"It’s like the Titanic,” one journalist laughs nervously as a photographer snaps our picture. We stand in front of a plane with a cardboard sign commemorating the first-ever Sky Alps flight from Stansted to Bolzano – a new trailblazing route whisking passengers to the Italian Dolomites at record speed. I’m no neophile, so inaugural voyages aren’t typically where I get my kicks. Not doing myself any favours, in an act of self-sabotage, I read a newspaper supplement on why turbulence is getting worse. Adrenal glands firing up to do their thing, I board the plane – a dinky De Havilland Canada Dash 8 Q400, more commonly known as the Dash 8, with two rather slender-looking six-blade propellers. Truth be told, I’m yearning to crack open my first in-flight beverage.

I'm soon made aware that a 76-seater feels the kick of the atmosphere more than its jumbo jet equivalents. An hour or so in, I finally loosen my grip on the handrest and peer sheepishly out of the plastic window. The plane flies at lower altitudes to reduce contrail and carbon dioxide emissions, providing a close-up of the snow-capped mountains that spread out like a massive plate of smashed meringue below. My eyes follow the snaking routes of glaciers that once carved through the rock, scooping out the Adige Valley. Microscopic villages pepper the groove. Feeling dwarfed by Mother Nature, we swoop from 25,000 feet to the tarmac of Bolzano airport, and I breathe easy. First times tend to feel uncomfortable, but adventure is often birthed from the womb of discomfort.

My eyes follow the snaking routes of glaciers that once carved through the rock, scooping out the Adige Valley

Having caught thrills from a two-hour flight is perhaps an indication that I’m no Bear Grylls. However, I’m here to ski the Dolomites, so perhaps I’ll earn my stripes on the slopes. This Italian mountain range is, in fact, the world’s highest coral reef, formed when tectonic activity rather unceremoniously thrust the sea bed into the clouds 60 million years ago. Flat-topped, sheer-sided citadels of pale limestone are tattooed with fossils and the vigour of the elements. Two hot air balloons float above the mighty Sasso di Santa Croce, which shoots 9,537 feet above sea level. They’re nanoscopic, like two flecks of pepper in a bowl of mountain soup.

The Sky Alps flight to Bolzano soaring over The Dolomites

I’m staying in Corvara in Alta Badia, a region that forms one notch in the Dolomiti Superski belt, rubbing shoulders with Cortina D’Ampezzo and Val Gardena. This is the world’s largest interconnected ski area, with 745 miles of pistes covered by the ski pass, including the Sella Ronda – a 25-mile tour encircling the mighty Sella Massif peak and a classic Italian route. Although punters flock here for the circuit, the Dolomites are as much about the Michelin stars as the couloirs, where high-altitude tasting menus, champagne, and designer ski suits abound.

It’s been a second since I clipped into a pair of skis, and truthfully, this time around, I’m a little nervous. Last year I was struck by a car – a pretty traumatic accident where the wheel narrowly missed my skull and travelled over my left arm to crush the humerus bone, leaving me with bionic screws pinning the wreckage together. I’m quite a mishap magnet, so a certain amount of trepidation comes with skiing – one I’m often too proud to voice. When you think about it, it’s a sport of the utmost trust – in the edges of your skis, your muscle memory, your comrades, and the mechanical integrity of a gondola. I fasten my ski boots so tightly they squeeze my calves like a stress ball.

A snowy mountainscape in Corvara

On the first day, we ascend from the chocolate box village of La Villa to Corvara, skiing in the palm of the Alta Badia ski area. The finger-like projections of the mighty Sassongher peak and pleated Gruppo del Sella dominate the skyline as we mark turns on the broad and empty white corduroy of the pistes. The duvet of snow swallows all sound and all you can hear is the sharp crunch of powder under skis. We’re skiing with our guide, Lorenzo, a 21-year-old ex-professional ski racer. He’s an understated presence, considering he’s skied the Super G for the Italian ski team since he was a teenager and seems more eager to point out the mountain hut that won the world panettone championships than gloat about his slopeside escapades. I’m also skiing alongside seasoned mountain goats with heli-skiing and backcountry experience under their salopettes. The fear of getting left behind is not without merit.

The first morning of skiing is a challenge as I try to gain a sliver of synergy between my body and the mountain face. Pressing hard with my big toes, I carve down the larch-lined slopes with short turns, biting my skis hard into the piste while keeping an eye on the group ahead. “We should call you Christy Snow,” says one member of the crew, making a joke about my surname. Head cocooned by balaclava and helmet, I regretfully mishear snow as slow, and a flame lights under my arse. I’m slow – my worst nightmare. From that moment on, as we descend the slopes of Corvara, I’m driving it like I stole it. Gaining momentum, the bitter chill of the mountain air clouts my cheeks, and a raging heat develops in my thighs as I oscillate between each one. With no time to contemplate my next move, I’m semi-automatic and hazardous. Either way, I’ve found my groove, and it’s thrilling.

With no time to contemplate my next move, I’m semi-automatic and hazardous. Either way, I’ve found my groove

 It, however, doesn’t take long to realise skiing in the Dolomites isn’t about ticking off every treacherous black or touring the Sella Ronda in record time – it’s a vehicle for understanding the region, its turbulent history and fascinating anthropology. From 1915 to 1917, this was a warzone where Italian forces fought militiamen loyal to the Habsburg Empire in a form of trench warfare called il fronte verticale. Soldiers battled the enemy and the elements as they carved tunnels through the base of the Marmolada Glacier, blasted guns from cavities in the rock face and fought on a front line that snaked summits. The scars of conflict still mark the landscape. Look closely, and you’ll notice steel staples drilled into the rockface. Called via ferrata, these routes were used as supply lines to outposts, old garrisons and field hospitals amongst the otherwise impenetrable Ampezzo peaks. Suddenly, the modern-day laments of an aching boot or gondola queue seem trivial.

