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Rusty on her skis, Anna Glover got the confidence boost she needed at a cool, eco Swiss resort - and the fabulous food was a bonus too...
I'm a better cook than skiier and, as I headed off to Laax in Switzerland – one of the world’s best freestyle resorts – I thought I might focus on the fondue and leave the tricks and jumps to the professionals. My arrival at the newly renovated Riders Hotel put some of my ski-resort prejudices swiftly to bed.
Bucking the traditional chalet trend, it’s a hipster temple to eco-architecture, with the motto ‘we never lose sight of nature’. Sure enough, the bedrooms’ floor-to-ceiling windows displayed the gorgeous alpine scenery perfectly, and the materials used – exposed concrete, pale wood and matte textures – created a cool minimalist vibe. The unique bed, suspended from the ceiling with metal rods, was quirky but super-comfortable, and provided a great spot from which to snap my surroundings. The eco vibe continued at dinnertime, with local, seasonal organic ingredients taking pride of place on the varied vegetarian menu. In the recfectory-style dining room, visitors from all over the world sat at long sharing tables, chatting, exchanging ski stories and tucking into fresh salads, spicy veggie burgers, and homemade vanilla ice cream with a winterberry coulis.
The next morning, with the sun glinting off the snow and lighting up my room like the most spectacular fairy lights, I layered on my ski gear before heading downstairs to line my stomach at the buffet breakfast. Piping-hot porridge, pancakes, fresh fruit and yogurt awaited, and the delicious banana bread proved irresistible. I then headed out to the resort’s famous Freestyle Academy for a bounce around on the trampoline and padded foam pits. Our instructor patiently coaxed us into braver moves until it was time to catch the ski lift, a 10-minute walk away, and hit the slopes. The runs here are wide – great for families or those who, like me, are rusty and want to get back in the swing of things.
We gradually built our confidence, and enjoyed skiing our way down to Laax in time for lunch. There are a staggering 29 restaurants to choose from; we opted for Startgels, a cosy, traditional inn where the wood-fire smell hits you as soon as you walk in. All the food was cooked over an open flame, and my mouth watered at the sight of racks of ribs and rings of sausages smoking on grates, and giant pots of polenta bubbling away beneath them. After such an active morning, we felt we also deserved pudding, and happily succumbed to the renowned almond and chocolate torte.
Bolstered by food, we headed for the beginngers' freestyle park, where we all managed to scale the first mini jump and ramp to whoops and cheers, and slowly built up to bigger and better stunts. The instructor offered encouragement every step of the way, and it was all a lot easier to get into than I’d expected.
After a hot-chocolate break in the nearby Galaaxy – the space-age-style summit station – we headed up the hill to Tegia Larnags, a wooden cabin restaurant where locals gather to share fondue and drink beer. It wasn’t long before we were feeling very merry... merry enough, in fact, to take small plastic sledges back down to the base station – a lot quicker than walking! Back at the hotel we made full use of the yoga room to stretch our tired and aching muscles, before celebrating our derring-do at the well-stocked bar, where we worked our way through the fantastic cocktail list. Those of us whose legs could take it then hit the nightclub, where I’m proud/ashamed to say we danced way into the small hours.
The next day we tackled a few bigger jumps and runs, before heading to the resort’s ‘travelling restaurant’. Situated in the Gondelhalle (where the ski gondolas are stored in the summer), this spectacular restaurant changes theme annually. On our visit, the theme was ‘Where The Wild Things Are’, with walls covered in eccentric bric-a-brac, from stuffed teddies to vintage bikes and UFOs, and the roof completely covered in fairy lights. I was speechless as I took it all in. And then came the food, with creative dishes such as crisp tempura prawns with curried mayo, and homemade linguine with truffle and a slow-cooked egg, coming out of the open kitchen. It’s certainly a change from the usual tartiflette.
Come to Laax for the skiing and stay for the food. I’ll certainly be back to tackle the resort’s formidable halfpipe (the world’s biggest) – after the fondue, of course...
Visit laax.com for further information on the resort. Adult entry to the Freestyle Academy is CHF30 (around £23) for 21⁄2 hours . Nightly rates at Riders Hotel start from CHF170 (around £130) based on two people sharing a room at Riders Hotel. Swiss International Air Lines offers 180 weekly flights from London to Zurich, from £73 one way, including hold luggage.