1996-98 Ski Seasons in Cortina d'Ampezzo, Italy

We skied in northern Italy two seasons, using Cortina d'Ampezzo as our base (latitude 46° 32’ 00.92 N). The ski pass we bought allowed us to ski in 12 different areas. We actually skied in 9 out of the 12. The others were too far to drive to and ski for the day. 


What was amazing to us was that our pass was electronically readable in 1996 (meaning we never had to take it out of our pocket to show it). What made it even more surprising was that each of the areas (even some of the lifts) were individually owned. Even so, the owners were able to agree to the system and make the investment in it. At the end of the season, we could find out how many times we took any lift. In 1996-97 the season was 141 days and we skied 61 of them or 43%. In 1997-98 the season was 143 days and we skied 71 of them or 50%! We're getting more dedicated! 

In September 2009 we received an e-mail asking about Cortina and our European skiing experiences. Here is our response "as is":
We're glad you wrote and hope that we can be helpful to you. We spent six seasons (November to May) skiing in Europe between 1996-2002 (each summer we drove our car to a different area of Europe and spent the summer months exploring). Two ski seasons were in Italy and four were in France. When we arrived in Italy in 1996, we were intermediate skiers and many lessons and ski days later, we were experts and wanted back country, ski touring terrain so we reveled in Val d’Isere, France.

We loved the two 5-month ski seasons we spent in Cortina d'Ampezzo, Italy. Cortina is an easy 2-hour drive north from Venice and it is gorgeous. Click here to see a snap we took from the balcony of our apartment. Cortina has always been Italian whereas much of the surrounding area of the South Tyrol was taken over at various times by Austria. It is very Italian and very chic—the Romans and the Milanese arrive in their furs to walk the passeggiata in winter and in their lederhosen outfits in summer. It was a wonderful introduction to the Italian culture. While it’s an international resort and many foreigners go there to ski, it retained its cultural identity. We were able to make friends there and had a social life too. We’re not night-lifers, however, so we can’t tell you anything about that anywhere in the world.

Cortina itself has 3 ski areas; and is considered one area for the season lift ticket purposes. The Ski Dolomiti pass includes 12 areas (see the map above of the areas we skied in Italy):

1 Cortina d'Ampezzo 1224m: Freccia nel Cielo:, Tofana 3243m, Cristallo 3216m (Rio Gere), 5 Torri
2 Plan de Corones/Kronplatz 2275m
3 Alta Badia (Sudtirol) Corvar, Colfosco, La Villa, Pedraces, S. Cassiano
4 Val Gardena
6 Arabba
7 Alta Pusteria
8 Obereggen (too flat)
9 San Martino di Castrozza
12 Civetta
Canazei/Campitello
We skied all 12 of them except for: #5: Val di Fassa e Carezza, #10 Valle Isarco, and #11 Tre Valli. They were too far to go for a day of skiing. If you do ski Cortina, you should be sure to do the SellaRonda, an all day ski excursion from tiny town to tiny town.

In 1996 in Cortina d'Ampezzo very little English was spoken. Fortunately Dimitri spoke some Italian and we did find Alessandra Pompanin and she spoke good enough English to introduce us to her aunt. Her aunt has a fabulous apartment which we rented. Dimitri and I both took Italian lessons in Florence and I had a local teacher near Cortina named Charlotte Orani in the next town (down valley) called San Vito. She is English and is married to an Italian doctor in Cortina. Click here to see just some of our Italian photos in our photo album. There is an fascinating system of ownership in Cortina—the surrounding mountains are owned by the ancient Cortinese families (like the Pompanins). There has been a wonderful system of conservation over the centuries and it’s a very special place.

After we tearfully tore ourselves from Cortina, we spent 2 seasons in Courchevel 1850 in a ski-in/ski-out apartment that cost us twice as much as our Cortina apartment. Courchevel is in the Trois Vallées and it bills itself as the largest ski area in the world. It is truly fantastic. We found fabulous snow, great chutes and terrific back country. The ski school (incredibly) had an all day ski tour for (at that time) US$100 which introduced us to places (using lifts and with a little hiking) we would never have been able to find on our own. Click here to see our first season snaps from Courchevel.

Dimitri is totally fluent in French and even so, it was only with much effort that he was able o find our rental for the entire season. We encountered great resistance to entire season rentals.
Finding accommodation in 1996-2002 was entirely different than it is now. Internet was not used. We found our place in Cortina by word-of-mouth and the place in Courchevel through a real estate agent called Courchevel Agence. After 2 seasons in Courchevel we moved to Val d’Isére where Dimitri found our rental from a tiny ad in the Figuaro Sunday newspaper. It was my dream French mountain chalet and twice as expensive as the first Courchevel apartment we had rented. Fortunately, the US stock market was rising and we felt we could afford it! It was really fabulous. And so was the skiing! Click here to see the chalet and here and here to see our skiing snaps from Val d’Isére.

Recently, we have used craigslist and also vrbo.com (vacation rentals by owner) with some success. There is no substitute for being in a place and looking, however. By arriving after the Christmas high season (although the 8th of January may still be considered Christmas-New Years), you may have more to choose from.
We loved our European skiing experiences and highly recommend them (if you can afford it—the dollar has plunged since we left in 2002). In 6 seasons we only had one marginal one. The descents are awesome. We thought that we had been so spoiled there was nowhere in the USA that would have as large a ski-able area, with steep and challenging enough terrain to entertain us for an entire season. We are delighted to report that Vail and Beaver Creek did in fact entertain us well during the 2008-09 season. The 20009-10 season in Vail will be our Tenth Entire Ski Season Skiing Somewhere in the World (and our second in the USA)!

We'll write more about the fabulous time we had later. In the meantime, click here to see all of our photos. If you would like more information before the post is written, send us an e-mail and we would be glad to try to answer your questions. E-mail address: aleanddm@gmail.com