Stylist editor Susan Riley treads her board at a lesser-known Swiss ski resort…
There’s nothing that showcases grit and determination quite like travel. And when I say that I don’t necessarily mean a 1,000-mile Cheryl Strayed-style trek along the Pacific Crest Trail – sometimes it’s merely the feat of getting to your destination, bags and sanity intact.
I mention that because my trip to Laax last winter coincided with Storm Emma and while my plane escaped just in time, the friend who was joining me arrived via Copenhagen and Vienna – finally pitching up 14 hours later with her luggage still languishing elsewhere.
On paper, getting to Laax under normal circumstances can feel like a bit of a mission (from Zurich, you get a train to Chur, then a 20-minute bus ride to Laax), but actually it’s a very smooth set of connections that takes just under two hours. Plus, the route feels a little more adventurous than booking the direct airport shuttle bus, although that is available too.
Considering Laax has been named Switzerland’s best ski resort five years in a row, I’m ashamed to admit that my snow legs know very little about it. Its stats are undisputable though– 224km of slopes, 28 lifts, four snow parks and the world’s largest half pipe (70% of its runs also sit above 2,000 feet, making snowfall reliable).
There’s a lovely low-key friendly atmosphere, which is probably down to the chilled out mix of families and adrenaline junkies happily co-existing slopeside… Because while Laax is a relatively hidden gem, it’s big in the boarding community, winning the accolade for the world’s best freestyle resort for the past two years. Even on bad weather days you can hone your tricks here, landing safely and smugly in foam pits at the resort’s indoor freestyle academy. An experience I declined due to being a big air wimp.
Despite Laax’s impressive résumé, it’s not one of those sprawling alpine resorts, but more of a valley, housing a string of hamlets with one main road connecting the three lift-linked villages of Laax, Flims and Falera.
Laax itself is essentially a sharp, modern base station and hotel complex (Laax Dorf, the original rustic village, sits about a mile away, by a lake), which is low on charm but steeped in slickness. It feels shiny, new and heavily invested in. Further proof of this is the resort’s Greenstyle Initiative to make Laax the world’s first self-sufficient ski destination, and a very nifty Inside Laax app, which allows you to do everything from spot the shortest lift queues, to track your mates’ whereabouts on the mountain.
We’re staying at Peaks Place, a contemporary Apartment-Hotel that, OK, overlooks a roundabout but also has far-reaching views of the Signina mountain range and peaks of the Surselva. Staying here bags you the best of both worlds: the comfort of roomy apartments with their own kitchen and swinging wicker chair-decked balconies, and the perks of a hotel. Dining options come in the form of room service, a full-on Swiss breakfast, pastries to go, or dinner at The Peaks restaurant by Manuel Reichenbach with the snazziest dessert wine trolley you might ever have the good fortune to see. Best of all is the steam bath, neon-lit pool and Finnish saunas in the spa, ideal for soothing aching limbs or treating yourself to an Alpine Air facial.
Post-pamper, the newly renovated Riders Hotel (head here to party) and Rocks Resort (a cubic complex that boasts an array of eateries) is a short walk away. We opt for non-traditional gyoza and teriyaki salmon steak in Nooba , followed by homemade brownie with cashews, black and white sesame seeds and whipped cream. But the meal that trumps all others is at Tegia Larnags, a slopeside rustic hut on Alp Nagens, which you reach by foot via a (fairly shoddily) lit path once the sun’s gone down. After a chilly walk up, its toasty chalet interior is just the tonic before nestling down to tackle a traditional cheese fondue and epic Toblerone mousse. Satisfied doesn’t cover it.
By day, up the mountain, head to La Vacca – a heated tepee serving up grilled meat and bison steaks – or refuel at the recently refurbed summit station Galaaxy at the top of Crap Sogn Gion mountain. It’s got a juice bar, restaurant and The Bridge: possibly the most enviable work space in the world for freelancers with a huge copper firepit and 360-degree view of the snowscape outside. Beats Starbucks next to a power socket.
Off-piste, there’s the usual sledging, ice skating and winter hiking options, plus a network of cross-country trails. For something more sedate, we packed a breakfast picnic and headed to Caumasee Lake – brilliantly turquoise even on a grey day – for the most peaceful croissant ever before ending the day back at Tegia Larnags for our final run down. Swiss-German band singing, accordion playing, locals dancing and laughing in brightly-decked ski suits…
Laax is worth the journey, however long it takes you.
Visit laax.com for further information. Nightly rates at Peaks Place start from CHF320 (approx £283) based on a two bed apartment (peaks-place.com). Swiss International Airlines offers 180 weekly flights from London to Zurich, from £73 one way.
All images supplied by PR.