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Slide on down to Saslong; PAUL OGDEN and his daughter follow in the tracks of Brit ski racer Konrad Bartelski with a visit to stunning Val Gardena in Italy.

WE'VE all enjoyed the recent Eddie The Eagle movie, remembering how an Englishman took on the world (sort of) on skis. But there is another man who lit up British snowsport a few years earlier and, unlike our loveable Eddie, has been largely forgotten.

It is 35 years ago next month that British downhiller Konrad Bartelski stunned skiing by coming second in a World Cup race, just a tenth of a second off top spot.

I can still hear David Vine's excitable commentary on Ski Sunday as Konrad almost slid across the finish line on his backside after his remarkable run. Following his triumph, one shocked French commentator exclaimed: "It's not possible, it's an Englishman."

As a 14-year-old looking forward to his first school ski trip, Konrad was my hero, and the place where he achieved the highest British placing in any World Cup race became iconic to me - Val Gardena.

Along with the likes of Kitzbuhel, Schladming and Val-d'Isere, the name Val Gardena is synonymous with the glamour, danger and excitement of downhill to a generation of Ski Sunday fans, and on a holiday with Crystal I finally got the chance to follow in Konrad's ski tracks.

Even on a late season break, the legendary Saslong World Cup run was open with its full, beautifully groomed length. From 2,249m up the Ciampinoi peak down to the pretty village of Santa Cristina, it is a headacheinducing, leg-screaming black run.

All right, I went down its sister red run a few times first, but I got to the big one in the end - though I took rather longer than Konrad's stunning two minutes and seven seconds.

The majestic run, in the shadow of the brooding 10,000fttall Sassolungo mountain, is the jewel in Val Gardena's crown, but there are many other smaller gems to enjoy along the Gardena valley, which is made up of three distinct communities, Ortisei (its bowls too low for decent Easter skiing), picturesque Santa Cristina, and livlely Selva, sitting up the valley at 1,563m.

As with most of my experiences with Italian skiing, queues on the pistes were practically non-existent, especially midweek, and there is exceptional value for money to be found.

The snow on the valley's slopes was excellent. This part of Italy - South Tyrol - is usually blessed with great, late-season skiing and there are effective snow-making facilities if necessary.

My daughter, Maddy, and I stayed in a family-run hotel at the edge of Selva, Hotel Alpino Plan, which was virtually ski in and out even in March. But you can catch a free five-minute bus ride into town if you want to pick up the cable car before strapping on your skis.

The three-star hotel was simple but immaculate, a historic building plastered with memorabilia by owner Luis Demetz of his many years as a ski instructor in the resort and welcoming host to both the British and US ski teams when they come to the valley.

His family now runs the place with good humour and bonhomie but the best aspect of our stay was the terrific food. It is amazing how easily you can ski off a four or five-course meal and come back hungry the next night.

Our meal was a treat, with the waiting staff dressed in typical Ladin costume (they still speak their own language in this part of the Alps) presenting a fivecourse celebration menu which included consomme with port, spinach dumplings with ham in cream sauce, baked neck and ribs of pork and pancake with cranberry jam.

The place has a big, warm boot room - always a bonus as many small hotels have ones so tiny you are falling over yourself even before hitting the slopes. And because it is at the head of the valley, has great views down into Selva.

The town itself is full of posh boutiques, pretty churches, classy restaurants and a some lively apres ski bars where you can get a warming bombardino - an Italian-style, boozy eggnog, with a decadent swirl of cream on top. But the best thing about Val Gardena is that the resort is part of the huge Dolomiti Superski skipass area, with 750 miles of slopes to explore in one of the world's most beautiful mountain ranges - the stunning, jagged Dolomites, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The easiest way to enjoy an easily accessible part of that pass area is to ski the circular Sellaronda route. Try both clockwise and anti-clockwise during your stay to get different views and experiences.

The 26-mile tour, which loops around the Sella Massif, is easy to follow and there is great skiing to be had, including varied slopes in my favourite resorts of Corvara, Colfosco and Arabba.

One circuit takes about five hours, depending how many times you are tempted to stop off at the good value restaurants and bars en route (we found a place at the top of a mountain which did large pizzas for just four euros).

Take either the green route or the higher, more difficult orange direction, but make sure you are back in time for the last lift.

You can round off your day-long trek, like Maddy and I did, heading down the Saslong, almost coming a cropper but ending with that winning feeling - just like Konrad.

NEED TO KNOW | Crystal Ski Holidays (crystalski.co.uk; 020 8939 0726) offers a week's halfboard at the three-star Hotel Alpino Plan in Selva Val Gardena in the Italian Dolomites from PS523 per person (based on two sharing). | It includes flights from Manchester to Verona and transfers (price given is for departure in January 2017). | Direct flights available from all major UK airports.

| Selva

CAPTION(S):

| Top spot - the Hotel Alpino Plan in Selva, Val Gardena

| The Saslong mountain peak, above, and the World Cup ski run, right

| Selva
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Sunday Mercury (Birmingham, England)
Date:Nov 13, 2016
Words:971
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