Skiing is a love/hate hobby for me. I love the mountains; the adrenaline rush of hurtling down pistes at speed and mostly the après ski. I hate the early mornings; the heavy ski boots and the queues to get on ski lifts. But after my eighth successive year, I can happily say that I am a dedicated ski bore!
Canazei was a bold new choice of destination for me, having always skied in Austria. It is true to say that it is a stunningly beautiful resort: a pretty little town, surrounded by the spectacular Dolomites on the Italian/Austrian border. It is amazing to see how the Dolomites can change colour during the day, depending on the weather conditions. On a sunny day (we had a few), they turn a wonderful pink shade in late afternoon and you can never tire of looking at them.
As with most ski flights, we left Dublin Airport at a horribly early hour (check-in was 4am) and the transfer coach on the other side was three hours to our resort. So it is quite a long day if you are travelling with children or suffer any flight delays (which thankfully we didn't.)
I was persuaded by friends to give Italy a try on the basis that Italian food would be better than the usual Austrian fare we've been used to (dumplings, followed by dumplings... you get the picture). Well, what can I say? I'm afraid the food was a hit-and-miss affair and being so close to Austria, consisted of more dumplings, with a few pizzas thrown in. On one occasion I was given a pizza with chips on top - a kind of fancy Italian chip butty, I suppose!
But Canazei is definitely worth a trip for its sheer beauty and also the endless pistes (1220km in total) that you can explore as part of the vast Dolomiti Superski area. This means that you can ski a different piste every day during a week's holiday, never having to go over the same ground twice. (If you are a real ski geek, you can also log on to the Dolomiti Superski website and enter your ski pass serial number to see how many kilometres you have skied and where you've skied, etc!)
This is a great resort for good intermediate skiers (so I was happy) but there is not much to challenge the more ambitious skier. Also, the pistes did get quite crowded and the queues in the morning at the main Belvedere gondola were pretty bad (although they did move very fast.) If you are in to spotting naff, 1970s-style ski wear on the slopes (which I am) then this is the resort for you! I lost count of the amount of all-in-one peach, yellow or lime green ski suits I saw - with matching big hair! It was hilarious.
One of the jewels in Canazei's crown is the famous Sella Ronda circuit. This is 40km of continuous ski circuit where you can travel around the entire Sella mountain range (either clockwise or anti-clockwise) taking in some of the most glorious scenery I've ever seen. If you are a hardened ski-bore, you can probably do the whole circuit in about three hours. But I like to take my time and relax a bit. I started the circuit with a group of friends (and Simon our lovely ski guide from the Marmolada Ski School) at about 9.30am and we finished up at around 4pm. We took in a few mountain restaurants en route to sample some more dumplings and the infamous Jäger Tea (a lethal mix of tea, Jägermeister and rum - not a good idea to have too many of these when skiing!).
Now let me tell you about Leo, or Le Angelo to use his full name. My friend Séamus and I signed up for four mornings of lessons to improve our technique (it doesn't matter how good a skier you are, you can always improve on your technique!). We were put into Leo's class with a few mainly Irish, British and Danish people. Well, we must have been bad in a previous life, because Leo was a very scary person! There is no disputing that he was a thorough and dedicated teacher, but he favoured the army boot camp approach (or ski-boot camp!) If we got something wrong, he would shout at us. On one occasion he bawled, "Do you have a brain?" Oh dear...! But my husband was in Simon's class (mentioned above) and he was everything you'd expect in a ski instructor: friendly, fun and very patient. Never mind, Leo was very entertaining in a weird kind of way... he was the Anne Robinson of the ski slopes!
Two friends in our party opted for private lessons of one hour each day, as these are more intensive than the bigger classes. The lessons were good value and much cheaper than other resorts I've visited. They seemed happy enough with the tuition they received, but I think they both prefer the après ski. I overheard them saying, "We're so over skiing! Can we go to Lanzarote next year?" But they keep coming back, so I expect to join them again on the slopes next year.
The après ski was OK in Canazei but it can't compare to some Austrian resorts I've visited such as Zell am See and Saalbach. There is something about the après ski vibe in Austria that just can't be matched anywhere else (dancing on tables in your ski boots singing along to cheesy Austrian and Europop tunes - bliss!!). But having said that, there were a few fun bars in the main village such as the Rose Garden and Montanara Bar. The latter had live music each afternoon/early evening and was very popular with the mainly Danish and Russian crowd.
All in all, this is a really excellent resort and I would recommend it for the brilliant skiing and pure physical beauty of the place. We were particularly lucky with the snow this year (visited in early February). Apparently in 2009, the Italian ski resorts have had the best snow levels for nearly 30 years. But if you are looking for more of a party town (we had a couple of singletons in our group who are always hopeful!), then you should definitely go to Austria!
My overall rating for Canazei: 7.5 out of 10.