RESORT WITH MANY FACES

Engadin St Moritz is known not just for great skiing but a host of quirky, eye-catching events, says Arnie Wilson


The Daily Telegraph - Arnie Wilson, 26 October 2013

St Moritz, perched at 1,822m on the south side of the Alps in the Engadin Valley, is one of the most famous winter sports resorts in the world.

Thanks to its idyllic location overlooking a big, beautiful frozen lake, St Moritz is known for all kinds of snow activities. As well as the skiing - which as you might expect is top-class - there's also curling, skating, horse racing, polo, cricket and even ski-joring: being towed on skis (half jockey, half skier) behind a racehorse.

The redoubtable Cresta toboggan run calls for true grit and skill (you're on your own) while the Olympic bob run is less intimidating because you let a professional driver steer and the brake-man brake while you watch the world hurtle by (or shut your eyes tight).

Perhaps only the British could have been eccentric enough to dream up the idea of winter sports. Yet in truth it wasn't their idea. Slither forward Johannes Badrutt, a hotelier from St Moritz and his legendary summertime 'wager' that his British guests found impossible to resist. It was in 1864 that Badrutt, the owner of the celebrated Kulm Hotel, seduced a group of guests to return, free of charge, for the winter months… not necessarily to romp in the snow but to bear witness to the power of the alpine sunshine.

According to Raymond Flower's history of another St Moritz heritage hotel, the Palace, Badrutt put it to them like this: 'Do you know that the winter here is much more pleasant and a good deal less cold than in London? Do you realise that on sunny days it is so warm that we go about in shirt-sleeves?' He even offered to pay their travelling expenses if the sun didn't provide the predicted warmth. It did not fail him, or them.

Gradually, more British visitors flocked to the Engadin and brought with them some of their own madcap and quirky sporting culture. The British were great ski-mountaineers and even played cricket on the frozen lake. They also introduced the game of polo, the fearsome Cresta run, as well as skeleton and bobsleigh races.

The British pioneering spirit went hand-in-hand with that of the Engadiners. Switzerland's first electric light was switched on here in 1878 and in 1929 the first Swiss ski school opened.

Two Winter Olympics and four Alpine Ski Championships later (with a fifth to come in 2017), even its name is copyright. In 1986, the resort took the step of protecting itself as a brand-name - St Moritz, Top of the World. There are three main ski areas, all very different in character and all spread out, plus a handful of small satellite areas.

Corviglia's south-facing slopes are directly above town and accessed by a cable car from St Moritz Bad, a funicular from the centre of St Moritz Dorf or via a gondola from the neighbouring village of Celerina. Corviglia has a good record of both snow and sunshine (most of the skiing in the region is above 2,000m) and some quite steep and scenic runs down from the highest point at Piz Nair (3,057m).

For more modest skiers and snowboarders, there are wide blue and red runs below Munt da San Murezzan and Corviglia's main peak.

Early risers can enjoy the 'White Carpet' - the first ride down the freshly groomed pistes. And at sunrise you can take Corviglia's FIS World Cup Run, where St Moritz will be hosting the 2017 Ski World Championships. With more than 96km of runs right here - Corviglia is the largest of the St Moritz ski areas - many skiers and snowboarders of all abilities are more than happy to remain on the local slopes for the duration of their stay.

Others won't be able to resist the chance to see what other skiing temptations the area has to offer.

The resorts, which can be reached by bus or train, are sufficiently far apart to mean they are best skied individually on separate days. Across the valley, Corvatsch - the second biggest local ski area - is reached by cable cars from Surlej or Furtschellas at either end of Lake Silvaplana.

Corvatsch provides a large area of quite steep terrain between Murtel and Furtschellas. A very long, exhilarating black run from Giand Alva, below Murtel, comes all the way down to St Moritz Bad - so you're almost back where you started.

There's some spectacular skiing too at St Moritz's neighbouring resort of Pontresina, a sedate, typically alpine town from which you can access Lagalb and Diavolezza.

At almost 3,000m, Lagalb is well known for its classic black run from top to bottom. But for genuinely inspirational scenery, look no further than Diavolezza, which has commanding views of its spectacular glacier.

