The little red Swiss trains running up from Zurich to St Moritz pass through the heart of a UNESCO World Heritage site. Our journey up the mountain was beautiful, and as evening drew in the line literally ended in St Moritz, right at the foot of the lake.
The next morning we were up at 8.30 to collect our skis from the excellent Ski Service within the Kempinski Hotel where we were staying. Having arrived in darkness, this was the first time we were to see the area.
The village was not covered in snow – the Foehn wind had taken it all from the valley a week or so before, but there was ample cover on the mountains. Engadin and St Moritz have invested heavily in snow-making facilities as they hold so many major events.
The results speak for themselves. You would not have known that there was a shortage of snow.
We headed to the gondola with our guide Wenzel Konig under ‘Engadin Blue’ skies. I don’t know the Pantone reference but the tourist office has claimed this colour as their own!
The pistes, as mentioned, were in incredible condition. St Moritz has built its own reservoirs high on the mountain that capture the melt waters. This enables them to produce the snow required to build up the pistes for the FIS Alpine World Ski Championships.
THE FREE FALL
St Moritz is host to the world’s most terrifying downhill race. Between 6 – 19 February, 2017 racers will launch themselves down the Free Fall – aptly named with the 45degree slope.
Daniel Schaltegger, Head of Media, explained how the cable car has to stop mid-journey for the racers to get off… and we were about to take the same route up!
Daniel ushered us into our cable car and after a couple of minutes ‘in flight’ we stopped in what appeared to be in the middle of nowhere. Then, a Bond-esque metal platform extended out towards the cable car. Carefully we disembarked and began to climb to the 287 steps up to the top of the Free Fall – all this at 3,303m.
One of our group looked at the platform, then at the stairs and decided not to leave the cable car. The rest of us headed up, and despite being left a little short of breath and red-faced it was well worth it.
It’s hard to describe quite how steep the start of this course is. They reach an incredible 100 kph in just 4.6 seconds and after another 6 seconds they have reached 140 kph. Or in old money that’s 0-87 mph in less than 6 seconds!
SKIING WITH CHAMPIONS
Marc Berthod, has represented St Moritz and Switzerland in the World Cup series several times. Now retired (through injury) he was able to spend some time with us in the afternoon. Well it went with out saying that we all wanted to see exactly how fast he could ski. So we headed to the Audi Ski Run. By swiping your lift pass you are filmed and timed. We had a Swiss champion with us so we wanted to do well…
35 seconds, 47, 39, and then… just over 23 seconds – and he wasn’t even trying.
Watching him ski down was something to behold. And I have to say, I went a bit weak.
After a swift apres pit-stop we were transported down the road to the Corviglia lift station. It was the first Friday that night skiing was open and people were arriving from all over Switzerland to celebrate the official opening of St Moritz and Engadin. It was also to be my first experience of skiing in the dark.
We climbed the mountain in our unlit Cable Car. It was quite strange, but the views on to the slopes and back across to St Moritz were incredible.
As we disembarked the Murtèl restaurant had live music playing and fondue bubbling away. After an hour or so the crowds were up and dancing in their ski boots to Sweet Caroline and La Bamba.
From mid-station to the bottom was 4.2km and a couple of other bars lined the route. One had a ‘famous’ superstar DJ playing, the other was more peaceful. Here you could take in the crystal clear night skies and marvel at the view down to the lakes of St Moritz and Engadin.
We skied until about 11.30pm and at that point noted that some on the mountain had taken a fair bit of fuel on board – we thought wise to leave. The mountain remained open until 2am with the last lift up at 12.40am. On full-moon nights you can also ski by moonlight on the slopes of Diavolezza, a ski area near Pontresina, a 15-20 minutes drive from Corvatsch.
So that was officially my longest day on the slopes… and of course, it wasn’t over yet. If you ski then you must après ski.
We headed back to St Moritz to an interesting looking wooden cabin with a neon sign that we’d spotted earlier. As we entered through the thick velvet curtains we were actually hit by the atmosphere. A heady mixture of Italian strength aftershave and party tunes overwhelmed us all and before we knew it we were pumping the air and singing ‘Volareee’ at the tops of our voices.
Late night skiers still fully suited and booted partied alongside the Italian glitterati who were up for the weekend. And amongst the masses one or two of the staff from our hotel were spotted. This was a place where anyone was welcome and everyone was having a good time. Turns out we were in La Baracca.
On our second day we tested skis chosen by our instructor to fit our individual skiing styles – it was a real eye-opener.
We proceeded to test our skis by covering the same terrain a few times and doing exercises to see which we preferred. In retrospect it does seem mad to buy before you try. Skis are all so different and depending on your strength, centre of gravity, and your style of skiing there is a different ski for you.
I have always chosen skis that complement my jacket or trousers! So I learnt a thing or two that day. I am still convinced, however, that if you like the colour of your skis it makes you ski better #Itsagirlthing.
On our last day in resort we got to see a real marvel of nature. This year due to mild conditions the lakes in St Moritz hadn’t completely frozen over. However, 20 minutes up the road on the Bernina Pass, the ‘White Lake’ had, unusually, frozen completely clear. It needs to be below freezing for 200 hours in order for the lakes to freeze.
Normally it snows shortly after freezing, so this time the lake was attracting quite a number of skaters, visitors, photographers, and even a few brides and grooms having their wedding day photos taken.
It was a spectacular end to an amazing trip.
Other things to do in St Moritz
As well as having two great ski areas, Corvasatch: the sporty side, and Corviglia: the glamorous side, the town of St Moritz is definitely worth a wander. Any designer worth their salt has a boutique on Europe’s highest shopping street, Via Selas. And in this town the people watching is just as much of a sport as the skiing.
In the centre of the village we came across a fabulous sweet shop in one of the oldest buildings in St Moritz, beautifully decorated in Sgraffito. A good place to pick up a sweet treat.
And just around the corner was Hatecke. This is a boutique delicatessen dedicated to locally cured meats and cheeses. They have a small restaurant too – a must for a lunchtime or post-skiing snack.
For apres ski
The Hauser Roo Bar, in the town centre, but everyone seems to meet there after skiing.
The Stübli which is an indoor bar, good for post-skiing drinks with live music
The Bamyan Ski Club: a ‘pop-up’ bar also in the centre of St. Moritz
The Swiss Travel Centre has the Kempinski on its hotel booking site, as well as other hotels in different categories. There are nine 5-star hotels in St Moritz, 23 4-star hotels, 44 3-star hotels and 8 2-star hotels. You can claim a reduced lift pass by staying in a number of hotels across Engadin and St Moritz. Book more than one night at a hotel offering the ‘Hotel and Ski Pass’ combination and get the ski pass for 35CHF pp per day.
Other useful information
Night skiing costs: CHF 27 for the whole night or CHF 20 from 7-9pm. This is not included in the day passes.
The Swiss Travel System provides a dedicated range of travel passes and tickets exclusively for visitors from abroad. The Swiss Transfer Ticket covers a round-trip between the airport/Swiss border and your destination. Prices are £104 in second class and £167 in first class.
With huge thanks to Sara Roloff and her team for arranging the trip: Switzerland Tourism www.myswitzerland.com #InLoveWithSwitzerland