There's skiing the Alps, and then there's skiing the Italian Alps. Unlike what we're accustomed to in United States, the Italian version of skiing involves frequent on-mountain stops to consume copious quantities of food and drink, and – if you're lucky enough to be skiing the subrange known as the Dolomites – the chance to experience Sella Ronda. This one-of-a-kind connection of lifts and downhill runs functions like an alpine merry-go-round, circumnavigating a particularly vertiginous chunk of the Dolomites named the Sella Massif. Skiers use lifts to move either clockwise or counterclockwise around Sella, negotiating four mountain passes and bombing down what amounts to 25 miles of beginner-to-intermediate groomers. In true Italian form, Sella Ronda is rife with rifugios – mountain huts serving everything from pizza to Michelin-starred cuisine.
Plenty of people ski Sella Ronda as a do-it-yourself day tour, and the circuit is well marked with signs. To ensure that we sampled the best cappuccino and vino en route, we opted to hire a guide from Dolomite Mountains, which crafts "custom adventures" in the region. We met him on a sunny bluebird morning in January at Covara; of the four main entry points, it is the closest to our hotel in the village of Alta Badia. The one rule on Sella Ronda is to start by 10:00 am so that you're finished by the time the lifts close at 4:00 pm.
From the very first run, we appreciated the gentle slopes – anything more technical would have distracted from the scenery. As we skied, we gaped at 360-degree views of endless snowfields peppered with pine forests set against a backdrop of colossal limestone buttresses, bluffs, and spires. Even the rifugios were designed to showcase the landscape, with ample wraparound porches so skiers can soak in the gigantic views and the sunshine – all while sipping, in our case, locally made grappa. [From $53 for a basic day pass, includes access to 53 lifts; altabadia.org]