting for you. That’s when you sit, eat, recharge—and think about how you can’t wait for the sun to rise tomorrow so you can do it all again.