Getting to Know Alta Badia - Page 2

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ThatÂ’s not to say that the skiing isnÂ’t world-class. Alta Badia has historically been overshadowed by Cortina dÂ’Ampezzo, the ritzy resort 22 miles east over the Falzarego Pass that hosted the 1956 Olympics. But with equally beautiful skiing, Alta Badia has become a destination in its own right, without its neighborÂ’s overload of glitz and glam. In fact, Alta Badia is connected by ski lift to three other valleys, Arabba, Fassa, and Gardena, all of which cradle the Sella Massif and Marmolada Glacier, an enormous playground full of treeless snowfields. In all there are 450 lifts and nearly 750 miles of trails. Numerous routes, the most popular of which is the Sella Ronda, will take you hopping from piste to piste, circumnavigating the massif and glacier and never taking the same trail twice.

Before starting my leisurely clockwise tour, by following the orange Sella Ronda signs, I stopped at the local ski shop, a stoneÂ’s throw from the town squareÂ’s 500-year-old church. The shop owner was as energetic as Roberto Benigni and just about as smiley.

"These are the skis Bode Miller skis on!" he beamed, handing me a pair of Rossignols and rushing to the back of the shop he single-handedly ran with his father to find me some poles. "YouÂ’ll love them! And if you donÂ’t, come back right away!"

This is what sets Alta Badia apart: Though it sees its fair share of tourists, the locals retain their friendliness, mountain culture, and sense of community. In fact, Alta Badia, the higher shelf in the Badia Valley, consists of six small hamlets interspersed between cow pastures and ski runs. It is inhabited mostly by a unique people known as the Ladins, who, isolated for millennia after an influx of ancient Romans, speak a pidgin of the old Roman Latin. Though the area changed from Austrian to Italian hands at the end of World War I, the agrarian society remained relatively cut off from the modern world until after World War II, when outsiders started pouring in. Still, the area has maintained a charming provincial Alpine flavor.

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