A Laax approach to learning to ski...

By Tamara Hardingham-Gill, TravelMail


On the edge...a beginner's view of the Laax slopes

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Beginner's luck? Our writer joins some first timers

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As a ski slope virgin, there's plenty of anticipation in the air as I land in Germany's Friedrichshafen airport and embark on a shuttle ride to the Swiss Alps for a four-day winter escape. However, the famed snowy peaks of Verbier, Geneva and St. Moritz are not in my sights. Instead, I'm heading to a little known wonderland in the heart of Eastern Switzerland – Laax.

Situated in the holiday region of Graubünden, the resort is made up of the villages of Flims, Laax and Falera. Laax's snow coverage is one of the most reliable in Europe, making it a dream destination for dedicated skiiers and snowboarders. And now there's me!

My trip coincidentally falls during the Burton European Snowboarding Open 2008, meaning I'm treated to some fantastic half pipe acrobats at Crap Sogn Gion before I've even unpacked. Laax also hosts the FIS World Championships in Skiing and has 220 kilometres of pistes, including a valley run with lighting for night-time skiing.


Laax is a little known but beautiful resort

Since this is my first time on skis, I'm slightly apprehensive but set my mental approach to giving it all I've got and asking myself what's the worst that could happen.

I'm reassessing the answer to this question within the first hour of my beginner's class as I manage to hurl myself into a wooden house, some plastic fencing and a rather large man.


The latter is none too pleased with me but my ski instructor Adrian cheerfully says, "Better you almost kill him, than he you."

He leaves me to my own devices for half an hour to check on some of the other beginners, who have taken to skiing a bit more naturally and are attempting some of the more difficult slopes.

After he leaves, I spend more time sprawled across the snow than standing upright, and find the other instructors less than keen to come to my aide – where's their community spirit?

Fellow beginners attempt to help me up, but after I almost topple an unsuspecting Mexican, I advise them to stay away from me for their own safety.

Feeling deflated, I head back to Hotel Signina. The cable ride down soon brightens my mood as I'm treated to Laax's spectacular alpine scenery.

At the base station I spot a familiar face – the skiier that I managed to knock over earlier in the day. I flash him a broad smile, hoping he may now be able to see the funny side. No such luck. "My shoulder is still hurting..." he mutters and promptly stomps off. It seems my new hobby isn't making me many friends!

Back at the hotel I discover that Laax has a great deal more to offer than just winter sports. The old town of Chur is a half an hour bus ride away, home to the wonderful Rhaetian Museum, devoted to archaeology and the history of Val di Non.

You can also take the Glacier Express ('The slowest fast train in the world') which chugs through Davos to glamorous St Moritz, or the Bernina Express - the Albula to Bernina line has been nominated as an UNESCO World Heritage Site.


Although billed as a winter destination, Laax is popular during the summer months when visitors can enjoy sports such as hiking and mountain biking. The resort is also very family-friendly, with a number of ski schools. Parents who want a day to themselves can simply drop the little ones off in one of three kid's villages (for a fee).

Later that night I meet some of my fellow learners at Riders Palace, a trendy hotel bar for some après-ski entertainment. Exhausted from our efforts on the slopes, we call it a night after one drink.


Easy does it? Is snowboarding any easier?

Given that may day's skiing fell shy of success, the next day I try my hand at snowboarding, convincing myself that this will be easier. Somehow I manage to be even worse, and after two hours of falling over, I head to the Plaun Station for a spot of lunch.

La Vacca is located in an Indian tee pee in the middle of the snow. It's a cosy restaurant furnished in cowhide and wood with an open fire at the centre of the tent. Its menu provides little scope for vegetarians. Do people really eat deer and antelope at midday? Perhaps you need to be a carnivore to understand.

By the end of the day I realise every part of my body is aching and pay a visit to the hotel spa for some vital recuperation. When I ask the attendant for directions he gestures at my swimming costume and shakes his head. "Just body," he says.

I make my way to the changing room, slip out of my suit and wrap myself in a towel, hoping this will meet his approval. It doesn't. He shoots me an exasperated look, which made me feel especially British, before leading me to the sauna. On my final day, I bravely decide to take to the beginners' slopes of Crap Sogn Gion unaided. I go for a policy of seclusion, sticking to a patch away from any other skiiers and managing not to injure myself or anyone else.

A few hours later, I'm feeling pleased with myself as the airport shuttle arrives and our group bids farewell to Laax. During the two-hour drive through Austria, Liechtenstein and Germany, I make a personal promise to keep practising and one day return to Laax a competent skiier - failing that, I suppose there's always mountain biking...

Travel facts:

LAAX is easily reachable by airport shuttle from Zurich and Friedrichshafen Airports (www.graubuenden-express.com). Ryanair (www.ryanair.com) flies direct to Friedrichshafen from London Stansted and SWISS www.swiss.com flies from London City and Heathrow to Zurich.

Hotel Signina (www.signina.ch) offers rooms from £55 per night. For packages and one-stop booking visit www.laax.com or call +41 81 927 77 77.

For further information on the Graubunden region visit www.graubuenden.co.uk