Skiing at Passo Tonale Feb 2006
Shortly before February half-term holiday, Patricia decided that our children needed to experience skiing, and booked us off to beginner-friendly Passo Tonale in a last-minute frenzy. It was not our typical vacation: besides costing a fortune, it meant staying in one place, eating at our hotel every night, no cultural excursions, and, well, skiing.
Every day I woke up in disbelief that I was going to do the exact same thing for six days, but once I was on the slopes then I was happy, and even started earlier and stayed later than the rest of the family. We all took lessons. Ross, Griffin and Patricia all had Irving (not sure this was his real name) as an instructor, who was very jolly and taught Ross some rude hand gestures. Since they were in the rank beginner group, many of the others dropped out, so they had more personal attention. I was one level up with Marco the Bored, whose main terms of instruction were "follow me" and "oh my god." Still, I think we all learned snowplow and parallel turns, and on the last day Ross and I both did red runs way up the mountain. I enjoyed the progression from being terrified of something (the top of the rope-tow, a scary slope, a red run, bumps) and then conquering it. It was a big difference from my first skiing experience, back in college, when David Wolff led me to the top of Killington and then down a long black trail in icy weather!
At the end we all got "bronze" certificates with two stars, though Ross and Claire got three stars. Claire and I attended an award ceremony in a disco, where she and all her young team-mates got gold medals.
Every day we ate a large lunch, usually at La Torretta, which had good pizza and things like spätzle with gorgonzola and venison tortellini. Once we ate at Il Focolare where I had a lovely steak with green peppercorns, and a warm salad of bresaola and endive. The dressing had something like cognac in it, which was a revelation: expect alcoholic salads next time I cook for you. The prepaid breakfasts and dinners at Hotel Orchidea were fairly good: pasta, gnocchi, ham hocks, that sort of thing. We were surprised to see vines a large part of the bus ride up from Verona (Tonale is around 1950 m. altitude), and P and I drank the cheap local red every day, occasionally supplemented with a €6 bottle of Prosecco from the nearby SPAR grocery. P had brought English tea bags, but was defeated by the lukewarm chlorine juice that passes for hot water in Italy.
The SPAR grocery was just about the most interesting place in town. The few hours from the stopping of the lifts at 4:45 and dinner at 7:30 would have been difficult to fill without books and Claire's portable DVD player. I read The Map That Changed the World, and the kids repeatedly viewed episodes of
And then we went home! Because of a fall of wet snow, the return bus ride to Verona took nearly five hours, but we got a nice view of lake Iseo.
Below is Claire's version of events.
If you are down here, then perhaps you came across this page on a web search about ski resorts. We booked through Fast Track ski holidays, and paid nearly £5,000 for a week for five people! That included flights from London, bus from Verona, hotel, half-board, passes, and ski rental. It must be much cheaper to arrange all this on one's own, and we no doubt paid a premium for a late half-term booking. The actual tour was through Crystal Ski. The bus ride from Verona, billed as about two hours is at least three, and as stated above, nearly five hours in bad weather. The tour representative on the bus was from Thomsons, who covered, patchily, for the missing Crystal rep. We needed photos for the ski passes, and my wife had with amazing foresight prepared two of each of us, which was lucky as the Crystal folks lost one of them. The Crystal "orientation meeting "was a chaotic wait in the Hotel Miramonti lobby for our passes. There were a few organised evening options like a pub quiz and snowmobiling, but the latter was quite expensive. We asked about dog sledding, but were referred to the tourist information office. Turns out the sledding is in the next town over and also expensive. There is ice-skating centrally, at €7 a head, but when we went they had not cleared off the snow and it was not operating. There is no public pool, though some hotels have them, but not ours, the Orchidea. The Orchidea was clean and quite friendly, and the food is good. It is not the closest to the slopes, and on the first day we had an arduous walk in all our gear to the ski lesson area. We only found out later that there is a free bus around the town that comes about every 20 minutes. Also, if one walked just up the hill from Orchidea, one could reach the easternmost chair lift up a long blue run, which is what I tended to do in the morning. The Orchidea had a sauna but we did not check it out. A roaring fire would have been fun, but most places had ornamental ceramic stoves instead. The ski instructors recommended the Hotel Miramonti for lunch, but we tried it once and found the pizza inferior to that at La Torretta. Il Focolare is good, as mentioned above (about €70 for us all, vs €45-55 normally). There is a "Top Internet Cafe", where you pay €3 for half an hour on a computer. But first you have to show a passport, which they copy, and then sign a long legal document in Italian, which they say is about privacy. And the computers are quite old -- the one I used could not cope with gmail in Java mode, and would not switch back to plain HTML. On the long way back, I asked the driver to stop so the kids could pee. The rep did not count people leaving and returning, and I still wonder if we did not leave someone at that lonely highway rest station. Since our return flight was in the evening, it would have been nice to leave early and see something of Verona instead of sitting around Tonale with nothing to do. We overheard a rep enthuse about his time working at Dr. Holms Hotel in Geilo, Norway. He said the food was particularly good, which piqued our interest.
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