Vail’s Back Bowls are ‘belissimo’ |

Vail’s Back Bowls are ‘belissimo’

Matt Terrell
Vail, CO Colorado
Kristin Anderson/Vail DailyA group of Italian exchange students watch as they roll hula hoops across the floor during '50s Day at Vail Mountain School.

VAIL, Colorado ” Amidst a sea of poodle skirts, rolled up blue jeans and root beer floats, a group of exchange students from Val Di Fassa, Italy, await their turn to do the limbo.

It’s 1950’s day at Vail Mountain School, and all the students are in the gym listening to Chuck Berry and the Everly Brothers, watching a live reenactment of “Leader of the Pack” by the Shangri-La’s and trying to sneak under a limbo pole without falling down ” a big, time warped celebration of America’s post-war culture.

Mario Detomas, one of the exchange students, pauses a moment, looks around at all the doo-wop-loving madness, and says its pretty fun ” in Italy, they only have celebrations like this at school around Christmas time.

Next on the itinerary: a photo scavenger hunt in Vail Village, a trip to Denver and an IMAX theater, some art museums and one more day of skiing.

Detomas and the other exchange students are staying at the homes of Vail Mountain School students who, at the beginning of March, made a similar trip to Italy. They visited Venice, then spent several days living with the Italian students and attending their schools in a mountain community much like our own.

All the students, both the Italians and Americans, are telemark skiers, and that’s what originally inspired ski coach Mike Ioli to arrange an exchange program.

Now, they’ve all stayed in each others homes, lived with each others families, visited each other’s schools and skied each others slopes.

One of the first things the Italian students noticed about the United states was how big it is.

It’s not just the size of our country, but our massive cars, the trucks and SUVs, the busy interstate highways, the wide streets and tall buildings.

Everything in Italy is much smaller, said Cristina Doner, one of the visiting Italian teachers.

Their community in Italy, Val Di Fassa, is a mountain valley much like the valley here, with a handful of small towns lined up between the mountains. The best known town is called Moena, sort of like our Vail. There, like here, a large number people work in the resort industry, on the ski slopes, in hotels, in restaurants.

The actual mountains in Italy are much smaller, and the valleys are tighter, Ioli said. On Thursday, he took them to ski the massive Vail back bowls, and the students were astounded, he said.

“They kept saying, ‘belissimo, belissimo,’ that they were beautiful,” Ioli said.

Vail Mountain student Sean Minett said one of the first things you notice about life in Italy is how laid back everyone is. Living with a foreign family, watching their daily rhythms, you notice that no one seems to be in a hurry. Schedules, if such a thing exists there, always seem to be open for interpretation.

“There was a lot more flexibility than our planned out days here,” Minett said.

At school in Italy, the relationships between teachers and students is more formal than you often find in the United States, said Vail Mountain student Cole Graskamp, and many of the Italian students agreed. Teachers are teachers, and students are students.

Minett said he had recently gone bowling with one of his teachers

Half the visiting Italian students attend a traditional high school, where teachers lecture, and students take notes. The other half of the students attend an art school, where they’re learning how to do wood carving, gold leaf, painting restoration ” crafts that were sort of humbling for the American students to watch, Minett said.

Americans have been very friendly on the trip, the Italian students said. All the students at Vail Mountain school were great about saying “hello” or “ciao,” and all the families they stayed with were very kind.

“We thank all the families for their hospitality,” Doner said.

For more information about skiing in Val di Fassa, a mountain valley in Italy, visit

Staff Writer Matt Terrell can be reached at 748-2955 or

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