The beautifully-groomed pistes above San Cassiano, part of the 130km Alta Badia lift system, are perfect for a mix of gentle cruising and the occasional faster burn. Most are backed up by snow cannons, so even if there hasn’t been much real snow they’re usually in good condition. The pistes in the sector immediately above Corvara remain in good nick – despite the occasional patch of bare earth – even in a dry January.
Once you’ve warmed up on these runs (and had at least one memorable lunch) it’s time to start exploring – in particular, aiming at the celebrated Sella Ronda circuit. This girdles the fortress-like Sella massif (the big lump of rock in the middle background to the right of the picture above), and is a great bit of ski tourism, provided you don’t mind the occasional lift queue. During busy periods it can take six hours to get round, so set off early. None of the pistes that make up the circuit is very difficult, though you should have couple of weeks’ skiing under your belt before you try it. The scenery throughout is superb, and on a sunny day it’s hard not to feel incredibly smug. It’s hard not to wonder why more people don’t ski, too.
Once you get your ski legs back, you should seriously consider some private tuition, which is dirt cheap here – less than half the price of the A-list resorts in France. There are also some steeper runs to aim for above Arabba, a hell-for-leather black (the local race track) down into la Villa, and another fun black above Corvara (see picture, above). But we wouldn’t advise San Cassiano as a destination for adrenaline-starved advanced or expert skiers. Or freestylers, either.
Look, we don’t want to waste your time. Italy is a skiing country, and many rental centres barely bother with boards. What’s more, the dry climate of the Dolomites may help to keep the snow-cannons running (they work better in low humidity), but it doesn’t make for frequent powder days. Nor does the terrain favour off-pisters. We’d go somewhere else.