Like something out of a Lord of the Rings novel, the mountains loom large in front of us. Shrouded in cloud they appear other-worldy; a playground for monsters and fairies and grand adventures. And it is adventure we are seeking, although hopefully more of the snow and skiing variety and less of the mystical creatures sort. Jolting us back to reality, our bus groans and creaks its way up the steep mountain pass. It’s been quite a journey, involving planes and trains and finally a long-suffering bus, but at last we have reached our destination of Foppolo, a small skiing town tucked away in the Alps of Northern Italy.
Foppolo was one of the first Italian ski resorts, established way back in the 1950’s, and it seems little has changed since then. Boasting a population of only 200 people, this number triples during the winter season as Italians descend on the town to partake in their two national sports: skiing and drinking wine. And they seem to be exceedingly good at both. While we were flailing about on the more friendly slopes at the bottom, there were plenty of youngsters barely old enough to stand confidently whizzing past us as if they had been born with skis on their feet (which maybe isn’t as far-fetched an idea as it sounds).
Foppolo’s ski slopes are quite high in the mountains with altitudes ranging from 1635 to 2200 metres, so snow conditions are normally good. Together with the nearby resort of Carona they offer 26 ski runs with 12 ski lifts, and the ski pass also covers the neighbouring town of San Simone. We were more than happy with the range of beginner to expert slopes available, although the locals were all moaning about this winter being a mild one and the fact that not all the slopes had been opened. The resort is well set up for skiing and the prices are fairly reasonable: the ski rental shop had all the necessary gear and charged 50 euros for skiis for five days, while a ski pass was 130 euros for five days (cheaper during off-peak times). There were also lessons available at 35 euros per hour. While a stay in Foppolo is a truly authentic skiing experience, and a great way to get immersed into the Italian culture, the non-skiing activities are definitely on the limited side. This means that those looking to mix their skiing with other attractions may want to look for somewhere not quite as far off the tourist track.
Luckily that wasn’t a factor for us, as we quickly discovered that skiing and snow-boarding are great fun! The beauty of being surrounded by snow-covered mountains as far as the eye can see, while flying down a slope of fresh snow with the cold winter air biting your cheeks is an experience hard to describe. The euphoria of learning how to carve through the snow, and the adrenaline of a few spectacular wipe-outs when it all goes wrong, makes for a really different holiday experience for most South Africans. The blue-rated slopes at the bottom of the resort are flatter and suitable for beginners, with the red-rated slopes for intermediates and the horrifyingly steep black-rated slopes for the experts. Best of all is the quick and easy ride back to the top of the slopes: the ski lifts are daunting at first, but pretty easy once we had the knack of them. With the basics behind us, we found a few interesting apps on our smartphones that were fun to use for skiing: I enjoyed one called My Tracks, which worked without wifi and tracked each ski run completed, showing a map as well as top speeds and average speeds. Needless to say this made the skiing a whole lot more competitive, and the evening discussions in the bar a whole lot more lively.
We stayed at Hotel Adler, a friendly family-run hotel right at the foot of the slopes (we measured the hotel door as 14 paces from the ski lift). Originally opened in 1961, the hotel has been run by the Invernizzi family since 2010, and is popular all year round with hikers and mountain bikers who use it as their base camp during the summer. Prices were 60 euro’s per person per night sharing, and as the first South Africans ever to stay in the hotel we were treated like royalty by the friendly staff. The buffet breakfasts were perfect for some serious carbo loading for the busy day ahead, and during the day the bar was a hive of activity with Italians taking a break from one national sport and practising their second one in earnest. Most of the locals spoke enough basic English for us to get by, although we were definitely in a foreign place and culture (which, after all, is the whole point of travelling). In the evenings the warm glüwein, plentiful red wine and sauna rooms were all much appreciated as a way to ease some aching muscles not used to a day of hurtling down snow covered slopes. All too soon our glorious holiday came to an end, and we found ourselves back on a bus, creaking down the mountain and into our normal world again. Foppolo, we’ll be back.