The association with winter holidays gives a misleading impression. This is a land of sunshine, under whose golden rays a long valley stretches between snowy peaks. Lakes, forested slopes, and villages make up one of the most beautiful views in the world. St Moritz, the largest town in the Engadin Valley in Switzerland, has been Europe’s most renowned winter resort since the turn of the 20th century, when European royalty and aristocracy took to holidaying here, partly because with only two roads into the valley at either end it offered good security. Hence the resort acquired the glamorous and exclusive reputation which it has never lost, and the luxury hotels here welcome many celebrities. St Moritz is lively in every season, although winter remains the high spot. St Moritz has everything one could want where winter sports are concerned. Glorious scenery, international skiing competitions, an airport within easy reach, and the sunny climate bring people here from all over the world. Despite its position amid snow-covered mountains, the Engadin Valley enjoys an amazing 322 days of sunshine per year, so the risk of a holiday spoilt by bad weather is almost nil. The air in the valley is likened to champagne: cool, clear, light, and expensive. St Moritz is famous for its nightlife and a busy calendar of art and music events, as well as a wide diversity of winter sports competitions. The town stands on a lake which freezes in winter, and when snow falls on the ice it is used for horse races, polo, golf, and cricket. If no snowfalls immediately it is used for ice skating. Skating here is a magical experience. The ice is so transparent that the lake bottom, rocks, weed, fish, and all are visible. This is what locals refer to as ‘black ice’ since the lake appears black in the shadow of the steep forested slopes rising above it. Walking over the ice you sometimes hear a strange rumbling sound as if the ice were alive. In fact, it is caused by the movement of the ice along the deep cracks. But there is no need to be afraid of it breaking. Hundreds of people can walk on the surface without danger, and on one occasion a small jet aircraft made an emergency landing here.
Normally, however, the aircraft land at the airport just 5 kilometers away, to which there are scheduled flights from Zurich. The winter Olympics were held here in 1928 and 1948, and are still remembered as high spots of local history. The Alpine Ski World Championship has been held here three times and will take place for the fourth time in 2003. During my visit, I watched the Women’s Downhill and Super G races with the excitement that only seeing with your own eyes can give, and I could hardly believe that the finishing line was so close. Rubbing my eyes, I looked again. Wiberg, Goetschl, Kostner… they were all there. When the race was over I treated myself to the pleasure of skiing down the same run. Of course, I did not fly down as they had but merely slid, my ski blades firmly on the snow at all times. Bobsleigh racing is another major attraction of St Moritz, and the bobsleigh run is the only one made solely of snow and ice anywhere in the world. It melts every summer and is rebuilt every winter.
The run extends all the way from St Moritz to Celerina and offers such heights of exhilaration for participants and spectators alike that the bobsleigh championships have been held here 34 times. After his first bobsleigh ride here, Formula 1 racing driver Schumacher declared that when his car racing career was over he intended to take up bobsleighing.
To reach the pistes, you take the mountain railway to Chantarelle, and from there to Corviglia, where there are restaurants, cafés, and shops. At an altitude of 2500 meters, Corviglia is also a transition point for many other pistes. If you are an advanced skier, then I advise you to ski down to Salastrians and there take the ski lifts, both of which go to the same slopes, which are used for international competitions. At this altitude, a half-pipe has been prepared for snowboarders. The pistes extend from the 3057-meter summit of Piz Nair down to St Moritz.
With spectacular views of the Alps and the entire Engadin Valley spread before you, this will be a run you will never forget. When the snow level is adequate, you can ski anywhere on the mountain here, so if you have sufficient experience and self-confidence you can discover your own routes across the freshly fallen snow and even ski right down to St Moritz itself. However, there may not be enough snow for this, although the town stands at 1850 meters. In that case, you can ski as far as Chantarella and return as you came by train.