Surlej

 

 

Published in The Sunday Telegraph in 2012

In the Corvatsch- Furschellas ski area, there is a run dedicated to slow skiers. But I’m not on that run. I’m at the edge of a gulley, the tips of my skis buried in the bank. Every time I start to push out backwards, another skier comes hurtling over the summit. Six, seven, eight pass before I get going again. No wonder the slow skiers need a piste of their own.

Part of the Bernina Range and overlooking Lake Silvaplana, Corvatsch has always been overshadowed by bigger, more established, more glamorous St Moritz just down the road, and it always will be. But if you want a resort with predominantly red runs, night skiing every Friday, a large Snowpark, and lower bills than St Moritz, then this is the place to come.

It all starts in Surlej, at the bottom of the Corvatsch cable car. Surlej calls itself a village but it’s actually closer to a purpose-built resort, neatly arranged up the side of the mountain and crowned by Nira Alpina hotel at 1,797m. There’s a free shuttle running up to the Corvatsch lift (there’s also a public car park under NiraAlpina) but to get the best out of Surlej, you really do need to stay at Nira Alpina. Not only is it ski in, ski out, it’s directly opposite the Corvatsch lift. Even better: there’s a private covered walkway between Nira Alpina and the lift, though disappointingly, there’s no onsite ski shop for hiring equipment. In St Moritz a hotel of this calibre would have its own ski shop.

But apart from the lack of a ski shop – and there is a modern, spacious one just down the road – the Nira Alpina is lovely: slick and contemporary with just a hint of Alpine chic (I know you can over-do the whole Alpine thing but a little more wouldn’t harm here). The rooms are beautifully done, with floor-to-ceiling windows giving stunning vistas of the Engadine Valley below, and food in the rooftop restaurant, is top notch. There’s also a spa where you can have the toxins beaten out of your with a wooden stick, if you’re of a mind to.

As for the skiing, the Corvatsch cable car whisks skiers up to the midstation at 2,550m and you can either ski there or continue to the top of the glacier, just below the Piz Corvatsch, at 3,303m and take the network of runs down to various chairlifts, back to Surlej or all the way down to St Moritz Bad, though frustratingly if you do this, you can’t get up again and have to get a bus or taxi back to Surlej (there’s a video on Youtube that gives a good flavour of the typically long and wide runs with steep, narrow gulleys, well above the tree line; search for ‘Surlej – my favourite piste’).

It’s not especially pretty at the top but you can be pretty confident that no one will cut you up or ski into you (unless you are daft enough to stuck at the side of a gulley, obviously). There are nine runs CHK on this part of the mountain and 12 more slightly further over, in the area called Furschellas which is also where you will find the slow run.

But the resort’s piece de resistance is Friday-night night skiing down the longest illuminated ski run in Switzerland. You can kick off with a fondue at the mid-station restaurant, then ski all the way down to Surlej though it’s best to do it early, while the pistes are still reasonably fresh and your fellow skiers still reasonably sober.

There are no swanky mountain restaurants à la St Moritz here and if you ski hard, there may not be sufficient variety for a whole week. But in that case you can always slip down the road to St Moritz; you’ll probably want to go there anyway for a spot of après-ski and people-watching.

Conversely, if you’re staying in St Moritz, it’s certainly worth giving the area a go and perhaps skiing down to St Moritz Bad.

My big regret is that we arrive late on Friday evening and, tired and in need of dinner and a glass of wine, we give the night skiing a miss. It’s something I’ve always wanted to do so there will just have to be a return visit.