Dec 12 2007

Ben vs. the Dolomites

Published by at 7:56 pm under Italy,Northern Italy

Brittany about to ski
Brittany before the tears

I’ve never been skiing in my life, so before leaving northern Italy for good, we decided to make one last stop: the Dolomite Mountains. Well, we thought we had decided to go to the Dolomites when we boarded our train from Bologna Tuesday afternoon. But half way through our train ride to the northeastern city of Trento, Brittany wondered: might we be better off skiing in the Alps instead? Mind you, the Alps, being in northWESTERN Italy, are clear on the other side of the country from the Dolomites. But it’s not like we had managed to book accommodation in the Dolomites for the night (or ever managed to booked any accommodation ahead of time, for that matter), so we decided to get off the train in Verona, and look into heading west instead.

At the moment that we made this particular decision, the train was stopped in a station. I leaned over to the girl sitting across from us and asked, “Quanto minuti a Verona?” which probably means “Where is my friendly waffle?”, but fortunately she understood that I was interested in finding out how much longer until the train arrived in Verona. She looked at me a little nervously, pointed straight down at the ground, and said: “Verona.” Right. While our new friend looked on in an empathetic panic, we scrambled to gather our scattered belongings in time to get off the train.

After making a heroic slide onto the Verona train platform (and reaching back to grab my fedora JUST IN TIME), it dawned on us that we really didn’t have much of a plan beyond narrowly escaping the train’s sliding doors. What we did have, thanks to our guidebook, was a map of Verona that showed a nearby internet cafe. Since everyone knows that the internet is the source of all human knowledge, we headed to the cafe to check out our Alpine options.

Well, it turns out that trying to plan a trip to the Alps and board a train there in one night is hard work, and makes us tired. So after a few minutes of that, we gave up in favor of finding some french fries to eat. Luckily for us, there was another train heading to Trento (our original destination) in an hour. And our luck continued: unlike the first time we tried to make it to Trento, this time we would have french fries.

Due in no small part to our internet/french fry layover, we arrived in Trento to discover that we had just missed connecting with the last bus of the night that was bound for our ultimate goal: the ski town of Madonna di Campiglia. The bus station operator wasn’t kidding — we could still see the bus heading up the road that leads toward the mountain. Brittany could also see that the bus was about to hit a red light, and that was all the hope she needed. She startled me by bursting into a full sprint for the bus, and probably startled the bus driver more when he noticed a crazy American girl banging on the bus doors at a traffic light. In fact, she startled him so much that he was helpless to resist her efforts to commandeer a bus ride. And that is how we came to be the last two people who would make it up the mountain before the next bus departed at noon the next day.

It was pitch dark when we finally (and miraculously) arrived in the Dolomite ski town of Madonna di Campiglia. Which made running up and down icy hills between hotels, trying to negotiate last minute rooms, an even colder and more miserable experience. We begrudgingly settled on paying out the nose for the dodgiest looking hotel on the mountain. Which won out by virtue of being the least disturbing orifice that we had the prospect of paying from. Also, I like to stay “dodgy” now, which I’ve decided is the British form of “sketchy.”

We slept soundly that night, and woke up Wednesday morning, eager to finally ski the Dolomites. Brittany had been skiing a few times years earlier, but I had never touched a pair of skis. Figuring I’d pick it up by watching Brittany, I declined to pay for the one-hour lesson from a private instructor. How hard can skiing be, right?

That’s an interesting question, and one I don’t think I’m fit to answer, given that I still haven’t been able to try this “skiing” that I hear so much about. But after Wednesday’s events, I’m now fit to teach a graduate-level course on a similar, but ultimately unrelated sport. I’m still working on its name, but I can tell you that it involves skidding uncontrollably down a mountain in a straight line, thereby rapidly gaining the momentum necessary to be ejected from your skis into a mid-air somersault, and landing, sans dignity, face down in the snow. Other classes I’ll be offering on the slopes back home include:

  • Locating Buried Skiis
  • Mid-Air Acrobatics 101
  • Proper Use of Shoulders to Efficiently Carry Skis Past Danger Zones
  • Practical Application: How to put your skis back on mid-slope, and then instantly achieve terminal velocity

Trying to understand these "skis"You might think that I couldn’t be THAT bad at skiing, but I promise you that I’m far worse than you could ever imagine. My case in point: My lift pass was good for 3 hours of use, which I imagine is enough for a moderately evolved, half-drunk human being to go up and down the mountain several times. Three hours after starting, I was still lost somewhere on the mountainside, not having managed to descend the slope ONCE.

