You’re either a mountain person or a beach person, according to psychologists at the University of Virginia. A 2015 study, published in the Journal of Research in Personality, posits that those that prefer the mountains are typically more introverted and mindful, while those that choose the beach are the opposite. I’m an unabashed beach person, so I suppose it’s no surprise that I couldn’t profess to being very (or at all) mindful.
Which is why I’m in San Cassiano, one of the chocolate box villages that make up Italy’s Alta Badia, an upscale ski resort in the Dolomites. This province, South Tyrol, is a cross between Austria, Italy and something that is completely its own (the languages spoken here are German, Italian and local dialect Ladin, all interchangeably). Bakeries in this sweet little ski town are called both panetteria and backerai. Locals laugh that South Tyrol has all the Austrian efficiency and a deep appreciation of Italy’s dolce vita. Up here, even the mountains look more introverted. In the Alps, the peaks are more… obviously peak-like. Here in the Dolomites, they’re flat on top, brownish and sort of globbily cascade down.
This is the stage for my weekend of “mindful skiing”. It sounds like a ridiculous pitch, I know. But if any destination can turn me from an aggressively loud beach person into a mindful mountain person, it’s this village, this crisp air, this ultramarine sky.
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My weekend base is the deliciously labyrinthine Rosa Alpina, a family-owned ski lodge that is the cosiest place I’ve ever set my ski boots in. It’s all Japanese pine, camel-coloured woollen rugs that slide gracefully on stone floors and what should be incongruous Greek statues staring down from the lobby. Cosy loungers, throws and fires appear around every corner; historical photos of the hotel hang from the walls; and almost the entire back face of this luxury hotel is thrown wide open with floor to ceiling windows. It means the public areas including the spa, yoga studio and library face the snowy hills – so while you’re devouring, ahem, hopefully a more high brow book than this writer brought along, it feels like you’re sitting among the pines.
Yeah, I’m feeling more mindful already.
Rosa Alpina, which has been in the Pizzinini family since 1940, currently run by cashmere-jumpered husband and wife team Hugo and Ursula, is smack bang in the midst of lively San Cassiano. My room, in the newer Chalet Zeno within the hotel (I did say it was maze-like), overlooks the town’s 18th century baroque church and bell tower, the colour of pea soup, which rings cheerily every 15 minutes. A quick wander through the village reveals wooden mountain huts perched impossibly high up the snow-covered hills… and a cheese vending machine which Hugo scoffs as being “for tourists”. Could I love this town any more?
Although we’re in one of Italy’s premier resorts, downhill skiing is out on this exercise in mindfulness – although that doesn’t stop me looking wistfully at the other skiers crunching in and out of Rosa Alpina’s tidy boot room. Introspection means cross-country skiing: a workout far more hectic than it looks, especially for these under-exercised limbs.
And so early on Saturday morning when the South Tyrol sun is still a milky orb, I’m sliding around the San Cassiano cross-country ski track. I’m occasionally eyed by guide Giorgio, who interrupts my not-even-slightly-mindful mood to tell me my balance is all off. “Press your scales into the floor,” he advises. “Pretend you’re cleaning something!”
Right. My thighs ache.
That mindfulness turns into bloody-mindedness as I inch my hips forward and swing my ski poles in a jolly-hockey-sticks kind of way. When I do eventually get the hang of it, the slower pace means I can take advantage of the washed-out Italian sun rising above the mountains, the sharp blue of the sky above, the burning crisp coldness of the air. And the gorgeous snow-dripped pine trees we’re skating through… god this is exhausting, isn’t it?
Sore hamstrings and dented egos are soothed by an hour-long skim through Rosa Alpina’s decadent adults-only wellness area, with a scorching Finnish sauna and more manageable 55 degree version, which overlooks pine trees dripping with last week’s melting snow. Before a massage. Then a swim. Then lying flat out on a lounger. And then doing it all over again. The next morning, I breathe, stretch and enjoy the view during an hour-long morning yoga session in the glass-walled studio, which has the same backdrop of pine trees crawling up the peaks – perhaps I am turning into a mountain person after all?
In San Cassiano, mindful living also means eating indecorously: first with aperitivo of local spumante and crispy pizzetta, topped with nothing more complex than tomato and burrata, before dinner in the kitchen of Michelin-studded St Hubertus, conceived by local chef Norbert Niederkofler. I know we’re in the land of good living, but this is stretching the mindfulness assignment carpacchio-thin.
So, I’ll make this quick: little globes of beetroot gnocchi open to reveal horseradish cream; aged sourdough pulls apart warmly; and a deer antler shows up studded petits fours, including the whimsical candy floss dusted in coffee powder. If expanded waistlines mean expanded mindfulness, I’m fully onboard.
After two nights immersed in San Cassiano’s tinkly embrace, Rosa Alpina’s bare pine walls and lashings of spumante, I’m not sure I’ve quite achieved either an empty mind or a rebirth as a mountain devotee. But I’ve most certainly enjoyed the journey…
Return flights to Innsbruck start from £50pp with Ryanair.
Three nights at Rosa Alpina for “mindful skiing” is available from €2,240 (£1,963), including two morning private lessons, skis, poles and entry to the training circuit and 26km of cross-country trails, as well as two morning yoga sessions; rosalpina.it
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