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Colletts Dolomites ski safari ...

 Poster: A snowHead
Poster: A snowHead
Just back from this and thought others might be interested in how it all worked.

First of all I’d emphasise we had an absolutely great time, and the things I’m commenting on here didn’t prevent that, but it might help manage others expectations....and encourage them to pack light!

So - we chose Colletts based on a bit of on -line research and the handful of only positive comments on Snowheads.

Rather than try to round up my usual skiing buddies into joining me on a trip that I really wanted to do, I just put it to them that I was going to go on the March 3 departure and if they wanted to sign up they should get on with it as the site made it clear that there was a maximum of 10 spaces available. I didn’t try to get a group discount but as the team grew to 8 between the date being launched last May and the last of us booking in July I kept Colletts informed that we were a group. Having got to eight we looked forward to the trip, knowing that we would assimilate a maximum of another 2 into our group, which as we are nice guys (really) that should be easy....

After a bit of faff ensuring that we had transfers that worked with flights from the Northern Poorhouse (we paid a reasonable 10 euros a head extra to get a private transfer return transfer earlier than the included one) all was set.

We got our itinerary a couple of weeks before and it confirmed we would have to carry our luggage on a couple of easy short slopes so make sure we had a rucksack.

So off we go - bit of a wait at Venice Marco Polo as different flights arrive but that’s normal so into a comfy bus around 1300 for the 2 hour drive. As Colletts also do chalet/hotel stuff in Arabba it wasn’t obvious that perhaps there were more than 10 for ski safari until we got off for the first night at Albergo La Baita

Arriving at 1530 (after a bit of a scruffy lunch/loo stop) the guys who wanted to hire kit expected to be able to sort it out but La Baita is up a mountain pass and a 45 min round trip to Arabba and they were told it would be better to sort next morning. Hmmm.

At around 6 we were introduced to our ski guides - 2 instructors from Arabba ski school and it became clear there were 18 people on the trip and that Colletts had effectively out sourced to Arabba Holidays - who themselves use the Arabba Ski School for guides (maybe they are co-owned - not sure). Raising the issue with the Colletts rep at the hotel he said there wouldn’t be a Colletts staffer on the trip and the Guide/Instructors would sort it out. We made it very clear we had booked as an 8 on a maximum 10 trip. Hmm again.

Food that evening was pretty average but the location was beautiful though as the next morning dawns bright our spirits are slightly diminished as the ski school have only assigned 2 x 8 seater minibuses to us do we can’t all go down to Arabba together. This round of faff means it’s 10 am before we get going and proceed to cause a road block at the first two lifts as our group of now 18 plus 2 guides = 20 tries to sort itself out. Unsurprisingly by the third lift we’ve lost someone from our 8 - they’ve jumped on the wrong lift.

Aaargh another 30 min delay but it does mean that we split into a 10 and an 8 with us adopting two guys who wanted to come with us.

Except we don’t really split as the instructors are very keen to link us back up and do so by coffee (four lifts into the day)

So our now moving piste block starts to make progress towards night 2 at Rifugio Fermeda in the Val Gardena.

We pick up our large rucksacks, which have been transported by road for us, at the top of the funicular at Santa Cristina, haul them onto a bubble and then onto a chair (interesting) with the realisation that we are going to have to ski most of a red run at the end of a long day to the Refugio. (There was some impressive carrying by one of the instructors as someone had ignored the instruction and brought a coffin sized roller bag) Excited but a bit nervous we all manage it and are treated by a couple of end of day runs on the deserted slope - finally this was it was all about, topped off by a couple of beers on the terrace in the sunset - all was well!

Food in the Refugio was great though it was cosy bunk accommodation with 8 of us together, with the other 10 in another bunk room, including the only woman on tour (her friend had been delayed and was to arrive next day). Fair to say she wasn’t very happy but the Refugio was full with so limited options.

In spite of the shortage of showers and the crammed bunks the magic was there - we were up the hill, the stars were out and an impromptu sing-along to an acoustic guitar was almost tuneful after a few fruity grappas.

Next morning was tempered by the realisation that we were going to ski the rest of the red and a blue with bags - relatively easy after the night before's Red but not quite the first tracks experience we’d hoped for. And, in spite of much discussion with the instructors the night before we were still skiing as a twenty.

Half a busy Sella Ronda later (and a bad crash which I won’t dwell on that was dealt with professionally by the instructors and a Doc in our group) and we finally started to get away from the crowds as we headed east to Boffaure. A bus ride to Lusia and our dreaded bags were there to meet us at the bottom of a bubble. Up the top was another red and this time it was chopped and a bit narrow at one point. Skiing it was not fun and we had at least one faller (me! - more of a controlled descent into the snow of course but slightly unnerving with a 20kg bag!) . Finally we arrived at Refugio Luisa - time for a quick last loop and then the realisation that we were somewhere very special. It was only our (now 19) staying there and the little family than ran it were fantastic as was the food they prepared for us.

And the next morning was perfect. Groomers to die for, misty sunshine and all to ourselves for the first hour as we made our way to Latemar via a 30 min local ski bus transfer each way. Bad weather came in the pm making our return a bit tricky and there were some concerns and discussion about the instructors not back marking in the mist but we all got back safe for another-sing song and another discussion about the group size.

