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Alta Badia: Skiing on Michelin Mountain

Ciasa Salares
strada Prè de Vì 31, Localita Armentarola, San Cassiano, 39030
Cuisine: Haute Cuisine
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Helen Hokin: When Italy’s youngest Michelin-starred chef steps inside the ski hut he’s not in chef’s whites but head-to-toe, instead, in pale-blue, designer ski gear. His boots are dusted with snow, cheeks still flushed from skiing.
 
I’m meeting the twenty-four-year-old Matteo Metulio at the top of the Col Alt peak, some 2000 snowy metres above sea-level, in the ski hut of the same name. It’s lunchtime and together we will sample the Slope Food dish he has created for the hut, and this year’s Slope Food ski safari.
 
Hut is a poor translation - a false friend; the place is more akin to a top-notch restaurant – packed with effortlessly chic Italian skiers. And that’s just the kids.
 
Col Alt is one of fourteen mountain huts, dotted around the Dolomites. Perched like a crow's nest  it affords 360-degree views of breathtaking snowscapes from Santa Croce to the Marmolada. And Slope Food designed to offer skiers something more ecllectic than fondue. There’s a different dish to try in every hut and each one has been created by a Michelin-starred chef using nothing but regional ingredients.
 
That’s a lot of skiing and even more eating.
 
Matteo peels off a couple of outer layers, more rugby player than chef in stature, and sits down next to me. He’s clearly ravenous from skiing and we nibble, while waiting for his much fêted plate, on good bread dipped in simply outstanding olive oil. Fruity with a long, peppery finish the oil comes from the restaurant owner’s Sicilian olive grove. Sadly, he uses everything he produces in Col Alt, so I won’t be bringing any home.
 
Matteo, on the other hand, unremittingly sources all of his ingredients locally, both for his own restaurant: La Siriola at hotel Ciasa Salares, and for the slope food dish he’s showcasing here this season. But what, I ask, could even begin to grow, graze or swim in this frozen, winter earth?
 
Effervescent with enthusiasm, and a delightful earnestness, Matteo, who was awarded his first star less than three months ago, launches, with signature Italian pride, into a repertoire: “There’s trout, char, potatoes, beetroot, and that’s just for starters.” He’s not exaggerating; even the granite serving plates he uses back at La Siriola, where he is head chef, are hewn from the surrounding mountains. As if to illustrate the point, his Slope Food dish arrives.
 
The tapas-sized plate of unctuous, smoky, potato purée and pine-marinated fresh water trout comes flecked with amber jewels of trout roe. They pop pleasantly on the tongue like tiny water balloons and following the intensity of the smoky potato it’s a clever way to leave a clean finish. A couple of crispy, wafer-thin rye chips lend a nutty flavour and crunchy, textural interest. Both delicate and robust the well-thought through dish offers a first insight into Matteo’s culinary philosophy which he says is still ‘in progress’. His devotion to cooking, he tells me, is only rivalled by his passion for Liverpool F.C.
 
A man after my own heart.
 
But I’m here to ski, as much as to eat, and with the dish duly devoured, it’s time to hit the slopes.
 
Well, sort of.
 
My group - all advanced skiers - pour outside, snap on their skis and launch themselves, one by one, over the vertiginous precipice which stands mere paces from the door. I watch them disappear, in quick succession, behind the icy edge and away, gliding down the powdery-white incline having, no doubt, buckets of fun. And I‘ll bet they’re stopping for grappa on the way.
 
Alas, the only beginner in the group, I can only peer over the edge after them, feeling every bit the boy the Pied Piper left behind. I take a ski lift five hundred metres down and make my way to the beginner’s slope.
 
And then I meet my instructor.
 
From behind an eee-normous pair of reflective, mirror goggles Tomas flashes a dazzling, white smile. Comfortably over six foot, with a Darcyesque mop of chestnut hair and deep, even tan, he is every inch the smouldering, Italian slope dude. (Not to be confused with Slope Food - that’s Matteo’s department – see above).
 
All previous ski envy instantly melts and TBH so do I. Tomas coaches the national junior team. And now me. For the next two glorious days. No, but seriously, I’m here to learn. Resisting the temptation to distress like the proverbial damsel, I look lively. I can do this, I really can.
 
With my skis firmly on, feet shoulder-width apart standing still on flat ground, Tomas shows me how to walk. Well, not walk exactly, but slide, one leg at a time making a pole touch as I move judiciously forward. We repeat the same move over and over again for at least half an hour until I’m impatient for the next step which is destined to be down a very gentle slope. I haven’t got a terrible sense of balance and my flexibility is good, so downhill doesn’t really phase me. But before I embark on my maiden flight I need to understand, crucially, how to stop.
 
“Make a pizza shape with your skis.”Tomas tells me. OK, that I get. Now you’re talking my language.
 
As long as I have the front of my skis pointed inwards, the backs turned out and my knees bent slightly forward I have the power, the magic manoeuvre standing between me and a full on collision with a crowd of fellow beginners who with an average age of four, and kitted out in uniform, miniature pink ski jackets, are huddled together like a Barbie eiderdown at the ski lift smack at the bottom of my run.
 
