Fine food and great wines are the focus of the Taste For Skiing programme on the slopes of the Italian Dolomites, writes Lisa Mitchell.
the young sous chef proffers me a plate and says: “Troot”. It takes me a second to realise this is the famed trout from three-Michelin starred chef Norbert Niederkofler.
But this is not a white table-clothed, silver service posh dining room. I’ve just skied up to a mountain refuge, unclipped my skis and stomped into the hut with my boots still on.
This is one of 13 restaurants or refuges in the Alta Badia ski resort in the Italian Dolomites that serve Michelin-starred food, and this year, A-list chefs like Giorgio Locatelli have partnered with each restaurant to create a special dish for the A Taste For Skiing programme.
I’ve arrived on the day the resort opens, when – for 24 hours only – you can buy a pass for a Gourmet Ski Safari and try mini portions of them all. And to mark this special day, many of the chefs are up the mountain, cooking in person.
The trout dish, which Norbert (everyone calls him Norbert) has whimsically entitled Once Upon A Time There Was A Trout is such an incredible treat, I savour every mouthful.
The young chef who offers me the plate fiercely holds on to it until she has explained every exquisite ingredient. The trout is raw and served haché (minced), she tells me. Along with the roe on top, it’s “very special” because it’s from the cold water of the Dolomites, towering above us.
As part of the gourmet ski safari, each dish is paired with a local wine. The trout comes with a Riesling which is dry, crisp and perfect. But there’s not time to linger – it’s off to another restaurant, La Tabla, just a couple of runs and a ski lift away.
The slopes between the refuges are mostly red and blue-level runs, suitable for an intermediate skier, and the region has an excellent network of snow cannons, so the runs are reliably open.
However, this year we’re lucky and the snow is natural. The flakes are falling again and the temperature has dropped to minus 14C. The team behind chef Alberto Faccani must be regretting setting up their table outside.
It turns out the soup he’s created is just the thing for warming up. The theme for A Taste For Skiing is childhood flavours and Alberto turned to his grandmother Ada for inspiration. It’s a simple broth with pasta, paired with a glass of, by this time, very chilled Pinot Bianco.
The weather seems to be closing in, so it’s back onto the skis and I push off for the next stop, refuge Bioch, a pine-clad cafe.
This part of the South Tyrol has a unique culture and language called Ladin. Chef Nicola Laera drew on memories of afternoons spent with his grandfather and ingredients common in Ladin to produce a wonderfully rich dish of veal cheeks with gremolata (garlic, lemon and parsley) and roasted prunes.
The meat just falls off the bone and is deliciously matched with a glass of Lagrein, a red wine grape native to the South Tyrol and hard to find at home.
I reason with myself that I must be skiing off some of the calories between stops and head for the Las Vegas lodge, where Giuseppe Biuso is serving lobster in a bisque sauce.
At 50 euros (£44) including wine, the Gourmet Ski Safari really does seem incredible value, even if I’ve only had four of the 13 dishes.
If you can’t wait until the next Gourmet Ski Safari in December, the full versions of the Michelin-starred dishes are available every day, starting from 15 euro each, including the matching glass of wine.
At Norbert’s restaurant in San Cassiano, the 12-course tasting menu will set you back 250 euros (£220).
The Alta Badia region is rich pickings for gourmands; three restaurants have Michelin stars and many are in the guide, including the one at my hotel, La Majun in La Villa.
La Majun is a relaxing hotel with its own cosy bar and fantastic spa, perfect for soaking those aching legs after a hard day’s skiing.
Back on the slopes, I stop off at Lee, a snug wooden chalet, where London-based chef Giorgio Locatelli is responsible for a rabbit and polenta dish. I also enjoy a dish of homemade pasta, beautifully crafted and served with a simple butter sauce.
I eat it with a Pinot Noir, described by local wine expert Hubert Kastlunger as tasting of strawberries and perfect with pasta and light meats like veal.
Hubert is the Sommelier On The Slope who leads a daily three-hour ski tour across the mountain, stopping for three wine tastings at mountain restaurants.
When he arrives at a tasting stop, he unzips his ski jacket, revealing a white shirt and bow tie, and with a flourish, unfurls an apron.
If wine tasting on skies sounds like a disaster waiting to happen, fear not. No-one drinks too much – perhaps two small glasses per stop – and there are nibbles served alongside the wine.
There’s more of the local grape, Lagrein, which Hubert predicts “in 10 years will be the premier wine in the South Tyrol”. And with every tasting of Gewürztraminer, Pinot Bianco and Sauvignon Blanc, a shout of “Vivas!” – the Ladin for cheers – rings around the table.