Director finds its adrenaline tap turned up to 11 in Laax, The Alps’ most hair-raisingly thrilling skiing hub
People go skiing for many reasons: the tranquillity, adventure, social opportunities and soul-enrichingly magnificent scenery, to name but a few. Laax, in the Swiss canton of Graubünden, though, is definitely a ski resort for one type of ski or snowboard enthusiast – thrill-craving adrenaline zealots.
The emphasis our three-day trip is to have on sheer whoopee factor becomes evident when, on our way over to Laax from Zürich, we stop off at the small town of Disentis, which lies on the highest step of the Rhine valley, in order to visit the remarkable production facility belonging to Zai – manufacturer of the most beautifully crafted (and, at an average of £5,000 a pair, most expensive) downhill blades on the planet. Thanks to Zai’s innovative employment of unusual natural materials (think natural rubber surfaces, cedarwood or granite cores, and even natural wool felt fibres), the skis offer effortless handling and an all-round blistering performance.
So it was with some anticipation that we soldiered on with the last 25 miles or so of our journey, armed with a full selection of Zai’s remarkable snow carvers, to Laax, in Graubünden. Laax, with its four snowparks, a Freestyle Academy, the world’s largest halfpipe and 235 km of piste (70 per cent of which is more than 2,000 metres above sea level, meaning you’re guaranteed snow throughout the season) is the go-to resort for skiers and snowboarders who value speed and kicks over serenity and calm.
But before the action started, we needed to check out (and into) our digs for the duration of the trip: Riders Palace, a cubist, distinctly Alpine building filled with designer furniture, flat screens, lighting installations and PlayStations, and clearly aimed at the younger market – especially noticeable when one ventures down to the vast nightclub which, on the night of our visit, was packed with an enthralled crowd enjoying the skills of a famous German DJ on the wheels of steel.
Following a day on the slopes, we took a tour of the Rockresort Apartments – a chic new accommodation option with beautifully appointed interiors, fashioned entirely from regional materials. Thanks to a novel ownership sharing system, regular visitors can purchase a stake in one of the apartments on the proviso of staying only three weeks of the year.
The hardcore adrenaline pumping began the following day once Laax’s ski rental staff kitted us out with twin-tip skis, which enable the skier to take off and land backwards. We then headed off to Laax Snowpark – which dubs itself “Europe’s premier freestyle resort”, by virtue of its 90 obstacles spread over four snowparks and the opening of that aforementioned halfpipe – which is 200 metres long and 6.90 metres high – at the end of last year. (The latter didn’t disappoint – the lengthy scream I personally emitted on the way down was involuntary.)
For our stint in the indoor Freestyle Academy we tested out the trampolines, ramps and kickers. This is where visitors can learn to do tricks such as air flips without nullifying their travel insurance, as the worst that can happen is an undignified head-first fall into a vast chasm full of foam or onto a giant airbag.
The whole place has been designed in such a way as to encourage visitors to be more daring and ambitious in small increments. There are also beginner, intermediate and advanced sections, which encourages mixed ability visits, making it more welcoming to families (the whole of Laax, in fact, is notably child-friendly, a prime example being The Snow Wonderland – a skiing school especially for children centred around the fictional magician Ami Sabi).
It’s fair to say, adrenaline flowed throughout this entire trip (after one hearty meal in a restaurant nestling on the downhill run into Laax, we had the option of letting gravity take us down on a “bum sledge”, but the icy conditions at the stage of the season made it inadvisable (two people had been hospitalised that day).
The only thing equally as memorable as the ski-related thrills, in fact, was the food on this trip: the spicy fare at pan-Asian noodle bar Nooba; the continental breakfasts with delectable croissants and cured meats at the Signina hotel; rotisserie steaks and garlic bread in Argentinian-themed restaurant La Vacca, a vast tepee with a round fireplace in the middle; the traditional Swiss fondue and röstis at Tegia Larnags – everything that passed our lips was stunningly good quality.
In fact, it’s fair to say that this was a trip that raised my tastebuds’ expectations as much as it did my pulse rate. So, if you’re both a gourmand and a buzz-seeker, it’s hard to think of a better winter destination for you on the planet.