Luxury Travel

The Skier’s Guide to Davos

Benedikt Germanier, CEO of Zai skis, offers his favorite runs to take before, after, or during the World Economic Forum.

Skiers travel up the Parsenn mountain by gondola in Davos, Switzerland.

Photographer: Matthew Lloyd/Bloomberg

Every January, titans of industry ascend to the Swiss ski resort of Davos for four days of gabbing and glad-handing at the World Economic Forum. A few of them will actually ski.

If your address book is sufficiently unburdened to allow a few hours on the pistes, Benedikt Germanier can help you find the right place to point your boards. The veteran of UBS is the chief executive officer of Zai, a maker of skis befitting the billionaire set that frequents Davos: A pair can run anywhere from $3,200 to more than $9,000. More important, he's a former ski instructor who spent six years teaching at various resorts in Switzerland. Though he's attended the WEF in the past, he's skipping the festivities this year. "Too much talk," Germanier said. The slopes tend to be pretty empty during the Forum, he said, and recent snowfall—after hardly any so far this ski season—means there should be sufficient snow to make it worth the trouble. (Most of the lifts in the area are now open.)

Benedikt Germanier, CEO of Zai ski.

Source: Zai


Skiing in Davos

Depending on how you count them, Davos is about a half-dozen areas that spill down the mountains on both sides of town. In nearby Parsenn, Germanier suggests taking the funicular railway up the mountain to Weissfluhjoch, then a cable car to the Weissfluhgipfel. The run down into Kueblis drops about 2,000 meters over 12 kilometers (6,500 feet over 7.5 miles), starting in snowfields flanked by rugged rock outcroppings, then winding through forests to a village of about 800 people. Grab lunch in one of the restaurants near the tiny railway station in Kueblis before catching a train back to Davos. Germanier advises hiring a guide for the trip to avoid avalanche zones, and he  cautions that snow cover can be patchy at the bottom.  

Across the valley, the smaller Pischa area offers a free-ride experience and—with a half-hour hike—an extended run down into the neighboring town of Klosters. The less adventurous can take a gondola or chairlift directly from Davos Platz (one of two train stops in town) to the Jakobshorn. From there, descend to Bolgen, where snowboarders yo-yo on a T-bar that serves a 120-meter half-pipe. At the bottom, bars such as the Bolgen Plaza and Bolgen Schanze pulse with activity at the end of the day.

"For young guys, Bolgen is great," Germanier said. "And it's even good for old guys like me." 

If you're willing to spend more time—or take a few days before or after the forum—the region offers a wealth of possibilities.

60 Minutes Away: An Undiscovered Gem

Skifahren in Flims

Skiers in Flims.

Photographer: Ingrid Firmhofer / LOOK-foto/Getty Images/LOOK

The neighboring towns of Flims and Laax, about an hour’s drive from Davos, just might be Switzerland's biggest undiscovered area. Catering largely to Swiss skiers, it has 28 lifts and more than 125 miles of groomed slopes. For lunch, try the grilled veal and extensive wine list at Startgels, a slope-side restaurant in Flims. When the sun goes down, check out Schloss Schauenstein, a three-Michelin-star restaurant a half-hour south of town run by chef Andreas Caminada. Germanier recommends staying at the Flims Waldhaus, a 140-year-old grand hotel that just underwent a $40 million renovation.

90 Minutes South: The Revitalized Classic

St. Moritz at dusk reflected in the iced lake during the winter,  Engadine valley.

St. Moritz at dusk, across the lake.

Photographer: Massimo Pizzotti/Getty Images

Some 90 minutes south of Davos by train lies the legendary St. Moritz, the place where the ski vacation was practically invented and the two-time site of the Winter Olympics (1928, 1948). Germanier recommends taking the cable car to the Corvatsch at 3,300 meters, where spectacular, 360-degree views of the glacier-flecked Bernina range and upper Engadin valley await. Descend the wide, carving slopes toward Lake Silvaplana and the peaked roofs of St. Moritz.

"The light is bright all the time," Germanier said. "It’s very energy-loaded up there. But the mountains are softer, not so harsh." This year, the Carlton is offering a St. Moritz expert "outdoor butler," who will take you on an "off the beaten path" tour of the town. Elsewhere, the 105-year-old Suvretta House remains the area's only ski-in, ski-out option and has begun renovating its rooms with refinished wood floors, graceful rugs, and pops of violet.

Two Hours West: A Quiet Charmer

A slope in Disentis, Switzerland.
Source: Zai

Disentis (pop. 2,000) lies about two hours by car from Davos, just below the headwaters of the Rhine River. One highlight Germanier suggests, of course, is a visit to the Zai factory at the edge of town. For about $500, you can watch the six craftsmen make skis, then test a few pairs on the slopes with Germanier or another guide from the company. The area is scruffier—or more charming, depending on your perspective—than the Davos pistes, but an aerial tram from Santa Catrina takes you up to a restaurant at Caischavedra, and from there chairlifts and surface lifts ply the slopes. Hardy skiers can hike and ski about two hours up to Oberalp and then descend to the neighboring town of Sedrun, where you can hop a train back to Disentis.

Three Hours Away: A Sleepy Resort, Reinvented

Andermatt in February 2012 with the "Rh?tische Bahn" just driving past.

The village of Andermatt, with a train passing through.

Photographer: Patrick Möhl, Switzerland/Getty Images

Andermatt, a town of about 1,200, is an hour beyond Disentis by train across the Oberalp Pass. (You can't drive it in the winter.) The place is in the process of a radical reinvention, with new chairlifts, chalets, resorts, a golf course, and at least five luxury hotels that have opened since 2013. Germanier suggests taking the cable car up to the Gemsstock at 2,961 meters; from there, the descent to Andermatt is 1,500 meters over either broad, sunny carving slopes or the mountain's steep northern face, where snow lasts late into the spring. The 105-room, five-star Chedi Andermatt features a 115-foot swimming pool and 200 fireplaces. 

For more on Davos, see our special report on the World Economic Forum 2017.

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