On the heels of VBT’s very first Ski Vacation, I joined Gregg, VBT Ski Product manager Garrott and a great group of our travelers in Europe for our Slovenia, Italy & Austria: Cross-Country Skiing the Alps tour. It was a fantastic time spent in the snow— and believe me, there was plenty of it!
We started our time together in Venice. Many in the group had taken advantage of our Pre-trip extension, where we enjoyed a wonderful stay at our Venice Hotel, the Dona Palace. I spent the first day exploring the famed city with Lorraine, a member of our group. The streets were bustling but not crowded. The Grand Canal was lively and still lit with Christmas decorations and St. Mark’s square at night was magical with its cathedral illuminated. Of course there were plenty of boutiques with locally blown glass, perfect for window-shopping and Lorraine and I even explored a bookmaking shop to check out an old leather embossing machine. We wandered the maze of narrow streets, walking over the Rialto Bridge, the Bridge of Sighs and watching the gondolas – each one a work of art – go by with bundled up tourists. All in all we had a wonderful time touring Venice, and we were excited to hit the trails!
The first day of our ski tour began with a water taxi in Venice and then a transfer to Slovenia. As if on-cue, that’s when the snow began to fall—and it continued for days. On the way to Slovenia, we met our Trip Leaders, Bodhi, and Matija, for lunch in Tarvisio and then moved on to ski in Kranjska Gora. Upon arrival we took advantage of the option to hone our skills a bit with local ski instructors who did an excellent job of getting everyone comfortable on their skis. It was also the perfect way for the group to get to know each other. Nothing like getting your ski legs back in order to break the ice. We had lots of laughs and lots of learning!
After a couple of hours of playing in the snow, we all went to the porch of the lodge of the ski shop where drinks and appetizers awaited us. The warm gluhwein tasted wonderful, as did the blueberry schnapps complete with a few blueberries at the bottom of each glass. We sampled local cheeses, meats and there was a terrific energy in the group as we began to get to know each other over cheers and even some polka dancing! We said our goodbyes to the jovial locals and made our way to the lovely, colorful Hotel Vitranc in the incredibly picturesque village of Podkoren as the snow continued to fall.
Our hosts, Richard and Mina, greeted us warmly at their hotel. We enjoyed a welcome reception and then dinner in the cozy dining room. The food was traditional and delicious and for dessert we were treated to gibanica, a layered confection made with buckwheat pastry, apples, a sweetened cheese and poppy seeds—the perfect ending to a perfect first day of skiing.
We spent the next two days awakening to fresh snow. Almost three feet had fallen since we had arrived in Europe and it could not have been more beautiful to see the fresh tracks going across the fields, along the river beds and into the deep woods. Often, the snow obscured our views of the surrounding Julian Alps, but every now and then jagged peaks would emerge overhead, demystified by a break in the snowfall.
Lunch on the second day of our Ski Vacation was particularly memorable. We enjoyed hearty bean soup in a bread bowl (complete with a fitting top, much like a carved pumpkin!), sandwiches and walnut cake for dessert. But our meal was not yet finished; onto the bar for a round of Bombardino. Small glass mugs with a strikingly yellow beverage were topped with huge dollops of whipped cream. Made up of rich eggnog, brandy and a portion of grappa, Bombardino is a traditional Italian drink of the mountains in winter. We had never tasted anything so good!
Up next was a great cultural encounter, the International Dog Sledding School. We all thoroughly enjoyed this adventure. Everyone had a chance to drive or mush a team, and boy could these dogs pull a sled. Nearly everyone in our group was hesitant at the take off because the dogs really want to go, but once the sled was underway, it was peaceful and amazingly quiet. One can’t help but marvel at the power of these creatures.
After taking in our beautiful surroundings, an open field with a hint of mountains in the backdrop, it was back to our accommodations at the quaint and inviting Hotel Vitranc. Following a lively dinner, we rested up for our next adventure.
The group rose, the next day ready to take on the tranquil route to the Olympic Center at Planica, home of the world’s largest ski flying hill. We met Joze Slibar, 1961 Ski Jump World Record holder, and watched a film about him and the history of the center. It was very interesting and we all learned so much. We skied up to the jumps, where Garrott and I, along with a few other guests, couldn’t resist making snow angels and burying ourselves in the fresh powder. Later, the ski back to Podkoren was just as gorgeous as it was on our way to Planica.
That evening we enjoyed a Slovenian cooking class under the guidance of our animated hostess, dressed in period costume, as her husband played the accordion. We made struklji, a soft dough formed into a ravioli type pouch filled with sweetened cheese and baked, then tasted our creations as a costumed Matija regaled us with tales of Kekec, the local folk hero from a children’s story.
The next morning we traveled on to Austria, where we enjoyed skiing in the falling snow on the beautifully groomed trails in Ramsau, arriving at the end of the day at our new hotel, the Almfrieden. Everyone met in the bar to share some local Slovenian wine and cheese that we were given, having been told to “dress very warmly” for our surprise evening adventure. We walked out of the hotel and were greeted by three horse-drawn sleighs. The next half hour could not have been more fun with laughter the whole way to the Gruberstube, an Austrian farmhouse restaurant, for dinner. The cold air, warm blankets, enormously powerful but frisky horses (urged on in German by their masterful drivers), and a little libation (Jagermeister in our sleigh) all combined for a magical memory and the perfect resolve to our outstanding Ski Vacation.
We return home with images of trails below granite giants, weaving in and out of farmland and rustic villages on our skis… of locals who are hardworking, friendly, and proud… of dogs and horses who know the countryside as well as any resident and of undulating blankets of fluffy snow cloaking a place where the land and terrain dictate the culture.
There’s still time to join VBT on a Ski Vacation this year!