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19.11.17

Shouldn't more ski holidays be like this?

Sean Newsom joined our inaugural fitscape ski, fitness and yoga holiday in the Italian Dolomites last year and came back feeling fantastic. If you didn't catch his article in today's Sunday Times Travel section, read on:

Ski in the morning, drink all afternoon. That’s the usual formula. Not on a new ski and yoga break that gets your whole body healthy.

It’s 5.15pm and the end of a scintillating day’s skiing in the Italian Dolomites. The sun is shining, the snow is sparkling — and I am about to pass out. Not because I’ve had a skinful of Jägerbombs, but because I’m bent double in a yoga class in my hotel’s ballroom. My legs are straight, my elbows are tucked in behind my knees, and I can feel my heart thundering against my windpipe.

For the past 75 minutes, my body has been through one of the toughest tests it’s faced in years — an A-level examination of stomach muscles, hips and hamstrings, which I’m clearly failing. First, there was an hour of fitness, which morphed from a few simple leg stretches into 20 forms of torture for my abdomen. Then came yoga, which I hoped would offer some respite. But 15 minutes spent trying to turn my pelvis inside out has disabused me of that notion. Then it’s time to perform my final yogic manoeuvre of the afternoon. Let’s call it “exit on unsteady legs while panting like a dog”.

Back in my hotel room, I felt cauterised by the experience — my mind’s confidence singed by my physical shortcomings, my body aching in new and unfamiliar places. But I was also thrilled. I’d just seen the future of après-ski, and it didn’t involve getting drunk.

Yoga and skiing; fitness classes and skiing: obvious pairings, you’d have thought. After all, we are talking about a sport. It makes sense to regard a week in the mountains as an opportunity to give your whole body — not just your legs — a workout. But in 17 years on the slopes, I’ve never seen it done. Instead, the classic add-on to a day on the slopes has been red wine at lunch in a mountain restaurant, beers in a deckchair in the afternoon sun and vodka Red Bulls while you’re dancing on the table in a bar at 5pm. So vice-like has been the grip of boozy après-ski culture that I’ve never seen anything seriously suggested as an alternative — beyond the odd massage and an hour’s kip back in your bedroom.

It’s taken a tour operator new to skiing to make the connection. My trip to the Dolomites was with Fitscape, which mostly runs exercise holidays in Spain and the south of France. But in summer 2010 it came to the village of San Cassiano for some hiking and mountain biking. Only then did the addition of skiing to the equation seem obvious.

I joined its inaugural ski week, at the tail end of last season, and it got everything pretty much spot-on. Little San Cassiano is a great destination for a bunch of well-heeled yoga enthusiasts who are mostly good, but not expert, skiers. The scenery is beautiful, the pistes wide, easy and confidence-boosting. Even in its busiest weeks, San Cassiano is much quieter than the likes of Courchevel and Val d’Isère. The hotel, the five-star Rosa Alpina, is a cracker.

There was a good team in place to run the trip: “Gorgeous” George Dick, the man who reduced my stomach muscles to a quivering and ineffectual mess each evening, turned out to be a precise and powerful skier, and a qualified instructor to boot. James Giuseppi, the yoga teacher, is a snowboarder. As extra insurance, the company hired two local guides to ski with us for the week.

Fitscape’s week in San Cassiano weighs in at £1,875pp, including yoga and fitness instruction, and ski guides, but neither ski pass nor equipment hire; for single occupants, who made up the majority of my group, it rises to £1,925. But nobody was batting an eyelid — while none of them would have been crass enough to say the high prices keep out the riffraff, they were delighted that everyone else was like them. As for me, I felt like I’d been allowed into a private Notting Hill gym-cum-supper club.

In fact, with so many high-flyers to talk to, dinner was one of the chief delights. There were art historians here, fund managers, doctors, television producers, even a gold miner. One of the snowboarders in the group turned out to be a commander in the US navy, whose job, apparently, is to sit next to an admiral and tell him if it’s legal to start a war. I write about skiing for a living, and love what I do, but after a season of “Where’s the best snow?” and “Who runs the best chalets?”, this was pure intellectual oxygen. The fact that most people were having no more than a glass or two of wine kept the conversation sharp for hours.

All the same, I find myself wishing this formula — putting skiing in the context of fitness and wellbeing — would spread beyond the rarefied confines of Fitscape’s holidays. I’d love to see family skiing specialists such as Esprit, Powder Byrne or Mark Warner offering yoga classes to parents while their kids are out at ski school. And why shouldn’t ski schools run yoga classes at the end of the skiing day? If that sounds too new age, they could always call it “stretching”.

Yes, it can be gruelling if you’re not used to it. Fitscape’s routine offers yoga at 6.30am, then fitness and more yoga in the afternoon after the pistes have shut. Even without the morning sessions, it was a shock to my system. But after a couple of days, the aching stopped, and the low-fat menus started to work their magic. I felt fantastic. I lost some weight, too — after two days. Shouldn’t more ski holidays be like this?

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