Consequently, regional dishes encapsulate everything from polenta with venison or chamois (the native mountain goat) to Wiener schnitzel and speck. The area’s vineyards, meanwhile, produce some of Italy’s best wines. Outstandingly crisp, refreshing whites are made with grapes more typically associated with the Germanic regions, such as gewürtztraminer, lagrein and riesling. Alta Badia, home to three Michelin-starred restaurants, even offers a Gourmet Ski Safari. Local chefs each create a dish for 12 of the resort’s mountain refuges or “huts”, so that one can work up a hearty appetite in between courses. Slope Food, as the venture has been labelled, is based upon strictly local, seasonal ingredients, and each dish, such as pig’s cheek browned in South Tyrolean honey, is available at the hut throughout the season.
Two huge lift companies dominate the skiing. The biggest, Dolomiti Superski, offers the largest fully interchangeable lift ticket in the world, spanning 12 major sections. A perfect way to explore the Dolomites on skis is the scenically splendid Sella Ronda, a colourful and fairly easy 16-mile circuit round the Sella massif, via the Ladin valleys of Fassa, Gardena, Livinallongo and Badia. Sometimes it feels as if you could reach out and touch the soaring crags, which create a thrillingly primeval backdrop to one’s outdoor adventures.
As you progress across the Sella, Pordoi, Campolongo and Gardena Passes, you may be unaware that above them in the rugged heights are some rather more dramatic descents (fear not, these aren’t part of the circuit). One of these is the Val Mezdi, a steep-sided gully with a dramatic entrance between towering rock walls, reached by cable car and a substantial hike. The run starts on the rim of an inverted archway near the summit of Sasso Pordoi, a lofty peak in the Gruppo Sella. As you take the plunge, small stones fall almost continually and rather unnervingly from the towering rock faces on either side. By the time you reach Colfosco, you’ll have descended well over 1,200 vertical metres.
When you’re tackling the popular Sella Ronda, it helps to have a quieter base to approach it from, and San Cassiano is just the place. This pretty village between La Villa and Cortina is linked to the circuit via Corvara. Here you’ll find the region’s legendary Rosa Alpina Hotel. Dating back to 1850, it has been run by three generations of the Pizzini family over the past 70 years, and its devotees return year after year.
For those looking for more of a challenge, one of the longest runs in the Dolomites is Armentarola, a five-mile red descent from the Lagazuoi refuge, also reached by cable car. You can even stay the night here and wake, as I did, to mesmerising views of peaks right in front of your bedroom window. As you make your way down this rollercoaster of a run, huge cliffs tower above you. At the bottom I was amused to find the celebrated horse-drawn ski lift, whereby two horses dutifully tow lines of skiers by rope back to the main ski area.