Safely distanced, at the upper reaches of the slope, and a little while later Tomas gives me the go-ahead for my first flight. This being a blue slope (for complete beginners) the descent I’m tackling is really not intimidating. In fact considering the ease with which the pre-schoolers fling themselves past me I’m guessing this will be a doddle.
 
For an hour I practice-ski down the easiest and gentlest of inclines, the palms of my hands pressed against those of the vigilant Tomas as he skis effortlessly backwards facing me, gauging my confidence levels and stopping me from falling. I do not fall. Not once.
 
At the foot of the slope we swing back to the summit via a ski lift which saves me walking back uphill sideways, which, by the way, I have also mastered. Get me.
 
Again and again I make the rounds. With my face to the sun, breathing in the pure mountain air and all the time surrounded by dramatic snowy peaks, I can see how this could get seriously addictive.
 
In a two-day intensive course with Tomas I got the basics down. Stance and balance - tick. Walking sideways uphill - tick. Controlled stopping – tick. Swooshing down a gentle slope with my instructor and then, joyously solo – tick.
 
Turning will be my next biggie manoeuvre. It eluded me simply because I ran out of time and there was all that Slope Food to get through, after all. And for all the fun I was having with Tomas - no, no, I mean learning to competently ski, I couldn’t help but look forward to a touch more Michelin magic.
 
A Slope Food card buys me one plate at three different huts.
 
And so, at the irresistibly elegant Club Moritzino the offering - rye bread, butter and anchovy – is simple enough in concept. But the execution – exquisite tubes of crisp puccia bread filled with a well-balanced sweet butter and salty anchovy filling - was unmistakeably Michelin in method. The chef responsible for this superb bite is two-star Italian chef, Nino de Costanza of restaurant Il Mosaico.
 
On another occasion, before sunrise, I was swept uphill by snowcat, to the Las Vegas Lodge - another participating Slope Food hut - to breakfast on a local feast of freshly baked bread, eggs, speck, apple juice and coffee, all perfectly polished off in time watch the morning sun unfurl its pink and gold streamers across the sparkling peaks.
 
Despite splitting from the group each day to get my beginner’s ski legs, we reconvened in the evenings at our hotel, Ciasa Salares, for the most marvellously boozy après ski. Here, installed in his own kitchen, chef whites back on, Matteo Metulio treated us to a cookery demo before serving the same award-winning creations for dinner in the sumptuous private dining room of La Siriola.
 
On our last night, deep in the underbelly of the hotel, owner Stefan Wieser, performed a wine tasting from a scrupulously curated list of limited-edition, and for the most part, biodynamic, Italian wines. Dinner in the same low-lit corridors of the cellar-turned-dining room was a lavish banquet of deeply comforting fondue.
 
But a last word about skiing: In the very capable hands of Tomas, I don’t just have the basic moves mastered, but a sound technique and solid foundation for future safe skiing, as I build on my knowledge next time.  
 
Good old George Eliot. She really was right. It’s never too late. And even though I’m never going to win a medal for it, sometime in the not too distant future I’ll be slaloming through the pines with the best of them. Grappa anyone?
 
Helen Hokin travelled to Alta Badia (www.altabadia.org) with Powder Byrne
 
Powder Byrne
The Ciasa Salares Hotel in San Cassiano is a traditional, family-run Italian Alpine gem. Powder Byrne’s only ski-in, ski-out hotel in the resort, it is surrounded by nature and the dramatic crests of the Dolomites. Prices start from £1,760 per person sharing a superior twin room on half board for a 7 night stay. This includes return flights from the UK, transfers and Powder Byrne resort service.
 
Powder Byrne also offer Luxury Ski Weekends staying at Ciasa Salares, starting at £1,179 per adult for 4 nights from 20th March on a half board basis.  Price includes return flights, transfers and concierge service.
 
Powder Byrne also offer their 'PB Solo' service in San Cassiano, the ultimate experience for long weekend skiers.  Clients are met by their own PB Solo Guide with a luxury vehicle that is exclusively theirs for the duration of their stay.  Their guides fix all arrangements using Powder Byrne's extensive knowledge and contacts in the region, crafting a totally bespoke ski weekend experience that matches the needs for their clients.  Price available on application.
For more information: Powder Byrne 020 8246 5300 www.powderbyrne.com
 
Slope Food
Throughout the whole winter season Slope Food dishes and aperitifs in fourteen huts are available in Alta Badia, creatively devised by a Michelin-starred chef. This year's novelty lies in the selection of chefs, equally divided between men and women to give a prominence to female Michelin-starred chefs, an element absent in previous event editions: a real cooking competition of sorts! The skier will judge who's best.
 
The Slope Food Card: purchase this offer to taste three Slope Foods in three different huts at a discounted price during a winter holiday for 30€ whilst each slope food with wine will be 12€ including a glass of wine if bought individually.
For more information: Alta Badia Tourist Board www.altabadia.org
 
Skiing
A 6 day adult lift pass for the Alta Badia area ranges from £162 - £202
A 6 day adult lift pass for the Dolomiti Superski area ranges from £175 – £220

 
 
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