Everyone might have heard of St Moritz, Verbier and Zermatt, but places like Lenzerheide are where the locals ski to avoid lengthy queues and overpriced drinks
When I first mention to friends and colleagues that I’m heading to Switzerland for a ski holiday, they excitedly gabble the names of various renowned ski resorts, only to look slightly baffled when I tell them the name of the resort – Lenzerheide. Most of them confess to having never heard of it, but primarily that’s why I’m going. I’m going there because I don’t want to waste hours in lift queues; I don’t want to pay through the nose for drinks and dinners; and I find something alluring about a ski resort that exists largely under the radar of everyone except the Swiss themselves (and maybe a few of their Italian neighbours... ).
Lenzerheide itself sits in the resort-heavy Swiss region of Graubunden – a mere 30-minute bus ride from the town of Chur, the great jumping-off point for resorts like Flims, Laax and Davos Klosters – and offers 158km of piste as well as two well-maintained terrain parks for snowboarders, freestyle skiers and dads trying to impress their kids. But it's its burgeoning reputation for off piste and backcountry skiing that appealed to me.
Such is the efficiency of the Swiss rail system that within three hours of landing at Zurich airport on a chilly Thursday night we are safely ensconced in the welcoming bar of the Hotel Kurhaus in Lenzerheide. Admittedly, we had to change a couple of times and get a bus for the last huzzah up the mountain, but we didn’t need to stress about hiring a car, reading a map or fitting snow chains. We even got to enjoy a glass of wine – the train is another of the reasons why skiing in Switzerland is such a joy.
The resort itself has a major cachet, particularly for my wife (who had selflessly stepped into the breach to accompany me after the late withdrawal of a colleague) – it’s possible to spend the entire day in the sunshine. From first run in the morning to the rewarding Glühwein at the unmissable Goldgräber Bar before the ski down, you are basking in sunshine (provided, of course, the sun is out!). Lenzerheide has slopes on both sides of the resort – so as the sun moves from east to west over the course of the day, you just switch sides to stay with it. So simple and so much more enjoyable!
The other reason Lenzerheide struck such a chord with us is that, because it’s quiet, any powder that falls hangs around a lot longer. Head to some of the big-name resorts in the Alps and any chance of fresh tracks has evaporated within a morning; here, we arrived three days after a significant snowfall and were still able to get shin deep between pistes for the duration of our stay. Sure, a surfeit of seasonnaires (aka ski bums) is great when you need to get served in a busy bar or you want your chalet room cleaned, but they are a pain in the neck when the snow is fresh! No such problems here in Lenzerheide. Add to that the fact that the western side of the resort has some great looking spines, couloirs and bowls, and it’s easy to see where Lenzerheide is getting its reputation for off piste skiing and snowboarding – just have to time our arrival a bit better next time.
So after each day of cruisy piste-riding in the morning, followed by a bit of powder-hunting in the afternoon, there was only one way to finish. Glühwein and Euro pop at the on-hill bar du jour – the Goldgräber. I’m not sure what the best part is – the Glühwein in polystyrene cups, the sunshine or the clientele unashamedly singing along to the music, regardless of whether they’re kids, mums and dads or too-cool-for-school snowboarders. Suitably refreshed, it’s a fun run down that brings you right into the heart of the village – just across the road from the Hotel Schweizerhof and its very welcoming bar...