‘Boris calls me the Daily Disaster’: Rachel Johnson on the joy of solo skiing

Usually the fiasco of her skiing group, our columnist finds her happy place on the slopes in the Dolomites
The Dolomites are Rachel's happy place
Rachel Johnson1 minute ago

My nickname on the slopes is the Daily Disaster. Friends call me this as skiing offers unlimited opportunities for me to make life annoying for others and my problems their problem. Let me explain...

Having just come back from the Dolomites in one piece, full of fresh air and fresh food, I think I only want ever to ski in Italy from now on. Not only is the landscape unbeatably and as heart-stoppingly beautiful as a large grappa after a long lunch in the Comici “rifugio” but the natives are not, shall we say, unacquainted with the concept of the fiasco. So it's perfect for me.

Daily Disaster never feels as at home as she does in Italy, a place which is equally indulgent of a senior moment as it is of a blonde moment

There was the time we were heli-skiing in Italy and our transport arrived at the helipad on the snow at La Thuile: I was the only member of the group who had managed to forget my ski boots. “There’s always one,” everyone chorused. Everyone (including the helicopter pilot) had to wait while I whizzed to the nearest rental, which was not exactly next door, for a spare pair.

Then there was the time I managed to pick up some child’s skis instead of my own after lunch on the mountain and every time I did a turn they shot off in different directions as they’d been set to half my weight. Und so weiter (as they say in the Austrian, and German Alps) and so on and so on.

This Christmas, I told myself sternly, it would be different. I would never be the Daily Disaster. I would be kommandant. I would be the one shouting "heraus"! at the others at 8:30am, suited and booted for a long day of piste bashing.

Rachel Johnson and writer Simon Mills during her ski trip to Italy
Rachel Johnson

I was in the Dolomites, which is one of my favourite places in the world since I took Boris to the Rosa Alpina — a family-run hotel in San Cassiano and we’d had a magnificent time gnawing on juicy grilled meats on sun terraces and ending our days being pulled along on a horse-drawn ski lift.

As the Rosa Alpina is undergoing a makeover we lucked into the old-school fairytale palace of the Gardena Grõdnerhof in Ortisei over the valley, where Alex, the handsome descendant of the founders greeted me in reception, clutching a dachshund puppy and looking very like the oil portraits of his great grandparents that hung proudly in the lobby.

Poor Alex had no idea what was about to hit him.

My suite looked out across the rushing Derjon river to twinkling and lively hiking, skiing and wood carvings. It was sublimely comfortable with crunchy white comforters and deep baths and chocolates on tap.

Gardena Grõdnerhof has views over the valley
Chalet Attico

The hotel has its own ski shop, so it took a mere seconds to equip myself with the needful, including brand new fake-fur lined ski boots the night before my first morning. I carefully packed everything I needed before going to bed as I was anxious to be ready to go. Tissues, lip salve, credit card, ski pass, gloves, goggles, sunglasses, a hat; all the accessories that are so easy to lose and expensive to replace were lined up by the door. At nine on the dot I met Marika — my ski guide and a former Italian champ – in the lobby. We got into a black van and drove to the ski station. We stomped up to the gate to the first gondola of the day and she swooshed through. Meanwhile, my gate just bleeped and remained closed.

A brief investigation into the incident revealed I had packed an Ortisei town bus pass rather than my ski pass, and we had to call Alex to search my entire suite to find the vital card and go through all my effects. He finally found it and sent it in a taxi back to ski station.

Daily Disaster had hit the ground running.

After that everything went swimmingly. Almost too well. It snowed, and then the sun came out. The slopes were empty-ish as it was the fortnight before Christmas. I dined for three nights at the Gardena as it has both a cosy family restaurant and a Michelin-starred snug called the Anna Stube. And every afternoon, after skiing, I had a pummelling massage in the world-class spa that is only open to hotel guests. It also has so many indoor and outdoor pools, ice and cold water plunges and saunas that I couldn’t manage to try them all.

The Gardena Grõdnerhof has a world-class spa
Fiorenzo Calosso

I'll admit I lost my room key daily, but managed not to lose anything else or take out a whole hillside of snow-ploughing beginners on a nursery slope. And best of all, the Italians seemed to take everything that happened on the chin, from the moment my EasyJet flight was diverted from Innsbruck to Salzburg, to the fact that I always left my pants behind in the spa — they were always safely and discreetly delivered to my room, not the dinner table, later.

I wasn’t treated like a Daily Disaster at all, but more like an ageing Italian movie star. Thank you Italy, the Dolomites, the Gardena Grõdnerhof: my forever happy place.

Rates at Gardena Grödnerhof start from €360 (approx. £310) per night on a B&B basis, gardena.it.

Ski passes, ski guides and mountain experiences can be arranged with Dolomite Mountains, dolomitemountains.com or al Gardena Tourist Board valgardena.it.