Cold Plunge

When my friend Roberto invited me to join him in Cortina, Italy for a ski trip, my response was – sure if I can use miles to get a ticket. This comment pretty much (I thought) ensured that I would not be joining him as trying to get mileage tickets on less than a month’s notice, generally doesn’t go smoothly. Amazingly however, the gods of free airline travel smiled on me and a ticket was procured! My penance for this good fortune, was a brutal flight schedule and affectively 40 hours of travel to get to Cortina.

To get to Italy I had to leave Bangkok around 6am and fly to Shanghai, China (break out your world maps and you will notice that China is not obviously on the way to Italy from Thailand). In Shanghai I ate a meal of dumplings whose contents and cost were completely indeterminable to me before venturing onward. From China I flew to Munich, Germany where I managed to find Roberto in the sea of people – no small feat since neither of us had a working cell phone and had failed to set a rendezvous point.

We boarded a train south rode it for about three hours, slept through our stop, woke up too deep into Italy, caught two more trains to get to a town from which we could catch a bus and finally arrived in Cortina at around 9pm, a few times zones and a calendar day away from when I left Thailand. That night it was all either of us could do to not pass out in our pasta, but as we stumbled through the town the reality that we were together and we were in Italy began to sink in!
The next morning we went out to get a cappuccino as we waited for the tram to open. I am not sure there is a better feeling than the mixture of excitement and anticipation that filled me in that café. After six months of Nescafe, I was sipping on honest to God Italian espresso, while diligently studying the ski trail map and staring up at the Dolomites with my dear friend by my side. Wow – how is it I get to do all of these amazing things?
Unbelievably the day far surpassed my expectations, which were really quite high. The sky was crystal clear and so blue it looked purple against the stark grey rock of the Dolomites. Thanks to friends back home I had all my own ski gear brought over. Enveloped in Gortex, merino wool and boot heaters, I was actually hot on the slopes. My fear of heights quelled itself long enough for me to ride up the teleferic in an upright manner and the crush of people on the tram prevented me from assuming my standard fetal position when I am dangling hundreds of feet over rocks.Up top the grin across my face began to take hold and it would not release its grip on my cheeks until many hours later. The slopes were perfect, groomed by Ferrari red Piston Bully cats, the wide and steep runs were devoid of people, soft and buttery. On the sides of the runs were fields of untouched powder, which I indiscriminately popped in and out of. Lift lines were nonexistent, as were lift attendants, it was like we’d been given the keys to the kingdom and all the guards were out to lunch.
Roberto and I plucked vertical feet like they were cherries. We tested the sound barrier as we raced down impossibly steep groomed trails and stopped only to ogle at our surroundings and we used trees drowning in powder as slalom gates. The grin kept creeping up my cheeks and my eyes welled with tears which then would freeze mid-way down may face. Skiing in Europe has always been a dream of mine and this day was better than I could ever have hoped.
We ate lunch with a 180-degree view of the valley below and the surrounding peaks, after which we did it all again until finally around 3pm our jellified legs carried us back to the tram and delivered us to the streets of Cortina.

Jet lag set in pretty good once we got back to town so the grin melted away for a few hours while I napped, but when I woke up and realized that I had just had the greatest first ski day of the year ever, that I was in Italy and that a dinner of something cured, drowned in butter and topped with shaved truffles awaited me, the grin reaffixed itself to my cheeks and off I went to restore my cholesterol to Western levels once again.

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