Forget cuckoo clocks, fondue and chintz - the Swiss ski resort of Laax is a super-groovy destination for the style-conscious
If you’re looking for a ski resort that offers something a bit different from wooden chalets, chintz and fondue, then I’ve got the answer. Head straight for Laax, an uber-cool Swiss destination where the hotels are groovy and eco, the bars are all minimalist brushed steel, and even the cowsheds are designer.
Laax started life as a snowboarders’ resort, being one of the very first resorts to embrace boarding. It used to be called Flims, too, but is being heavily rebranded in the light of massive investment and now incorporates the three resorts of Flims, Laax and Falera. This investment is all aimed at making it ‘the iPod of the Alps’, as they like to describe themselves – innovative, design-led and trendy.
There are funky cheap-and-cheerful hotels exclusively for snowboarders, mountain bars and restaurants that look like your usual wooden-chalet affair from the outside but are slinky designer havens on the inside, and restaurants that are as far as you can get from traditional fondue stops and grotty self-service cafeterias.
Firstly, book yourself into the spankingly new ski-in-ski-out rocksresort, an eco-haven collection of self-catering apartment blocks right at the Laax base station. The blocks were inspired by the surrounding mountain landscape and look like sugar-cube shaped boulders randomly scattered across the bottom of the piste. They house minimalist apartments as well as a network of shops, restaurants, a nearby supermarket and even a boutique hotel, and the whole complex has cool environmental credentials.
If money is no object, then check in to the deeply swish five-star Waldhaus Grand Resort & Spa in nearby Flims. It’s pricey but has cutting edge glass lifts, a spa area complete with dayglo plastic designer furniture, and stainless steel underwater beds in the outside Jacuzzi area.
Alternatively, if you’re feeling the pinch and want to hang out with the boarders and freestyle ski bums, stay at the groovy Riders Palace, a brilliantly located hostelry (just three minutes walk from the Laax base station) that offers bargain dormitory-style male- or female-only rooms as well as normal rooms. It also has a lively bar and lounge, as well as a club with DJs where you can party the night away.
Once in resort, the skiing is excellent, particularly for intermediates, and there is great terrain for snowboarders. Laax is, in fact, one of Europe’s leading freestyle winter resorts, claiming to be the snowboarding capital of Europe, no less, and boasting four snow parks, Europe’s largest half-pipe plus 220km of slopes. It plays host to many big boarding events such as the Burton European Open and the National British Snowboarding and Freeski Championships, the BRITS.
Top runs include the number 10 red from the top of La Siala, which goes all the way down into Flims from 2810m to 1100m, or the number 30 blue which runs across from Vorab at 2670m over to Nagens. The number 18 red and the number 60 red are both immensely pretty home runs down through trees, running in to Flims and Laax respectively, but there are endless cruisey blues and bowls all over the resort, if rather limited terrain for black run skiers.
For on-mountain food there is a wide choice of eateries that offer designer food in designer surroundings. Try the Capalari restaurant at the Crap Sogn Gion lift station (NB lots of things are called ‘Crap’ in Laax – the word actually means ‘mountain peak’ in Romansch, which is spoken locally, and they knowingly flog it to death for the delight of English-speaking visitors). Gleamingly glass-fronted and industrial-chic on the outside, inside diners sit together at giant Wagamama-style wooden refectory tables and munch on local specialities such as barley soup, pizokels (a variation on gnocchi) and wooden boards heaped with cold cuts and cheese.
Or check out the Tegia Larnags, just above the Laax base station. This looks like it is going to be a traditional chalet-style restaurant, but inside it is intensely modern, all bleached pine and smart bar stools. It specialises in posh mountain cuisine, but if you really must, you can have a fondue here.
Then there is the Tegia Curnius Falera, whose walls are artfully adorned with giant animal heads and tartan wallpaper, and where punters loaf about on squishy leather sofas. Sort of Scottish shooting lodge meets gastro pub.
For an alternative eating experience, book into the teepee on the slopes by the Plaun lift station. Called La Vacca (meaning ‘cow’ in Romansch), it serves up fabulous steaks and great wine in a stylish cow-themed interior where the wooden bench seats are covered in hides and arranged around a vast open fire.
For après fun, there is not much to choose between. The town is pretty quiet at the end of the day (apart from the cool and dudey snowboarding crowd at Riders Palace), but bars on the slopes worth a sociable tea-time glühwein include the, yep you’ve guessed it, Crap Bar, at the bottom of the home run in Laax, and the Legna Bar at the bottom in Flims. The Iglu bar outside the F*** rental shop in Laax also livens up at the end of the day, though the music it blasts out is slightly questionable.
Laax prides itself on being a slick operation, and this is justified. Everything works extremely smoothly, from excellent lifts to shuttle buses. There seems to be joined-up thinking throughout the resort, a result, perhaps, of one single company being in charge of seemingly everything. This company, the Weisse Arena Gruppe, in fact grew out of the merger between the ski lift and cable car companies as well as various hotels and restaurants, ski hire outlets and ski schools, hence the properly integrated offering.
The resort is just a handy 90-minute drive from Zurich or Friedrichshafen, which also makes it a great weekend destination. “Retarded!” as our snowboarding chums would say.