“When I walk with my family, we often find bullets and shrapnel,” says Hugo Pizzinini. I sit with him and his wife Ursula around a wooden table, eating lunch at Rifugio Col Alt – a restaurant built at Italy’s first lift station in 1946 with tradition in its bones. He owns Rosa Alpina, a hotel with serious culinary credentials, and we speak about the world wars and how his grandfather fought for two different countries in each one. Sipping on red wine from the hills of Mount Etna, I slurp on ribbons of tagliatelle with venison ragu while he plunges his knife into a bavette steak.

“This is my gravy”, he exclaims as he proudly pours his family’s olive oil over the slab of meat. I ask him whether he sees himself as more Italian or Austrian. Judging by his facial expression, I may as well have ordered the execution of his family. “I’m Ladin,” he asserts. It’s perhaps one of Europe’s least-known enclaves but a group of people that have remained fiercely independent and undiluted despite the passing of the South Tyrol from Austro-Hungarian to Italian clutches. Some 20,000 inhabitants speak Ladin, and there are Ladin schools, newspapers and televisions. The more you spend time in the South Tyrol, the more you realise that notions of nationality and identity are complex. At Rifugio Col Alt, you’ll notice menus in three languages and tables sat eating käseknödel, focaccia, strudel and tiramisu all at once.

Enrosadira (alpenglow) on the mountain face in The Dolomites

Plied with enough alcohol to overestimate our athletic capabilities, we snap into our bindings and make our way back to La Villa. There are few sports where you can consume five glasses of wine, a pair of foie gras cannolis and a plate of käseschmarren and be declared fit for purpose, but skiing is miraculously one of these. It doesn’t take long for us to make a wrong turn – but I’m soon to realise there are no wrong turns in the Dolomites at 3pm because of a phenomenon named enrosadira. It means ‘turning pink’ in Ladin (alpenglow in English) and describes the magical way the Dolomites interact with the setting sun. The short December days mean that this takes place during mid-afternoon, and as if someone has just spilt the Tofana di Mezzo’s deepest, dirtiest secret, the peaks blush a vibrant salmon pink.

On the final day, we head from Corvara to the neighbouring Val Gardena, where we ski the wide runs of Val Stella Alpina, which endearingly translates to Edelweiss Valley, offering views of Val Mezdi in the Sella Massif. It’s the day before the Ski World Cup comes to Alta Badia, so after dipping in and out of the Sella Ronda, we head to one of the racing slopes to give it a dress rehearsal before the pros arrive. It’s a sheer, twisting black run where the women’s downhill race will ensue. I’m told they freeze the piste before the race, but the cold temps and lack of sun seem to have beat them to the punch. We bomb down the icy slope, and I give it my best Lindsey Vonn as we drop hundreds of vertical meters in a matter of minutes. The run is long and bending, and the sun is so low in the sky that every skier behind projects looming shadows ahead swallowing the sunlight. I’m sure the British ski team have nothing to worry about from my performance, but to ski in the paths of professionals is thrilling.

Skiing corduroy in The Dolomites

That night, we eat our final meal in the Staub-style dining room of Maso Runch, a traditional Ladin restaurant on a hill above Badia. You won’t find the crudos, mushroom cappuccini or spec tortelli you see in the mountaintop rifugios here. Instead, we enjoy the fare of the Ladin people, traditionally humble, mountain farmers who typically survived off two meals per day. As someone who has worked the breakfast buffet far more than the land over the past week, I’m unsure if the seven courses that arrive are deserved, but either way, they’re desired. We slurp on goulash and barley soups pitted with bacon before diving forks into cajincí arestis, cajincí te ega and cajincí tutres – various permutations of spinach and ricotta in ravioli or potato dumpling form. This is nourishing and soothing stuff, and if you’ve grown up around the typical ski fodder that comprises flattened ham sandwiches and a tartiflette reminiscent of a cow’s arse, you can truly appreciate how remarkable the food of the South Tyrol is.

Discovering another world is one of life’s best adventures, and few sports encourage this as much as skiing

As the soporific effects of wine and warm apple strudel begin to take hold, I reflect on the past four days. Discovering another world and all its idiosyncracies is one of life’s greatest adventures, and few sports encourage this in the way that skiing does. While clipping into a pair of skis can involve hurling yourself down a mountain at fever pitch or setting world records (in the case of the Ski World Cup), there are thrills to seek on the slopes that don’t require pushing yourself to a physical extreme. Discovering the Dolomites, its food and people, and gently nudging your own boundaries, however average they may seem, is often enough to scratch that itch.

Experience it yourself

How to get there?

SkyAlps flights between London Stansted and Bolzano will operate twice-weekly, starting from £157 each way, with under 2s flying for free and 50% off for children flying between Bolzano and sea destinations (including Sardinia, Sicily and Croatia).

For more information visit skyalps.com

Where to stay?

Hotel Sassongher

For those looking for an authentic mountain getaway, head to Hotel Sassongher in Corvara. It’s a traditional alpine hotel owned by the Pescosta family since 1938, with a romantic Ladin and South Tyrolean cultural history, exceptional views of the Sassongher Mountain and an expansive spa.

Rooms from £255 per night, sassongher.it

Hotel La Majun

Located in the Alta Badia region of the Dolomites, Hotel La Majun is a family-run mountain retreat that leans luxury. Alongside ski-in ski-out access to the Dolomiti Superski, the hotel has an underground wine bar, top-notch spa and a restaurant serving up traditional Ladin food and local wines.

Rooms from £315 per night; lamajun.it