It's not all downhill in Switzerland's Engadin St. Moritz - also on offer is tobogganing, snow kiting, cross country skiing and even ice cricket.
The easiest way to get to St. Moritz is flying into Zurich and taking the train. You have to change three times, but the benefit is that at Chur, you join the Glacier Express coming from Zermatt. This takes the famous Albula Railway, a UNESCO World Heritage site, and the views are stunning. The route includes three spiral tunnels, two curved tunnels and four viaducts, the train snaking up and down the mountains to arrive at St. Moritz at 1775m. The lake is frozen and it's dotted with tents in preparation for White Turf - the annual horse races across the ice.
Even though there is great downhill skiing here, I'm here to get a taste of other winter activities. It's a beautiful sunny morning as I take the funicular from Punt Moragl up to 2456m. The views across the St. Moritz valley are stunning and this mountain is mercilessly free of ski-runs. At this time of the morning, pristine snow stretches in all directions and I collect my toboggan from the Hotel Muottas Muragl and pull it to the start of the sledging piste. This is 4.2km non-stop downhill, descends through 700m, with 20 corners - the sign warns that you have to sit on your sledge, rather than going head first.
It's probably 50 years since I've been on a sledge but the design doesn't seem to have changed. You use your feet to steer and stop and hang on tight, one hand on the rope, the other on the rear of the seat. The track has been groomed earlier in the morning and I'm soon hurtling down the slope at great speed. I manage to negotiate the first tight corner but go too fast at the next, crashing into the bank before I can stop. Fortunately I'm unharmed and climb back on and continue my journey.
It's exhilarating stuff but, towards the end, it gets steeper and I find myself spinning, end up going down backwards, panic and topple over into the snow. There's no choice but to get back on and I'm soon crossing the finish line, a little bruised but ready for anything else the snow can throw at me.
Further down the road, at Silvaplana, I'm on a frozen lake and am about to tackle snow kiting. Now I'm not the world's best skier so am slightly dubious - I have visions of being carried in the air and plonked down with a bump, breaking both my ankles. In fact, you have to learn to control the kite, before they attach you to skis, or snowboard, so that's the aim of the first lesson. I troop out onto the lake and unpack, taking care not to get the wires tangled or twisted. My teacher gives me a safety demonstration, showing 3 ways you can jettison the kite if you get into difficulty.
We're working in pairs, one person holds the kite on the ground, trying to fill it with air, whilst the other operates the control lines. I'm wearing a harness around my hips and attach the kite to a hook in the centre, at the same time holding the brake line. I give the signal to release and suddenly the kite is in the air, swooping to the left and right and I'm doing my best to stop it plunging to earth. I start being tugged across the snow, but at least I can dig in with my boots and don't move too far.
After a few tries, I get the hang of controlling the kite, but it's a bit of a battle since there's so little wind. Apparently you need four more lessons before they allow you on skis and, even then, it must be pretty tough. You probably need to be here for at least a week to have any chance of skimming across the snow.
Next day, it's snowing lightly at the lake in St. Moritz and they're busy clearing the cricket pitch, or rather brushing the snow off the synthetic turf between the wickets. Since everyone's in their traditional whites, the players are almost invisible but at least the rubber ball is a fluorescent orange. They used to play with a real cricket ball but after two direct hits on a passing taxi, and a near miss on a fur clad old lady with her dachshund, they decided to go for something safer.
The match today is between Old Cholmeleians and Lyceum Alpinum Zuoz, the local international school, English middle aged gents versus spotty adolescents. Now in its 15th year, this is an annual event and, for obvious reasons, can only be played here on the lake in St .Moritz where the ice is 80cm thick. It's cold enough watching the game, let alone standing around fielding, and I resist the urge to join in. Somebody reminds me of the saying, "Find an Englishman and you'll find a game of cricket" and I can't really argue with that, even when the temperature is -15 degrees centigrade.
I have an appointment in Pontresina for an introduction to cross country skiing and pick up the equipment along the way. The great surprise is that the boots are comfortable and the skis are light and narrow. It's your toe which is hinged into the ski, leaving your heel free and I'm beginning to like the sport already. Apparently there are two methods to ski cross country - the more modern is where you make a skating action, but I'm going for the classic method, which seems like a natural extension of walking.
The venue is yet another frozen lake and I'm soon sliding along, learning how to turn, stop and climb. What I hadn't realised is that a machine carves out tracks in the snow and you just get into the groove, so to speak. Apparently there are over 200km of cross country trails in the St. Moritz area, so plenty of places to explore and because the skis are so light, it's not too tiring. After the thrills and spills of downhill, I can see that I could get to like this way of transport. I'll certainly be back.
The Hotel Misani in Celerina makes a comfortable base for exploring the region.
Tourism Engadin St. Moritz has information on the region.
My Switzerland has information about the country.
SWISS offers up to 19 daily flights from London Heathrow, London City, Birmingham and Manchester to Zurich.
The Swiss Travel System offers the Swiss Transfer Ticket that covers a round-trip between the airport/Swiss border and your destination. Prices are £92 in second class and £147 in first class.
All pictures copyright Rupert Parker
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