Snowfall has become notoriously unpredictable in recent years, but Half-Term is here, the heavens are currently open for business, and so too are some of the continent’s flashiest and most bibulous ski resorts. In a short new series, Eddy Downpatrick talks us through a few high-profile lairs in Switzerland.
Gstaad vs St. Moritz
Honourable early mentions here must go to Gstaad and St. Moritz, who play hosts to the two most elite ski clubs in the world (The Eagle and The Corviglia, respectively). Is there a secret battle of one-upsmanship betwixt the two? Is it actually smarter to be a member of one over t’other? No, I imagine the Aga Khan and co. would give neither hoots nor champagne flutes (oyster cups is a little trickier to rhyme) when sitting in dining rooms as cosy as their own homes with meat and drink to rival the Savoy.
Both resorts have a Palace Hotel, the most notable features of which are an in-built rock pool-and-waterfall swimming area (St. Moritz) and the Green Go nightclub (Gstaad) complete with its own pool and possibly the most expensive beverages purchasable in any Alpine dwelling (Aspen must be a competitor).
You will see a lot of fur and a fair smattering of Moncler...
What are you likely to see and what sort of person are you likely to find? As painful as it is to generalise, you will see a lot of fur and a fair smattering of Moncler, worn by no shortage of affluent exiles. In St. Moritz, you may encounter a jolly band of eccentric Brits, army officers especially, ready to hurl themselves down the icy chute of the other prestigious club in the vicinity, The Cresta, on a bladed tea tray.
Moving on to Verbier, on a par with Austria’s St. Anton in terms of its popularity with Brits, though more heavily skewed to the second-home-owning crowd. A similar if not even greater number of British ‘seasonaires’ (generally, 18-20 year olds drinking and uh.. ahem’ing themselves into oblivion whilst skiing with drastically-varying degrees of commitment) grace Verbier as ski instructors, nannies, cooks, handymen, chalet girls, bar staff, and the like.
So popular has the resort become with affluent Albions that the Canton of Valais (one of 26 regional, administrative authorities that comprise the Swiss Confederation), in which Verbier and also Zermatt find themselves, imposed a cap on the number of foreigners able to buy or build homes.
Not that it seems to have much of an effect. Without delving into statistics that I do not possess, from a mere optical comparison (March 2009 vs. January 2019), the already vast resort seems to have done a balloon act, so much so that pathway access to a great number of apartment buildings has simply disappeared. (How to return to the flat the wartime generation may have owned in quieter aeons past? Climb over fences and through other people’s gardens. )
Surely, then, this is the type of place any self- and privacy-respecting individual would seek to plague-style avoid? Not so former Chancellor-of-the-Exchequer turned media mogul (irresistible) George Osborne, who has decided the best place in the mountainous world to build a chalet and avoid being verbally abused as he hauls skis along bustling streets to heaving cable car queues, no doubt attired in Roman legionnaire meets 80s onesie garb, is this Brit-infested conurbation. James Blunt splits his time between Ibiza and Verbier, but anyone who may have seen him exchanging verbals on Top Gear or Twitter will know he is not shy of a witty retort or three.
Are there tables on which to dance, as rightly you might ask? Yes of course...
There is a great variety of skiing to be enjoyed, from beginner slopes to vertiginous couloirs. With the assistance of a little experience and/or a guide, the steep chutes of Mont Gélé and the freeriderishly-wild realms beneath Jacob’s Ladder await. A route up to, along, and down the latter will lead the recklesser of spirit around a large and rather picturesque dammed lake the wall of which becomes skiable, admittedly to a reasonably-exclusive band of lunatics, with a sufficient dump of snow.
Are there tables on which to dance, as rightly you might ask? Yes of course, and the best of them is to be found at the Farinet, packed to the rafters with seasonaires, people who could very well be their parents, and some folks pretending to merely ‘chill’ by the bar whilst they (and everyone else) gets completely soaked in Carlsberg (for some reason the resort’s predominating barley-shake) and sing university-clubnight favourites such as Robbie Williams’ Angel and The Killers’ Mr Brightside. Nice and slightly more civilised place for a drink – Le Fer de Cheval. Decent place to eat – they abound, but Le Caveau and Chez Martin are the best of the bunch.
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