Brits helped invent the alpine winter holiday. The love enduresby Jamie Strachan / November 16, 2011 / Leave a comment
In 1864, Johannes Badrutt, a St Moritz hotelier, made an offer to four British summer guests. He asked them to come back, but in winter. If they did not enjoy themselves, he would pay their costs. He won his wager, and the British love affair with skiing began. From then on, the British appetite for alpine winter sports grew and small alpine villages have, over time, turned into large and highly profitable operations.
Off-piste runs allow skiers to float through deep, untracked snow. Japan, Canada and the American Rockies are famed for “powder” snow, as the low humidity makes it “drier,” giving it a lighter feel. French Chamonix, Swiss Verbier and Austrian St Anton are equally good for powder. La Grave, in France, is the only resort in Europe combining lifts with no pistes and a large area of unpatrolled terrain: a challenge for even the best skiers.
Technology has played a crucial part in the growth of the large ski resorts. One example is Les Trois Vallées, three Savoie valleys—Saint-Bon, Allues and Belleville—with eight resorts between them. A network like this is only possible because of the 200 ski lifts, which can transport 260,000 skiers per hour. Of the resorts in Les Trois Vallées, the largest, Courchevel, Méribel and Val Thorens, have over 370 miles of slopes, starting from an altitude of 1,100 metres all the way up to a giddy 3,200 metres. Austria’s SkiWelt, Arlberg Circus and Zillertal Superski areas also offer similarly broad areas.
Skis have come a long way since the barrel staves of the 19th century. Today’s composite skis are shorter than before, some convex and some concave, many with upturned ends known as “rockers.” These give advantages both on and off piste, and open up new areas to intermediate skiers.
The resorts have also undergone change. Chocolate-box villages twinkle with the lights of high-end shops, hotels and restaurants. Ski resorts are no longer just a destination for sports enthusiasts; they are high-end destinations in themselves. Now I have finished skiing competitively, I run a chalet company, and A-list celebrities, sportspeople and some of the world’s most successful businesspeople come in droves.
Luxurious chalets and hotels are ever-popular and Herr Badrutt’s welcoming Alpine bolthole is still going strong in St Moritz: a suite at Badrutt’s Palace Hotel over the new year will set you back €12,750 per day. Sadly the management no longer offer wagers…