Do the après-ski stretch
Leslie Woit discovers the benefits of a yoga workout on a ski holiday in the Dolomites
Saturday 26 January 2013
I don't associate skiing with healthiness. If you do it like most people – for a week, once a year, using knee joints and leg muscles that do little else for the other 51 weeks – a sudden ski trip can be a first-class ticket to a World of Pain. And that's before you factor in long nights, high altitude, sun exposure, and filling your body with as much glühwein as possible. Despite what some people want to believe, skiing doesn't make you fit.
Enter Fitscape, a company with designs on getting you fitter and healthier, while taking you skiing. On the company's Ski Dolomite weeks, the day starts with a 7am stretch class, before skiing with a host and or local ski instructor, then returning to the hotel for a 45-minute fitness session followed by an hour of yoga.
We stayed in the heart of the coral-tinged splendour of the Italian Dolomites, in the tiny village of San Cassiano. Its five-star Hotel Rosa Alpina, as legendary as it is beautiful, is a shrine to gourmet decadence, within a fork-stabbing of the two-Michelin-starred St Hubertus restaurant, a cork pull from a cellar full of top South Tirolean wines, and a few slipper-padded steps from the award-stealing Daniela Steiner spa. All this and a workout too? Give me strength.
Immediately Fitscape instructors James and George put us at ease. "It's your holiday, not a boot camp," George insists. And he seems unfazed when attendance at his fitness sessions drops. Likewise, James, our yoga guru, appears good humoured when stretch class numbers shrink. The group – a mix of solos, couples and mates – have the freedom to do as they wish.
Everyone skis or boards each day, of course. The group is split into two, with a local instructor each. Every afternoon, about half of us took consistent advantage of après-ski yoga. This was more like "flow yoga" than posture-challenging practice, with James, a reformed City trader now based in Ibiza, focusing on therapeutic loosening of specific ski-addled muscles. Several in the group were yoga newbies, and he handed out blocks and cords to aid the inflexible. Carefully and conscientiously he adjusted our limbs and gave direction, peppering our practice with tips to the path of good health. One suggestion was the at-home internal organ massage: apparently you can do your liver good by lying on your back and pulling your leg over your right hip (though put down your drink first).
"Inhaaale, exhaaale!" he intoned with convincing vibrato as we held our downward dog position, hands down, bums high in the air. James told us that this was our "rest position". Someone in the back snorted in disbelief. I opened my eyes briefly and caught an upside-down glimpse of a waiter passing by with a bucket of champagne. He winked. I felt his zen.
"I was interested to see the difference it would make," said Kirsty, an accountant from south London. "Usually when I've gone skiing with friends we were straight into après-ski on the mountain, then more of it off the mountain, then stay out really late. We would wake up feeling crippled. This morning, I didn't feel stiff at all."
Satisfied with her little experiment, Kirsty wasn't to be seen again, instead spending her time after skiing enjoying the lavish spa (this one is the world headquarters for the whole Daniela Steiner empire), reading and relaxing. Each evening, we'd convene in the stylish hotel bar for après-ski with Giorgia, the loveliest bartender in the Dolomites, who ministered many life-affirming glasses of the excellent local red wine, soignée in her smart Prada-esque frock. Like all the staff here, the smiles and charms of family-run Rosa Alpina are unparalleled. Even if yoga isn't on your radar, this all-inclusive deal makes a stay at a normally very pricey Relais & Chateaux property temptingly affordable.
"Our only decisions are where to ski and where to have lunch," observes Stuart, back for his second Fitscape week at the Rosa Alpina, It's a tempting conundrum in Alta Badia with 500km of pistes circling the Sella massif, as well the larger Dolomiti Superski area on one lift pass. Then again, just a few hours after wolfing down an amazingly tasty bowl of arrabiata, I was cross-legged on the floor trying in vain to hold in my stomach. "Send your arms to the ground, bow your head, and relax your eyelids," said James. "Raise your lips up in a smile and take a moment to feel gratitude for the person you are."
I paused to tuck in my legs to make way for Andrea, nipping out in time to make it downstairs for her 6pm massage. And that's OK. Because whether you're on the mat or the mountain, there are many different pistes to enlightenment.
The closest airports to San Cassiano are Treviso, served by Ryanair (0871 246 0000; ryanair.com) from Stansted and East Midlands; and Innsbruck, served by easyJet (0843 104 5000; easyJet.com) from Bristol, Liverpool and Gatwick, BA (0844 493 0787.ba.com) from Gatwick and Monarch (08719 40 50 40; flymonarch .com) from Manchester.
Fitscape (020-8968 0501; fitscape.co.uk) offers a week at Rosa Alpina in the Dolomiti Superski area from £1,875pp with accommodation, all fitness sessions, daily yoga, six days of guided skiing, half board and airport transfers. Flights extra. Next departure: 17 March. For bookings made before the end of January, customers receive up to £200 towards their flights.
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