Is Graubünden the ultimate ski safari?

Switzerland’s Graubünden region is home to some of the most famous resorts in the world, with plenty of smaller stuff in between and over 100 hundred freeride itineraries. Pack your skins – and stretchy pants (for the ski yoga, of course).

Tuesday/Arosa

10:35: Day one, top of the Weisshorn, and the legs are a bit wobbly. Nothing to do with the skiing but the after-effect of the drive up last night. If your name’s not Hannu Mikkola, I suggest you take the train, which stops right at the bottom of one of Arosa’s main lifts. Clever, that.

Michael, our guide from the ABC ski school, looks sceptical when we suggest skiing off-piste. He has a point: with wide, deserted pistes in such good nick, why on earth would you want to?

11:04: This side of the domain includes Michael’s favourite run, the red 10. Actually, he’s just being polite – I know his real favourite is simply the park, but he’s been properly brought up and knows how to humour guests twice his age. First turns take you round a shoulder into terrain that feels a long way from anywhere even though it’s nothing of the sort. Lower down it winds and rolls into the trees and down into the village of Arosa.

Arosa  PENNY KENDALL

Arosa PENNY KENDALL

12:15: Back up top to check out some stuff we’ve spotted to the side of the piste. It’s not the whole deal, just the lower section of the ‘look at me’ couloirs, which are the obvious big lines here once things have filled in. Not bad, but I’m glad I’m not on new skis.

13:45: Down to the top end of town this time, to Inner-Arosa, with a church in the middle of the meadows above the village. You don’t get this in Les Arcs. Weirdly the gate to the cemetery has got a jumper on – really nice knitting, pom-poms, the lot. I know it’s cold, but that’s not usually an issue for gates.

14:20: Overtime Bar: on the way here –   that is to say, before drinking anything influential – we saw more knitting, on a lamp post, a bench and even some railings. Very odd. Must find out what’s going on.

14:27: According to a local, there’s a lady in town – a keen knitter – who started knitting stuff for inanimate objects round the village this summer; now there’s a whole group at it and things are being enveloped day by day. Thing is, at current rates of progress the village will have disappeared under coloured wool by about mid-Feb so I suggest you aim to get here before that, perhaps just after the new lift link with Lenzerheide has been completed in late January.

Wednesday/Lenzerheide

12.40: Time for a quick whizz round the piste here before heading on to Davos. Just one end of the mellow west side of the valley is open but it’s worth the effort. The east side is rockier and steeper, and typically opens later. Once the link with Arosa is running, the area will be in the top ten in the country for kilometres of piste. It certainly looks huge from here.

Lenzerheide  PENNY KENDALL

Thursday/Davos

07:20: This room could be in any business hotel on the planet. Bit weird when you’re skiing, but that’s Davos for you – no obvious alpine charm but it’s at 1560m and has five big mountains to ski on even before you get your skins out. At town-level everything works like cuckoo-clockwork and breakfast here in the Hotel Kongress (the clue’s in the name) could have been designed for skiers rather than people destined to sit on their arses all day. There’s all the usual, plus pancakes and maple syrup, a herd-of-pigs worth of bacon, smoked salmon, even chicken soup if that’s your thing.

09.00: We’re at the Parsenn Bahn ski school office. Christian Frei has a canary yellow helmet to match the trousers of his uniform. Quite thorough too – he’s brought two pairs of skis, just in case.

09:04: Up the funicular to start with – we’ve decided off-piste will be literally thin on the ground and skins strictly not necessary but at least Christian can point us out some of the best stuff for next time.

09:55: How wrong can you be? Flat light and flattish piste leads to the east side of the hill where the snow to the side looks quite skiable. It is sugary beneath a nice crust, like macaroons. Not perfect powder but it’s early December and a while since it last snowed. 

Davos_SkiZinal-8516

10:37: Riding the gondola from mid-station the tone of the conversation has changed – maybe we should explore from the Weissfluhgipfel. But the lift’s shut, so we’ll have to pop down to change skis and pick up skins.

11:24: We’re back and heading for the top. Nothing can go wrong today – we got our gear in record time while Christian sorted lunch and now – even better –  he’s carrying it all up for us. I half-offered to take my share but he refused, as planned.

12:04: The view: up close, a big sandwich wedged in my gob, with distant mountains behind. You can see practically the whole of the Swiss Alps from up here, but more particularly the various domains which make up Davos’ skiing, spread round the town like spokes of a wheel. Christian reckons he and his mates have counted up over 100 hundred freeride itineraries without having to think too hard. He’s talking about big routes that might take all day, not just minor diversions from top to mid-station.

12:49: We’re into one of the 100. North side of the Weissfluhgipfel, known as Ballantyne’s, like the whisky but not – today – as smooth. Quite tricky actually. Christian sold me a complete dummy, skiing the first pitch beautifully, though he was jumping out of the snow quite a bit, in retrospect. That would be to negotiate the crust which I have just beaten thoroughly into submission.

14:25: What a run. In deep winter we’d be heading on down, possibly as far as Kublis. Today it’s a short skin bathed in low sun, then back up from mid station of the Schifer gondola. What a day.

Friday/St Moritz

07:05: Word is, there’s a woman who does yoga on skis in nearby St Moritz. We’re off to ski with her. I think a bit of a warm-up might be in order. Or we could just have a pre-breakfast swim in the extraordinary pool of the Grand Hotel Kronenhof in Pontresina. You should stay here at least once in your life.

09:50: We meet Sabrina at Marguns. Blue Suvretta ski school suit, pink helmet with plaits protruding. So far so good. Not chanting, “Ommmm” either. Even better. She’s with a gaggle of fellow instructors, taking them through the essentials of bringing yoga to ski instruction.

09:56: Las Trais Fluors six-man chair. Sabrina explains what yoga on snow is all about, but mainly what it’s not about – standing on your head, finding a new astral plane etc. Yoga is a way of life for her. She’s a good advert for it, and we haven’t even see her ski yet.

10:09: Sabrina is nothing if not unconventional. For warming up, she reckons, the standard high-energy leaping around gets your heart-rate up, you get hot, you sweat and then your muscles get chilly (which rings true, along the same lines as my theory of hot boots off the rack leading to cold feet on the mountain). Instead we do some very simple, controlled moves – leg raises to the front and back. Not so much ‘feel the burn’ as ‘feel the gentle warming’ through your muscles.

10:30: Next is the role of sound in skiing. Fellow-instructor Nick carries our poles while we jam our thumbs under our helmets to block our ears. Skiing off, turns one to eight involve lots of side and backwards glances to see what’s going on, since you really can’t hear a thing beyond your own skis. Then the sense of feedback kicks in, feeling the vibration of your skis as much as their sound. Balance is a bit off (though not as much as skiing with your eyes shut, as the others did earlier) but there’s a lovely sense of skiing in your own bubble. This is getting rather interesting, and we haven’t had a sniff of joss sticks or knotting your legs.

St Moritz  PENNY KENDALL

11:15: Riding the Corviglia chair, we get the first hint of the east: doshas. My favourite too, with some fiery lime pickle on the side. But no, we are in fact talking about how knowing yourself and others can feed into your skiing. Based on your physical constitution, you can apparently be one of three types: vatta, pitta or kapha. Or a mixture. This way of looking at the world is nothing if not inclusive, it would seem. Mystic bullshit alert flashing, I decide to go with it for the rest of the morning before we head home. What have I got to lose other than my yin, or is it yang? Besides, I’m starting to think we’re only just scratching the surface and that there might be something to this after all. FL

Photos: Penny Kendall

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