When the Trip Itinerary first arrived I think we were a little disappointed to see we had two-night stays at two of the rufugios but in fact the second night at Lusia made the trip. The overnight mist cleared to reveal beautifully pisted, deserted slopes and this was the best ski morning I've ever had. As there was no route finding issues and that we were all going back to Luisa for lunch we were finally "allowed" to split into two groups and we had a complete blast. Some impromptu coaching from the instructor and the perfect conditions meant we all thought we were Alberto Tomba!

In the afternoon we set off (bags via Luisa's skidoo - hurrah) to ski down to the road head at Bellamonte for a private transfer to San Martino di Castrozza. By now it was snowing and the drive through the national forest was magical.

Arrival at Rifugio Malga Ces was a little later than planned due to the weather so no last pistes unfortunatel, Malga Cesis is a mid-sized family hotel, a little beyond the edge of town, rather than a Refugio. But it is bang on-piste, with very comfy rooms and the food was ridiculously good so we were prepared to put up with luxury...

And again the next day we were first on-piste in the sunshine, and ski-ied the most beautiful ski area I've ever seen - stunning Dolomiti views in every direction. Again we managed to ski separately but an attempt to not meet up for lunch was met with "you are one group, not two" in direct contradiction of Colletts marketing that states "you will never ski in a group of more than 10". As it was I'd say we skied as a group of 17+2 about half of the time. But it was clear we weren't going to bridge the gap between Arabba Holidays, our expectations and Colletts marketing. So we finally relented and enjoyed the rest of the day, ending with a Bombalino with the Piste Police at the top of the last lifts and retired for another round of gluttony.

Last ski day started with a bus ride of 45 mins to a pass above Falcade, straight off the bus and down a long narrow blue (as a group 17+2....stop it) before we moved into the wide open pistes and had a wonderful last day cruising, trying out the new black from Col Margherita and taking in the views. Even the compulsory join up for a mass lunch didn't deter the spirits, and a final cheeky black in the slush took us to a last drink in the sun before retiring by mini bus into Canale d’Agordo and another huge meal at the Albergo alle Codole.

The early transfer was on time and we were back in Blighty for lunch.

So - in summary we had a very memorable week that could have been practically perfect in every way but wasn't quite due to to the group size issues

Ski Tracks says we averaged around 35km a day - the relatively short runs in the Dolomites plus some bussing around meant they were full days but far from gruelling. I think most blacks could be avoided if you wanted to but the snow was in great condition and all the blacks were reddish in these conditions.

I think more attention from me to the detail in the trip notes from Colletts should have managed the expectation that we would get first tracks (we managed three mornings, plus one with bags)

and last runs of the day (again we managed three days where we got that - probably could blame the weather for missing out on a couple more).

and Staying "up the mountain" - four nights yes , but the first was a bit of a disadvantage as couldn’t ski and meant bussing issues next morning - no advantage really as food wasn't great there either.

However - it over-delivered with the quality of the food after the first night, the impromptu mini lessons from the guide and the stupendous scenery.

I think any keen piste skier would enjoy this holiday immensely- especially if you expectations are managed accordingly.

Hope it helps to anyone thinking of this type of trip - though one last thing, it was mostly 50+ men (some +++ including an 80 year old Kiwi who skied really old school and had no problems with the pace!) . Dont know if this is the norm but it was quite marked on our trip.

Post Script - since getting back I've fed back to Colletts and to Tom Collett's great credit he rang me personally to explain the mix up on group sizes, assure me that it was very unusual and express regret that we didn't call him during the tour so he could sort it out with Arabba Holidays in the moment. Ive reflected on that and I think we had a daily expectation that it would be ok the following day - hence didn't kick off on the trip. I think it was probably a sensitive dynamic between the other 12 on the trip and the ski guides that stopped us from going direct to Colletts.

Anyhow, I have a feeling that if we book again, Tom will personally make sure that it goes without a hitch!
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 Obviously A snowHead isn't a real person
Obviously A snowHead isn't a real person
Thanks for the trip report. I've been interested in these ski safaris for a while. Good to hear a first hand report of how they work, and the potential issues you might encounter.

I assume you bag wasn't really 20kg? Mine doesn't make that even with all my clothes for a week and my ski boots in it.
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 Well, the person's real but it's just a made up name, see?
Well, the person's real but it's just a made up name, see?

I assume you bag wasn't really 20kg? Mine doesn't make that even with all my clothes for a week and my ski boots in it.

Indeed - I was stunned to imagine that anybody would need more than half that, given that heavy stuff like boots and ski outerwear wouldn't be in it!
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 You need to Login to know who's really who.
You need to Login to know who's really who.
Change of ski jacket everyday, all those heavy charging leads, laptop, latest Dan Brown, a couple of kilos of chocolate haha - but no you're right I was exaggerating (its funny the things people pick up on in a trip report - and are stunned by). It weighed in at 18kg at the airport but that included boots so probably <14 kg. I would take less next time.
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