The Engadin Valley is celebrated for its 'champagne climate', not to mention the bubbly culture of St Moritz itself. Yet although the town is a haunt of the jet-set, the Engadin is by no means just about this most glamorous resort. The inspiring high valley is also home to an additional 12 towns and villages, each with its own distinctive character. Connecting them are almost 200km of cross-country ski trails and 150km of winter walking paths. The latter, along with 34 mountain restaurants with spectacular views, most with sun terraces, help make Engadin St Moritz an ideal resort for non-skiing partners.

And whatever your level of snow sports skill or enthusiasm, everyone can enjoy the cricket, the polo, the racing, the abundant gourmet cuisine and the other vibrant events that make the region such a special place. After all, the resort is at pains to reassure holidaymakers: 'Whether you're looking for an active break or pure peace and quiet, you won't be disappointed - whatever your budget.' SPECIAL OFFER 4*-plus Hotel Nira Alpina, St Moritz Three nights' B&B accommodation in a standard double room based on two people sharing. Including return flights to Zürich, transfers to St Moritz, Powder Byrne concierge service and taxes. Price from £1,062 per person (valid for departure in March 2014) To book, call Powder Byrne on 020 8246 5300 or visit powderbyrne.com

INSIDER TIP Take the longest glacier run in Switzerland from Diavolezza to Morteratsch (10km).

This glorious descent leads through a wilderness of snow and ice, and takes about 45 minutes. In contrast to many 'smoothed out' glacier ski areas, it leads along the moraines of the Pers and Morteratsch Glaciers right back to the railway station at Morteratsch. It's not a difficult run and the scenery is outstanding.

It was also one of the locations for the James Bond film The Spy Who Loved Me. HOTEL SKI PASS INCLUDED The Engadin St Moritz special 'Hotel Ski Pass included' offer allows guests to enjoy 350km of well-prepared slopes. CHF25 (about £17) per person is the cost per day for a lift pass for the duration of the stay when two nights or more are booked at a participating hotel.

The offer runs throughout the winter, from October 19, 2013 to May 25, 2014. More details: engadin.stmoritz.ch/skipass-inclusive St Moritz City Race November 29-30 To celebrate the start of winter, there's music and drinks as the ski slopes move to town: celebrities and guests compete in a parallel slalom.

Audi FIS Women's Alpine Ski World Cup December 14-15 Super G and Giant Slalom at Corviglia.

Concours Hippique St Moritz January 12-19 Show-jumping enjoys a long-standing tradition in St Moritz, especially the annual Concours Hippique on snow, where spectators get up close and personal with horses and riders.

The 11th Winter Raid - White Star of St Moritz January 15-18 A winter rally for classic car enthusiasts on local mountain roads and passes in full winter conditions.

St Moritz Polo World Cup on Snow January 30-February 2 This most prestigious winter polo tournament is one of the social highlights in St Moritz - and one of the most exciting, as international champions on specially trained horses gallop across the snowcovered frozen lake.

21st Gourmet Festival January 27-31 Foodies take note! The St Moritz Gourmet Festival has gained cult status.

White Turf St Moritz - International Horse Races February 9, 16 and 23 Since 1907, these spectacular race meetings have thrilled the crowds as horses thunder through the snow, spraying it into the air. There are flat and trotting races plus betting offices, of course.

A quarter of a century of cricket on ice February 13-16 Since 1988, St Moritz has hosted what is arguably the most unusual game of cricket in the world - once again on the frozen lake.

The 45th Engadin Ski Marathon March 9 This legendary crosscountry ski race is held over the marathon distance of 26 miles. The course leads from Maloja to Zuoz/ S-chanf along the valley of the Upper Engadin, with its remarkable landscape.

FIS Slopestyle World Cup March 14-15 The world's top freestyle skiers display their armoury of tricks in the Corvatsch freestyle park.

INSIDER TIP Be an early riser and take the 'White Carpet' down freshly groomed pistes. At sunrise, head for the Corviglia, St Moritz's local mountain to attempt the FIS World Cup Run, where St Moritz will be hosting the Ski World Championships for the fifth time in 2017.

This article appeared in The Daily Telegraph on Saturday 26th October 2013.