Eagle-eyed passers-by would sometimes spot one of my limbs protruding from beneath the snow, and ski on over to offer helpful advice in the many languages of the world. One fellow (Swiss, I think) taught me how to stand upright on my skis on a hill, which allowed me to peacefully meditate on nature’s majestic beauty in between harrowing tumults down her sheer cliff faces. An Italian man tried to teach me a scissor-like skiing technique, which I took to mean is good for beginners. Putting this technique into practice immediately resulted in one of my more epic catapaultings of the day. I still need to thank him, since his advice allowed me to absorb the beautiful mountain views from far more interesting angles than most visitors will enjoy.

Brittany hung around to watch my antics for some time, but even she eventually moved on to participate in actual skiing. During my eternal descent down the mountain, I had time to note that I was lapped by the following:

  • Children
  • The elderly
  • A skier talking on a cellphone (seriously)
  • Hikers
  • Snow

My favorite skiing positionIf I’ve ever been worse at anything in my life, I can’t remember it. And just in case all of the above humiliation wasn’t quite sufficient, I also managed to tear holes in two pairs of pants, and rip three fingers off my right-hand glove. Imagine the worst skier you’ve ever seen – one tumbling, falling, and crawling his way down the mountain. Now please introduce me to him, so I can correct my initial mistake and finally pay for a lesson.

The weird thing is, you’d think that after all that, I’d be done with skiing forever. But I guess I’m enough of a masochist to say that I’d give it another go. However, at the urgent insistence of my knees, thighs, butt, arms, back, and neck, let’s just not make it too soon.

NEXT: Bienvenue en France! »



8 responses so far

8 Responses to “Ben vs. the Dolomites”

  1. Davidon 13 Dec 2007 at 11:31 pm

    Wow…your description of skiing sounds exactly like my experience back in college! I was also passed by many a-3 year old. And when you fall so much that the snow gets so packed into your boots that your boots won’t snap back into your skis anymore? Awesome. Ski trip next winter!

  2. Benon 14 Dec 2007 at 3:25 pm

    I see we are kindred spirits! The picture of me staring down is actually me trying in vain to snap my snow-encrusted boots into the skis. The best part about skiing might be falling while trying to scrape the snow out of the boots. Hooray for new lows!

  3. Laurieon 15 Dec 2007 at 11:33 am

    Gee, and I thought Dolomites were stuffed grape leaves! I think cross country skiing is “more fun” anyway. I think you would be successful at it too!

  4. Kellyon 16 Dec 2007 at 9:27 am

    Ben…I think we’d be good ski lodge ski-watching, cocoa-drinking buddies…I am also one of the world’s worst skiers. Last time I went, I ended up in the woods in a hole, with one leg, with ski still attached, sticking straight up to the sky.

  5. Brittanyon 17 Dec 2007 at 10:18 am

    Kelly – I remember that time we went skiing with our dads as one of the funnier experiences of my life. Still tell the story of you whizzing by us, completely out of control, and collapsing in a heap at the bottom of the hill. :)

  6. Katieon 29 Dec 2007 at 1:34 pm

    Sorry Ben – but I haven’t laughed so hard in a good long while! After reading through – I couldn’t even read it aloud to hubby – had to make him come over and read it himself because I couldn’t see through the tears from laughing so hard.

    You both write great reports – thanks for sharing your adventures!

  7. Christine Fulghamon 30 Dec 2007 at 1:48 am

    Oh Ben, sometimes lessons don’t help. Picture me skiing for the first (and only) time, looking FINE in my new ski duds (of course I had to look the part!). I took one lesson, went down the hill half way and proceeded to take my skis off and walk the rest of the way down. My friends then found me at the bar in the lodge…exactly where I will be if they ever decide to go skiing again :)

    I love reading your blogs…it’s almost as exciting as working at CC ;) I hope you both have a wonderful New Years!

  8. Lakeshia Leepon 02 Feb 2011 at 1:32 pm

    Hi there! This post couldn’t be written any better! Reading this post reminds me of my good old room mate! He always kept talking about this. I will forward this page to him. Pretty sure he will have a good read. Thanks for sharing!

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