As we sat, somewhat disheartened, in Jersey Airport where a whole three millimetres of late November slush threatened to thwart our air travel efforts to reach the sunny, snow-capped peaks of Switzerland, I couldn’t help but wonder, given the situation, how Alanis Morissette would feel.
Mother Nature must be a fan of winter holidays though, because she was aware enough of our plight to take pity and halt her snow making efforts over the Channel Isles with just enough time for our flight to escape – just a few hours behind schedule.
Thankfully, we were flying with Blue Islands who kept fresh stocks of coffee flowing, biscuits crunching and newspapers rustling in their fantastic lounge whilst we waited. Before we knew it we’d touched down (via Guernsey to drop off stranded passengers) at a snow-dusted Zurich airport and in typically Swiss fashion, everything was running like clockwork – even the bags beat us to the conveyor belt. How often does that happen?
Only a couple of hours on a train to Chur followed by under an hour on a coach saw us arrive on our doorstep for the week, the Rider’s Palace in Laax, a contemporary concrete chateau clad in mirrored glass and blocks of colour. Baggage suitably disposed of, we exchanged our cavernous concrete abode for a small club packed with seasonaires playing all the classic euro-dance hits, which gained full marks for amusement before retiring ahead of the first snow day of the season.
Laax is an up and coming resort but by no means lacking as it currently stands and it only promises growth as time passes. Small, but perfectly formed and with exquisite attention to architectural detail, it’s sure to be a winner not only with the zealous riders and skiers but also with those who are contemporary culture connoisseurs. Everything centres around the Rocks resort; vast, cubic extrusions clad with the fallen rock of local landslides past that serve as stunning apartments as well as a number of shops, rental depots, pubs and bars, cafes and restaurants.
Suspended below a choice of two lifts from the base stations at the heart of the Rocks resort you’ll find yourself approaching a ‘James Bond villain’-style lift station that would turn Goldfinger green whilst just below in its shadow is Europe’s largest superpipe, surrounded by no less than 220km of pistes, four descents with guaranteed snow and four snow parks, bolstering the total half pipe count and bringing it to two. Even so early on in the season the snow making machinery could be seen floating to new destinations, cradled beneath helicopters to provide a dusting of what we all craved and despite only a sprinkling of lifts being open at such a quiet time in the season there was always some freshly laid terrain up for grabs. There can’t be even one square metre of mountain that couldn’t be ridden which should keep you busy and provide enough encouragement and inspiration to brush aside that hangover from the previous night, get out there early and claim your own patch! Easier said than done, admittedly, but definitely worth it.
Following a bordering-on-epic journey to the top of the Vorab glacier at over 3000m the ride down was sublime, despite being bashed for the novice. Ski school was in full swing and a few more runs were being sculpted, but the selection of refreshments at the top was up to scratch and the ride back down a small, unbashed track along a ridge beat taking the lift back poles down, and provided some laughter when it levelled off and the snowboards ground to a halt briefly. Skiing is definitely experiencing a resurgence.
It doesn’t take long to tumble into a familiar routine in Laax, yet there always seemed somewhere different to go once dusk fell. ‘Il Pup’ for zwei bier and a bit of table football was a favourite and also where we learned quite quickly that people from Poland are mostly phenomenal at table football, literally taking it to another league. Other bars worth a mention are the trendy ‘Indy’, the unfortunately-named lost in translation ‘CrapBar’ and of course the Rider’s Bar back at the hotel. To quell the grumble from your gut choose anything from a burger at Il Pup, Italian at Camino in the Hotel Signina, Asian dishes from Thai to Vietnamese via Japansese at Nooba or more traditional Swiss cuisine at Grandis, which boasts a choice of over 1000 wines to accompany your meal. That’s right – time for ‘eeny meeny miney moe’ people. Of course, that’s not all of your options and don’t forget that the neighbouring resort of Flims is just minutes away by bus.
Still too early for bed? In that case it’s time to hit the bars and clubs again and there’s no shortage of them all within viewing distance of each other, depending on how much you’ve had, all before waking again, bleary eyed and making a beeline to either the Rider’s bar or coffee shop at the Rocks for a breakfast of croissant, coffee and juice before doing it all over again.
The Rider’s Palace club plays host to internationally acclaimed acts throughout the year, and just so you can appreciate the gravity of this claim I’m going to let you into a little secret about who’ll be playing this year; that’s right, none other than the Ger-merican legend David ‘The Hoff’ Hasselhoff. Understandably, this is huge news in Switzerland – those Swiss-Germans just frickin’ love it.
As much as witnessing the Hoff singing in his finest indistinguishable German to a crowd of unhinged fans would have provided almost insuperable amusement it was the Deftones’ turn to play to the hundreds during our stay, which really made it for me. A near-perfect balance of snow and blue skies, a wide and varied choice of places to feed and water, a host of friendly faces and live music on your doorstep didn’t leave much to ask for. Well, nothing entirely realistic, anyway.
Laax still has another trick up its mountainous sleeve though; the brand new for this season ‘Freestyle Academy’. This gem of a facility will be a hit with all ages – perfect for keeping the kids out of trouble whilst you snap up some ‘you time’ but equally valuable for nailing a new trick safely before you hit the parks with it and inevitably hit the ground attempting to get it right, because let’s face it, nobody wants to go home early.
Packed full of trampolines, ramps, foam pits and other soft landings for all of your winter pursuits as well as skate bowls for your little nose miners and the older generations alike to get stuck into you can be just as at home shredding here as you can further up the mountain. With introductory courses as well as a choice of big air ramps leading into the biggest of the foam pits, it’s the ideal tonic for anyone seeking an indoor thrill. If you’ve got kids, think of it as a kind of ‘extreme crèche’, but with far more credibility than anything described as such could ever afford.
Whether or not you believe me, I’m completely sold on Laax and have no doubt that I’ll be back again this year … I’ll be the one in Il Pup swigging a large glass of the native Calandia beer and being woefully beaten at table football (again) after another day of punishing my legs in the best way possible.
It’s pronounced ‘Laarx’ not ‘Lax’ – Just so you don’t sound silly when discussing it with Swiss people.
We cut out the London nonsense and flew direct to Zurich with Blue Islands (www.blueislands.com) and stayed at The Rider’s Palace (www.riderspalace.ch). With a short transfer it’s a rapid route to the snow. A big thanks to Hayley at Blue Islands and Britta at Laax.