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Alta Badia, a ski resort in the Italian Dolomites, is located in the Val Badia.

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Taking Rifugio

By Sari Anne Tuschman

Guest room photo courtesy of Rosa Alpina | Mirror lounge photo courtesy of Aman Venice

11.16.18

Let Scott Dunn arrange an Italian ski trip through the Dolomites and discover Northern Italy’s backcountry, rifugios and pressert.

Skiers have bucket lists. Ask any devoted powder hound like me, and they will be more than happy to rattle off a few of the destinations on their penultimate list. Any true skier (and snowboarder, for that matter) should add the Italian Dolomites to their list pronto. Comprised of approximately 745 miles of terrain encompassing 12 ski resorts, the Dolomiti Superski is the largest ski area accessible by one pass. There are 460 lifts, and 324 snowcats keep the entire range groomed. You read that correctly: All of the Dolomites are groomed, making them ideal for skiers of all levels.

To tackle this feat, I sign up for a ski safari with luxury tour operator Scott Dunn (five-night ski safari with two-night stay in Venice from $5,300 per person), which entails guided skiing through the mountain range from Cortina to San Cassiano, and staying in unique locations and high-end properties each night, including two on-mountain rifugios, meaning “refuge” or “shelter” in Italian. Scott Dunn has spent three decades crafting custom trips for the well-heeled and well-traveled adventurous set, with an expansive portfolio of properties around the world.

I opt to begin my trip with an evening in Venice. A water taxi delivers me to the lovely and supremely located five-star Bauer Venezia, where I receive a warm welcome and am shown to my suite overlooking the canal and a bustling piazza. The next morning, I return to the airport to meet my fellow intrepid group (including one of my dearest girlfriends, who is an accomplished snowboarder).

A junior suite at Hotel & Spa Rosa Alpina in the village of San Cassiano

A three-plus-hour drive brings us to the charming ski town of Cortina, where narrow streets are peppered with cashmere stores, ski shops and quaint spots selling mulled wine. Cortina was the site of the 1956 Olympics, the first games ever to be televised—and we stay at the Cristallo, a Luxury Collection Resort & Spa. Built in 1901, the structure has been renovated as part of the Marriott Luxury Collection. This is where we meet our guide and fearless leader, Marco. He gleefully explains the Dolomite mountain range is a UNESCO World Heritage site, and much of it was Austrian-controlled prior to World War I, and, as such, the towns in the area tend to be a fusion of cultures.

He tells us to pack a smaller bag for the next two nights while we stay on mountain in rifugios. The local family-owned lodgings litter the area. Like a bed-and-breakfast fused with a hostel, a rifugio is an authentic, little-known experience. Several groups can be staying at one at the same time, creating a communal feel; others are private; and still others are strictly for dining. We’re informed our small bag will meet us each night, while we will be reunited with our larger suitcases at the end of our safari.

Our first morning has us skiing at the Cortina resort, exploring the Dolomites’ runs and jaw-dropping views, all while getting our ski legs. First, we make our way to the Cinque Torri (“Five Towers”) area, named for a quintuplet of mammoth jagged peaks. Lunch is in a separate rifugio that serves cheese and charcuterie, as well as gnocchi Bolognese with local wine.

We arrive at our first overnight rifugio, Lagazuoi—one of the highest in the Dolomites—under an overcast late-afternoon sky, and we’re unable to see the exceptional vistas right away. Inside, we find a hearty dinner of pasta and steak to enjoy before a post-dinner sauna moment. The next morning brings the most spectacular view I have ever seen: a truly breathtaking expanse of snowy peaks (the Pelmo, Civetta, Marmolada and Croda da Lago massifs), glowing under the fresh light of dawn.

The mirror lounge at Aman Venice, which is perched on the Palazzo Papadopoli.

The coveted reason for staying at a rifugio is that you’re the first one on the slopes the next day—they are literally ski-in/ski-out. The slope down from Lagazuoi takes us through the Armentarola valley. We make our way to the Civetta ski area and head toward the Falcade region with a snowmobile transfer to our second rifugio, Fuciade. Set among a series of isolated huts in a wide, silent valley, Fuciade looks onto the biggest mountain range of the Dolomites, Pale di San Martino. Dinner is a decadent coursed meal typical of the Trentino region, savored in an impressive wine cellar.

The next is our final day—one spent skiing with the group (our trip is condensed, but Scott Dunn’s ski safaris are typically three to four days, with the entire trip being seven). We make a transfer to the Fassa Valley and spend the day touring the high-mountain Sella Pass before skiing right to the door of the Ciasa Salares hotel, a four-star property in Alta Badia. It’s here that we’re reunited with our bags. The epitome of Alpine charm, Ciasa Salares is both luxurious and cozy, complete with a massive wine cellar and dedicated cheese room. The pièce de résistance is its two-Michelin-starred restaurant, La Siriola, helmed by chef Matteo Metullio. We indulge in several courses, but, most importantly, this is where we learn what a pressert is: the dessert before the actual dessert. At La Siriola, pressert is served in the dreamy Chocolate Room, which houses 70 housemade options.

It’s difficult to leave the heart-stirring mountains of Northern Italy, but if one must go, the Aman Venice is the ideal next place to land. The following morning, I conclude my trip as it began, with a water taxi pickup. It brings me to the airport, where I begin my journey home, chock-full of memories and a wide scratch through my bucket list.