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Published on Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Ski resort that's got a lot of Crap

I'm not being rude, but there's an awful lot of Crap in LAAX, the winter sports resort that in recent years has reinvented itself as the coolest place in Switzerland to ski and snowboard.

Yesterday I had lunch at a Crap restaurant and there's a Crap bar and a Crap lift. Crap, in case you're wondering, means "mountain top" in the local dialect, hence many things bear its name in LAAX.

Now I've got the cheap jokes out of the way, I can tell you that LAAX, which covers the Swiss villages of Laax, Flims and Falera, is the sort of resort you can recommend to any winter sports enthusiast, youngsters or families, beginner or advanced, skier or boarder. Certainly it ticks many of the boxes on most skiers' or boarders' wish-lists including ski-in, ski-out accommodation, wide range of runs, oodles of tempting off-piste, not one but four fun-parks (one of which boasts the biggest half-pipe in Europe and can claim to be one of the best this side of the Atlantic) plenty of apres-ski and a fast, modern lift system.

Perhaps best of all the slopes are almost deserted, especially in January. LAAX is not yet that well-known in international markets and so lift queues are rare, I'm told, except sometimes at weekends when the weather forecast is good (when the locals come to ski) and the February and Christmas holidays. Skiing there this week, I was sharing the pistes only with a handful of others.

For families with young children there are three "Snow Wonderland" ski areas, there are two beginners' parks (the highest of which has just been expanded) and, especially for those with older kids (who are perhaps getting a bit bored of skiing with mum and dad), there's a new indoor Freestyle Academy (the only one in Europe) where they can learn to jump (into the safety of a foam pit).

LAAX is a doddle to reach as it's only 90 minutes from Zurich airport, from where there are frequent flights to the UK with Swiss Air, British Airways, Air Berlin and bmi. Ryanair has flights from Stansted to Friedrichshafen. You can book packages through a handful of UK operators including Erna Low, Ski Safari, Powder Byrne, Neilson and Ski Solutions.

The newest accommodation is the rocksresort, a complex of eight striking, stone-covered cube-shaped self-catering apartment blocks. Uber stylish with high-spec interiors, including stone bathrooms that turn into steam rooms, flat-screen TVs, dishwashers and panoramic windows with mountain views, these are not your typical Alpine apartments. Priced from £660 to just over £2,000 for a two- bedroom apartment for a week, they're not the cheapest option in LAAX, but situated right next to the base station, they are the most convenient.

Agents can book direct with and receive commission on the accommodation. Airport transfers, ski hire, lift passes and lessons can also be booked at the same time (there's only one ski school and one rental shop) to keep things simple.

As 70% of runs in LAAX are above 2,000 metres and lots of its slopes are covered by snow-making machines, skiing is pretty much guaranteed from late November through to April, although it admits its slopes were pretty dry at the start of this season due to the warm weather across the Alps. Right now, however, there's absolutely tons of snow - in fact there's almost too much. This week, the highest part of the resort was closed as an excess of snowfall meant they hadn't managed to prepare the pistes. Wind is also a problem on the exposed runs, as is the case with other high-altitude resorts.

To try to attract young clients, LAAX is promoting a more laid-back style of skiing. In addition to the fun-parks for the freeriders (and the new Freestyle Academy), it has a long freestyle run with kickers and rails and boxes and roofs, so you don't have to be a hardcore freestyle fanatic to join the fun. Also, some pistes have been designed with gentle banks on either side to encourage people to ski from side to side, rather than racing down the fall-line.

I've read that there isn't much in LAAX to challenge the advanced skier and I was disappointed that I wasn't able to try its most difficult run, the Alp Ruschein, which was closed this week (again due to heavy snowfall). However, there are some lovely long runs to compensate, including one 10km run from the top of the glacier. There's also an easily accessible off-piste bowl to play in.

For a high-altitude resort its exceptionally pretty, with some lovely tree-lined runs on the lower slopes.

I was worried that having only one ski school might be a problem as competition in ski resorts is generally A Good Thing, but Jaro and Claudio who guided us around the slopes were immense. I especially liked their bright green outfits (the female instructors wear hot pink, I want that job!).

On the downside, the only thing that's really cheap in LAAX are the Crap jokes. It's not a resort for skiers on a really tight budget but worthy of consideration for the rest.


By Linsey McNeill











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