Richer, Bigger, Steeper. It's Davos Ski Resort

Author of Skiing With Demons, Chris Tomlinson visited the playground of the rich and famous Davos-Klosters with the Ski Club of Great Britain finding it bigger and steeper than he thought - especially the price of beers.

Once again, my invite to this year’s World Economic Forum in Davos got lost in the post! Fortunately, I did get an invite from the Ski Club of Great Britain to their ‘Powder & Piste’ holiday in the posh Swiss resort. This meant I would be visiting in early February, not January and on an 'easy', not a private jet, but I was finally Davos bound.

Even though my plans for fixing the world’s socio-economic problems would not be aired, I was still looking forward to visiting the Davos-Klosters ski area and presumably rub shoulders with Zurich bankers, Russian oligarch and European royalty.

Skiing With Demons - Swiss Kids

For the rich and famous, going skiing is an obvious way to holiday incognito. Put a helmet and goggles on and no one can tell if you’re a member of the royal family, Bill Gates, Bono or just a nobody from Hull – assuming they don’t notice your jacket is from Primark.

Disappointingly, it being Swiss half term, I mostly encountered Swiss children, identifiable by their size and ability to ski like demons. Although, unlike in France during February, they were not amassed in delinquent hoards.

As the transfer coach approached Davos, I was expecting to see a quaint village, with wooden chalets draped with chintzy charm. Yet, I was met with an urban, metropolitan landscape of modern conference buildings and high-rise 60s architecture and a lot of concrete. There were a few old Victorian era hotels mostly with fading grandeur. The streets were filled with cars, vans and lorries not horse-drawn sleighs ridden by people in fur hats. Turns out Davos is a big town, not just a ski resort, and is officially the highest town in Europe.

Clapham Sur La Neige

My first impression of Klosters was also underwhelming. Arriving by train, it seemed more like Clapham sur la Neige than an exclusive ski resort, but then no town or city ever looks its best when approaching by rail. The centre of Klosters had more alpine charm, but it too is a functioning town with supermarkets, department stores, furniture and mobile phone shops.

The ski area itself was impressive. Davos-Klosters has six distinct skiable mountains which are connected by trains and buses that run along the valley. Being one of the oldest Swiss resorts, the infrastructure is a little dated in parts. The world’s very first T-bar was installed in Davos-Bolgen (in 1934), and plenty of these Swiss torture devices have been installed since, especially on the Rinerhorn mountain. I spent the whole of my first day their riding them - not so much fun for the boarders.

The area has lots of wide long slopes ideal for carving big turns uninterrupted. I also encountered some seriously steep black runs and many a red that would be graded black in other places. Particularly on the Parsenn and Jakobshorn mountains the skiing is really quite hardcore. A black run from Usser Isch to the centre of Davos Platz particularly sticks in my mind having a near vertical section which I had to sideslip down - it’s been a while since I’ve had to deploy that tactic!

Skiing Pussycats

I’ve skied several other resorts in the Graubünden canton (Flims/Laax/Arosa/Lenzerheide) and always found the run grading to be a bit limp, leading me to think the Swiss were skiing pussycats. Skiing Davos-Klosters has made me change my mind. Perhaps Davos is the Swiss equivalent of Chamonix, a big town, where the skiing is bigger, deeper and steeper than other French resorts. Maybe Davos is to the Graubünden, what St Anton is to the Tyron in Austria.

When I set off I was expecting to encounter high prices and Davos didn’t disappoint. The hotel charged 5chfs (just over €5) for a carafe of tap water and the cheapest wine on the menu was 49chfs (about €50. I even had to pay 7chfs for a stick of lip balm but that was a medical emergency. Conversely a six-day full area lift pass was a reasonable 336 chfs (€354) - cheaper than most French resorts! I can’t tell you how much a large beer cost, because I was too frightened to buy a round.

The high prices explain why the pistes were so empty during half term. There can’t be many families other than Swiss ones, who can afford to take their kids to Davos on holiday. Why the Swiss are so rich is beyond my understanding and the scope of this blog. Staying out of wars and welcoming tax exiles I suspect has something to do with it. The rich are different to you and me – they have money.

I enjoyed my sober week in Davos and look forward to attending the World Economic Forum next year. Although rather than discuss the problems of the world with the people who caused most of them, I think I’ll go skiing instead.

Sample chapters from Chris Tomlinson’s books (the Skiing with Demons series) can be read online here.