he gleaming Maserati in a large glass box 20ft from Rifugio Averau is the giveaway. When there's a will to airplift two tonnes of exotic Italian sports car onto an exposed mountain ridge, it's probably OK not to worry whether you packed enough fun-sized Snickers, or the camp stove you've used at Cubs. Right up until this point, I've been dubious about the Cortina d'Ampezzo tourist board's insistence that I do not need a towel, sleeping bag, multiple sets of thermals, torch ... or my own body weight in chocolate.
Why the big flap?
Well, because - and I'm embarrassed to admit this - in a decade at Fall-Line, many years' skiing before that, I've never stayed in a refuge until now.
Casting my mind back to all those into-the-wilds features I've commissioned and proof-read, the universal element that stays with me is discomfort. It usually sounded as though the skiing made it worth it, but let's just say the sort of windy, barren, basic shelters usually used were not going to threaten the Tripadvisors leaderboard.
Closer to the Mountaintops
Even disregarding the Maserati, and it's beautifully lit box, Averau, at 2413m on a ridge, with lift access from either side, looks different. It's big, modern and pretty much like a standard European smart mountain restaurant. Which it is during the day. But once the lifts close at 4.30pm, they push on through with 40-odd beds available to skiers who are touring theÂ Superski Dolomiti region. Or those, like me, who simply fancy a night away from their hotel, a little closer to the mountaintops.
It's Really Rather Nice
At first, I stand around like lemon. There's no obvious reception as such and it's a few minutes before I notice a small groups, all with matching Scott backpacks, stowing their skis in tiny room attached to the side of the building.
I do likewise and, back inside again, copy them, sitting about with my boots off until one of the staff takes pity on me and tells me where to hang them downstairs and that I'm staying on the second floor. It's really rather nice. Light, airy, warm, and lots and lots of wood.
Heaven knows how much Sandro, the refuge's owner, who is also behind the bar, has spent on the place (it has been renovated in the past few years)
Especially with all those power showers and perfect beams having to be helicoptered up from Cinque Torri or Fedare, the two ski bases the refuge sits above and between.
How Pretty the Early Evening Glow
Outside my window the sun is already getting low, with just the top of the giant slice of Dolomites rock that dominates the Averau still lit. It looks like a giant pecan peeping out of a huge mound of vanilla ice cream.
Taking my 482nd photo, yet somehow failing to capture anything like how pretty the early evening glow is, I get chatting to one of the Scott crew. They're a family being led around the area by Tim Hudson, a Brit who runs Inspired ITALY Dolomites Ski Safari. Over a drink - beer for me, Sambuca with ice for him (well, he is living in Italy now!) - he confirms what Marianne from the tourist board told me in town. Namely, that there aren't many better places for a first tatste of rifugi living.
"They're definitely not all like this," he says, laughing hard. "I wish they were." And for €60 per person if you stay in a dorm room (six to ten people), or €85 each if you're in a twin bunk-room like me, it's good value too. Especially as Mrs Sandro's excellent four-course dinner is also included.
As the bar slowly winds down around the midnight, and the staff set up the breakfast buffet (also included), Tim tells me he's doing it all over again tomorrow, with his group going hut-to-hut all week. I wish I could join them, but I settle for a peaceful night's slepp followed by a blast around the Super 8 route, a large figure of eight taking in Averau, Col Gallina, San Cassiano, Lagazuoi and Cinque Torri and involving reds, blues, couloir-tight gaps in the rock and a little horse-drawn drag. And, in keeping with my soft introduction to hut life, not a step of uphill.
Article by Jonny Richards, FALL-LINE Magazine. All copyright acknowledged.
This article first appeared in Fall-Line Magazine in February 2015
Rifugio Averau features as part of the following Inspired ITALY Dolomites Ski Safari adventures ...
- CLASSIC Dolomites Safari - CLICK HERE
- VENTURE Dolomites Safari - CLICK HERE
- SPECIAL Dolomites Safari - CLICK HERE
- Dolomites Safari for Solo Skiers - CLICK HERE