SONJA ASTBURY tried out the first turns in the snow in Laax in Switzerland
IT started with a queue. Don’t they all?....but this was the mother of all queues.
Despite arriving an hour earlier than planned for my short flight to Zurich, I thought I was going to spend my weekend stuck at Manchester Airport. I snaked for two solid hours from checking in to boarding the flight... after being rushed through the fast lane!
However, faith was restored when, despite taking off late (surprise!) the Swiss Air flight arrived on time and I couldn’t wait to step out onto the snow.
I was off to enjoy pastures new.
On my third trip to this skiers’ paradise I was heading for the beautiful Graubunden region.
Though renowned for the glamorous resorts of St Moritz and Davos, my final destination was the trendy Laax area.
Travelling across Switzerland is a delight every rail traveller should experience. It is so easy and efficient.
A short train ride from the airport to the central station was followed by a train for the 90-minute journey to Chur, the capital of Graubunden where a bus was waiting to ferry passengers through the snow covered villages.
Arriving in Laax in the early evening with fresh, crunchy snow covering the footpaths and rooftops, excitement was already stirring.
We were staying at the plush Signahotel and after a quick deposit of luggage it was off to the popular apres-ski Crap bar (yes that really was its name) for a swift drink before heading for a (much-welcome) superb dinner at the resort’s Pan-Asian restaurant.
Morning couldn’t come soon enough. I wanted to make the most of my brief stay in this fab place.
Not having set foot on the slopes for a year – and despite my dogdy back deciding to play up just days before this trip – I was determined to get some runs in.
I admit to knowing little about the less famous resort but discovered Laxx is famed for its snow – and according to the blurb “nowhere else in Switzerland can you find so many trendy skiers and snowboarders in action”.
December and January are not the busiest times for tourists, but the snow was good. Fresh and deep.
There were certainly plenty of “happening people” taking advantage of the new dump but the slopes were anything but cluttered.
Lots of space and a long season with guaranteed snow, the area is popular with Swiss as well as French, Brits and Americans.
Laax boasts four snow parks and the biggest half-pipe in Europe and I imagine once the season is in full swing the opportunities are endless.
An efficient gondola sweeps passengers from the village base station up to Crap Sogn Gion, which has an altitude of more than 2,228m. From here there are plenty of slopes connecting Falera, Laax and Flims to keep even the most ardent skier occupied.
The wind wasn’t altogether in our favour so it meant some of the higher lifts weren’t open. That was a shame really because one of the highlights of this season in the whole Laax area is the opening of a Porsche-designed, solar powered ski-lift.
With a futuristic design, it is fast and uses solar-powered heating, making it one of the world’s first “green” lifts.
The special Wellness seat can also be set to panorama mode, which tilts 45 degrees to give incredible views.
It was a shame we didn’t get to test that but I was very pleased to try out the other new, easy to use lifts which also have nice warm seats.
These roll-on, roll-off models are great and save the embarrassment of the usual scramble to stay upright as you get off the more common chairlift.
Deep snow and wind had restricted the runs so skiing wasn’t what it could have been, with some of the runs a little narrow and steep for less experienced.
Nevertheless even the beginners in our party were undaunted and threw themselves, sometimes literally, into the challenge to get down in one piece.
The resort boasts a fantastic children’s area and I am told it is a haven for beginners with some gentle blues.
We all know skiing isn’t just about what happens on the piste. Food and drink play a big part and we certainly sampled some excellent food.
Lunch on the first day was taken at Crap Sogn Gion and in the evening we braved the ice and snow to hike to Tegia where we had traditional fondue at Larnags.
There is a nice mix of places to eat and drink and accommodation all superb, ranging from top notch hotels to the fabulous Rock Resort. Made up of unique block built from local stone, these are high-class self-catering apartments which are definitely worth a peek.
Our hotel boasted a fabulous spa and there is so much else to do in Laax and its two neighbouring villages besides skiing. The area is great for hikers and snow walkers. But, the piece de resistance has got to be the Freestyle Academy.
This former tennis centre is amazing. It has been transformed into a boarder/skater/ski jumper heaven with incredible practice ramps. The only indoor freestyle hall in Europe attracts some of the world’s top competitors. You can also trampoline and there are special sessions for the tiny tots.
Another jewel in the resort’s crown is the popular Christmas market.
Hospitality in the resort was first class and add to that the great company I was in and this was one weekend to remember.