Travel: Is Swiss skis really a swizz?
Leaning my head out of the train window, I take in the fresh mountain air as we glide along the edge of Lake Zurich, writes Jamie Grierson.
The beautiful reflection of the winter sun bounces off the icy water and is framed exquisitely by the snow-topped mountains in the distance.
I’m travelling by train from Zurich airport and after a couple of changes, I’m on the Rhaetian railway to Davos in the largest Swiss canton of Graubunden.
As we snake up the mountain through coniferous trees, climbing ever higher, the snow covering the ground becomes thicker and thicker.
It’s the perfect start to a ski holiday.
In the past, I’ve been crammed into a minibus with nine or 10 companions and thrown back and forth round hairpin bends, while listening to an obnoxious seasonnaire tell me how ‘sick’ the powder has been this year.
I haven’t been skiing in Switzerland before, so I’m keen to see how it compares to France and the USA. With its world famous designer watches, unattainable bank accounts and uber-strong currency, it’s not surprising that Switzerland is much fancier.
From the flat-screen TVs in the bubble lifts, to the succulent wiener-schnitzel in the mountainside restaurants, the quality of the Swiss ski experience is much more luxurious. But of course, like all things luxurious, you have to pay. Switzerland is more expensive than France to holiday in, and may even be pricier than the States.
My introduction to the Swiss high life is at the Intercontinental in Davos. The hotel, which opened last December, is shaped like a giant egg and rests on the mountainside above the rather Soviet bloc-looking town of Davos.
The town is now synonymous with the World Economic Forum, which sees global leaders come together and talk about how they can save the world and skiing. It can be blamed for a number of photos of UK Chancellor George Osborne in full ski-garb, including a rather trendy neck buff.
The hotel is certainly comfortable, the restaurant menu is first class and the bar, designed by HR Giger of the Alien movie franchise, is super stylish. But I have to admit that it’s all a bit much for a man of my tastes.
I feel particularly self conscious when I slice into my tomato-based meal and squirt scalding hot juice across the table and down the shirt of the far more sophisticated person sat opposite me. For a town that is used to hosting the British Royal family, this must feel like a visit from the Royles.
And I am frequently reminded of the Royal interest in Davos. “Kiss-and-tell doesn’t happen in Davos,” I’m told, moments after being shown the Chesa Grischuna hotel where the Royal family stay.
Much more affordable and down-to-earth is the Hotel Wynegg. A modest and fully restored chalet-style building in the heart of Davos Klosters, the hotel oozes Alpine charm and is run by an enthusiastic and unpretentious trio of twenty-somethings, who all grew up in the village.
While affordable and simple, there is nothing rough around the edges about this place; it is stylish, the restaurant serves warming home-cooked food and the rooms combine clean, modern touches with traditional features.
But brushing all the glamour, wealth and exclusivity aside - what about the skiing?
Our ski guide Andre Kindschi has been all over the world skiing, but the love of his home country Switzerland is infectious. However, despite the large number of runs, the skiing at Davos Klosters lacks a sense of variety and can become quite repetitive.
An hour away on the bus is Lenzerheide, a resort recently linked with another called Arosa. The brand new lift connecting the two has effectively doubled the access to skiing in the resort.
For someone who loves to get the miles in, covering large swathes of mountain territory, this is much more like it. The skiing is mixed and suitable for all skill levels.
We stay in Priva Lodge, a giant chalet-style hotel with all the luxury trimmings. A relatively new development, it feels a little isolated, but I’m sure this will be corrected in time, as new resorts, hotels and chalets spring up around it.
Traditionally, I don’t waste any free time on anything but skiing or snowboarding. It seems odd to spend so much money and not use every minute available. But I’m introduced to piste sledging and snowshoeing in Graubunden and I’m pleasantly surprised.
I’m a bit of a thrill-junkie and sledging is fantastic. If you have no fear and keep your feet up, you can really pick up speed. Throw in a few mates - and a few beers - and you have yourself a unique and incredibly fun race.
Snowshoeing, which is not a thrill-ride, is nevertheless fascinating. Accessing areas of the mountain you can’t on skis or a snowboard brings great pleasure, and accompanied by our Swiss guide, who is capable of distinguishing between the snow tracks of a bunny and a squirrel, it’s all rather educational.
Although many of the stereotypes about Switzerland being a rich country are true, it also offers some very novel ski experiences. Even if it’s a little bit on the posh side, for five-star ski, it’s unbeatable.
> Jamie Grierson from the Press Association was a guest of the tourist board Visit www.graubunden.com
> Rooms at the InterContinental Hotel in Davos (www.ihg.com/intercontinental) start from £135 per night, including breakfast.
> Apartments at the PRIVA Alpine Lodge in Lenzerheide (www.privalodge.ch/en.html) start from £223 per night for a two bedroom property (minimum seven night stay).
> Flights from London to Zurich are available with SWISS (www.swiss.com) from £128 return.
> Travel from Zurich Airport to Chur on the Swiss rail system using a Swiss Transfer Ticket. First class tickets cost £153 per person and second class tickets cost £96 per person (valid for one month).