|Davos // Photo by World Economic Forum via Flickr|
Adam Ruck, The Daily Telegraph, January 20, 2015
The Schatzalp Mountain Resort, set above Davos, might be in a time warp but it offers great skiing and the freedom of deserted slopes.
"Lift companies focus all their efforts on the young – pumping out loud music and building half-pipes, speed-carving pistes and fast chairlifts,” says Pius App, owner of the Schatzalp Mountain Resort above Davos . “This makes no sense to me. Look at the demographic age pyramid: it’s inverted. What about older people who want to relax and enjoy the peace of the mountains? Many of my friends have given up skiing because they find the pistes overcrowded and dangerous.”
Now they can take it up again, on App’s retro-chic “Slow Mountain” – no fast lifts or disco racket, guaranteed. The day starts slowly enough on the 115-year-old funicular, which hoists me from Davos to a panoramic sun terrace where the Schatzalp hotel, a former sanatorium depicted in Thomas Mann’s novel of the TB age, The Magic Mountain, floats above the cloud like a palatial airship. While Davos shivers in the high, flat-bottomed valley where it’s located, this Belle Époque relic basks in two extra hours of sunshine every fine winter’s day. At 10 in the morning, every deckchair on Schatzalp’s “Snow Beach” is occupied.
It’s World Economic Forum time again (the sessions start on Wednesday) and Schatzalp is about to come into its own as the most fashionable place in town, or above it, for a private party. Dress code: moonboots, gloves and crash helmets for the two-mile toboggan ride back to Davos.
Visitors to Davos whose memory goes back as far as the 20th century may recall Schatzalp as a place for gentle skiing and a crafty backdoor route to Davos’s main ski area, the Parsenn, via the Strelapass and its Silver Bird cable car. That came to an end when the lift company declared the Schatzalp ski area uneconomic – not crowded enough – and closed it, with the predictable result that the hotel became unviable. App and friends stepped in with a plan for its preservation, to be funded by a new high-rise apartment tower. This has been on the drawing board for more than 10 years without progress, and recent legislation to curb the spread of Swiss holiday homes has not improved its prospects.
In the meantime, App has given Schatzalp’s four lifts an overhaul and reopened the ski area, minus the lift link to the Parsenn. “Skiing on Slow Mountain is a natural experience,” he says proudly. The mantle of pure snow is unalloyed by the artificial stuff that consumes energy and delays the appearance of spring flowers. Lift pylons come without loudspeakers attached, so we can sit back and enjoy the sunshine while travelling sedately uphill. What could be better?
On a sunny day with new snow on the ground, it is easy to be captivated by the scene. Children are tumbling about on a nursery slope behind the hotel. Walkers in heavy coats are setting off for chalet restaurants higher up the mountain.
“Grüss Gott!” growls the grizzled lift attendant, sweeping snow off the seat for my comfort. A little old lady on narrow skis asks if I would mind riding the lift with her. “I came here with my children and grandchildren and when I read that it was opening I wanted to come again,” she says, sounding suspiciously like an audience plant. “It’s beautiful here.”
After riding the lifts and cruising the modest number of blue and red pistes a couple of times, I shoulder skis, tramp through the soft snow for a few minutes and set off on a long traverse and off-piste ramble. Encountering neither skier nor ski track on the way down, it is easy to imagine myself in the role of an ancestral ski pioneer at the turn of a previous century, exploring these beautiful slopes for the first time.
The ski ramble brings me back to Schatzalp’s terrace of blanketed sunbathers, where I shake down and de-boot for a nosy around, noting the Art Nouveau murals in the dining room, the lightbox wall panels in the bar (formerly the X-ray suite) and Maria Mancini cigars (Magic Mountain reference) in the smoking room. A secret passage to the train station, for the discreet removal of corpses, is now used for luggage. Sad to report, the story that the dead were sent down to the underworld on toboggans is an invention of Mann’s.
In the spirit of the day, I decide not to ski down the zigzag forest piste to Davos, but walk down “Thomas Mann Way”, pausing to enjoy the view, savour the last rays of sun and study quotations from The Magic Mountain about the nature of time. The path takes me past the sanatorium where Mann’s wife Katia was a TB patient in 1911-12, and brings me down to Davos’s winter sport museum with its collection of 19th-century skis and toboggans.
At the end of a magical day in a skiing time warp, it occurs to me that the best thing about it has been the absence of other people. Skiing at Schatzalp is like having your private mountain. This is a rare treat but it does not bode well for the bottom line.
As a museum the Schatzalp is fascinating, but a museum is not everyone’s dream hotel. The place cries out to be converted into a five-star spa resort with hi-tech conference facilities. App has made two luxurious chalet annexes for the reclusive oligarch and WEF-delegate market, but a more comprehensive overhaul will have to wait for the completion of the Schatzalp Tower.
Until then, App does what he can to keep the show on the road. Schatzalp does well out of weddings and parties. Hotel residents enjoy free skiing on their private mountain and have their toboggan run for après-ski fun. For non-resident skiers, a day ticket costs £23, half the price of a day on the Parsenn. Those who use Schatzalp for ski touring can pay by the ride.
Yet the slopes remain empty, and so they will remain as long as Davos and neighbouring lift-linked Klosters continue to exclude Schatzalp from the regional lift pass that covers five ski areas, two on side of the valley, three on the other.
“I’m glad Schatzalp has reopened, because it’s a wonderful area for ski touring,” says local mountain guide Martin Ruggli. “But unless the lifts can be included in the area pass, it may close again. The lift company could run the old cable-car to link Schatzalp and Parsenn, but it seems they do not want the link.”
It sounds like a nasty game of beggar my neighbour. No one who has shelled out for an expensive lift pass likes to pay extra to ski somewhere else, and Davos does not offer the “five out of six days” lift pass formula. Here is a suggestion. Buy a ticket for five days instead of six, and target Schatzalp for a warm-up day at the start of the week or for a guided ski tour with Ruggli at the end. Great skiing and an adventure guaranteed, and magical moments in the Schatzalp time warp.
Momentum Ski ( momentumski.com ) offers seven nights’ half-board at the Hotel Schatzalp in March from £1,048 per person, based on two sharing. Prices include flights between Heathrow and Zurich and rail transfers to/from Davos. Wintersport Museum, Davos Platz: open Tuesday and Thursday, 4.30pm-6.30pm, entry fee £3. Martin Ruggli guiding ( swissfreeride.ch ) from £80 per person in group of six.
This article was written by Adam Ruck from The Daily Telegraph and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.