Antics in the Alps: Laax ski resort, Graubunden, Switzerland
By Karen Bowerman
Karen Bowerman joined skiers and snowboarders to enjoy the snow in LAAX, Switzerland’s largest winter resort
He balances at the top of an exceptionally steep slope, tips his skis over the edge and shoots down. At the last minute he throws himself into the air, twists his body as if to spin, loses control and crashes into a large, foam pit. m standing at the bottom of Big Air, a 30 ft jump at the Freestyle Academy, in the Alpine resort of Laax in Graubunden, east Switzerland. The academy is the first indoor, freestyle complex in Europe – a place where skiers and snowboarders can hone their technique and try out new tricks in a safe (and wonderfully warm) environment.
The guy I’m watching disappears into the bed of foam. He claws his way to the surface, retrieves his skis and hauls himself out. “That seems the worst bit,” I comment. (He looks absolutely exhausted). “It is,” he replies. “But it’s good exercise. And if I’d done that in the snow, it would have been one bad landing.”
The resort of LAAX, which incorporates Laax Rocksresort and the neighbouring valley villages of Flims and Falera, is one of the largest winter resorts in Graubunden. It has 235 km of slopes, runs which link all three locations, and a good guarantee of snow, with 70% of its mountain faces above 2000 metres. style Signina hotel, which entitled me to a large, free locker at the ski hire centre round the corner. Not having to cart ski equipment around was a real bonus. made from local granite. Icicles festoon roofs, ski shops sport extortionately priced jackets and a supermarket provides for those who can’t quite afford £17 for a dish of noodles or £26 for roast lamb. It’s a shame it’s so expensive since the food is top notch.
The mountains themselves have a good selection of red and blue runs, although most of the blues seemed pretty challenging. Close to the gondola station there’s the largest half pipe in Europe – a gigantic u-shaped ramp carved out of snow (LAAX hosts the Burton European Open, one of snowboarding’s biggest events) – and criss-crossing the slopes are solar-heated, high tech chair lifts which slow down to make it easier to get on and off and have special safety guards for small kids.
But, as with many Alpine resorts, it’s the peaks that steal the show. It’s worth catching the gondola from Rocksresort (at 1100m) to Crap Sogn Gion (at 2282m) for the views alone. Look back and you’ll spot the snowy rooftops of Laax, Flims and Falers, hidden among sprawling pine forests.
Back in the valley, there’s a kindergarten and ski school where lessons are held under the guidance of the resort’s mascot Ami Sabi. I met the bearded fellow one evening as he went for a stroll in his cape and feathered hat. My ski instructor called him a magician (I thought he was more part-druid, part-viking), but whatever, the kids loved him.
Sabi began life as a character in a song commissioned by Laax’s marketing department. Now he has his own wigwam, totem poles and “Snow Wonderland” where he teaches kids about skiing, nature and the mountains. “It’s not that we want to create teeny, super snowboarders,” Katja, Kamps, a representative from the resort explained. “We just want people of all ages to have fun on the slopes.”
s clubs and bars. One evening, my group headed through the snow to Larnags, a cosy, mountain restaurant with carved wooden tables arranged around a log fire. We ordered a fondue and, on the advice of locals, dipped our bread in local schnapps before swirling it in the thick, emulsion-like cheese. At the end of the night, our guide, Melanie had a suggestion. she said. I imagined a traditional wooden sledge, with a rope to steer. She handed me a plastic, circular tray. It was that, or nothing. Not much choice really. So I plonked my butt down, pushed off into semi-darkness and raised my feet into the air.
I swerved, swivelled and screamed most of the way back to the resort. Although I hadn’t had a lesson at its Academy, I felt a strange affinity with freestyle.
Fly to Graubunden with Swissair from London’s City Airport from £240 return.
LAAX is a 90 minute drive from Zurich airport. Alternatively take a train from Zurich aiport to your destination on a variety of fixed routes which covers both trains and buses. Tickets cost around £80 for 2nd class and £120 for first class.
The author travelled by train from Zurich airport to Chur and from there by bus to LAAX arriving right outside the Laax rocksresort.
LAAX also has its own shuttle bus service from the airport.
The Signina hotel is a four star hotel with a pool with massage jets, a steam room and sauna. The quirky bar (complete with car) overlooks the mountains.From £90 a night.
Ski lessons/courses can be booked at www.laax.com
Standard Ski or Snowboard hire:
1 day: 46.40 CHF / adult
2 days: 85.50 CHF / adult
5 days: 152.40 CHF / adult
Freestyle Academy: is equipped with trampolines, a skate bowl, boulder wall, various practice slopes and a café. Entrance: 28.00 CHF for two hours.
For travel within the 3 location resort a free shuttle bus (for those with a Flims, Laax, Faler visitor’s card/ski pass) links the three villages.
For more information