(Kingston, Ontario, Canada)
The exclusive Swiss village of St. Moritz is a very famous mountain resort. In fact, some say that winter tourism was invented here in the 19th century. Having that kind of history, as well as hosting the Winter Olympics on two occasions, you can imagine how much it costs to vacation in St. Moritz. When you also consider the strength of the Swiss Franc and the high cost of living in Switzerland…let’s just say St. Moritz will never top the list of budget-friendly ski resorts.
However, it *is* possible to ski here without bankrupting yourself. My friends and I stayed in the nearby village of Celerina and relied on the very efficient (it is Switzerland, after all) shuttle bus system to get around. The buses were included with our ski pass, even in the evenings.
We also stayed in a very “basic” B&B with shared washrooms and shower facilities. We avoided dining in St. Moritz itself, opting instead for local haunts in Celerina and other neighbouring villages such as Samedan. It was also a pleasant surprise to discover that on-mountain lunches in quaint alpine huts were relatively affordable.
Was it worth it? Absolutely. While St. Moritz is full of very wealthy visitors, not that many of them actually ski on the slopes of Corvatsch and Corviglia. There are relatively few lift lines on sunny days (it’s one of the sunniest ski resorts in the world) and no lift lines at all when the weather is less than brilliant. Similarly, hardly anybody bothers to venture out to the remote but thrilling glacier skiing at Diavolezza and Piz Lagalb. We couldn’t believe how often we were the only skiers in the cable cars that were built to accommodate 80 people.
The skiing itself is wonderful too. There may not be a mountain that dominates as much as the Matterhorn (Zermatt) or the Eiger (Grindelwald) but there are still massive peaks in every direction. The pistes aren’t crowded and everybody takes relatively long lunches. At Diavolezza and Lagalb (see my “About Me” page for another photo from this area), the pistes were basically empty and we were making “first tracks” long after we arrived.
6 days of skiing was just enough time to experience all that St. Moritz has to offer. We spent 2 days in each of the Diavolezza-Lagalb, Corviglia-Piz Nair and Corvatsch ski areas. The layout of Corviglia-Piz Nair was a little awkward and accordingly it was probably our least favourite of the three areas. However, when you made it to the highest pistes, even Corviglia delivered its fair share of “wow” moments.
The St. Moritz area is also notable for reasons unrelated to wealth and skiing. It is one of the areas where Rumantsch, Switzerland’s fourth language (after German, French and Italian), is spoken. Rumantsch is spoken by maybe one percent of the Swiss population but is enjoying a renaissance after being discouraged for many years. It derives from Latin and sounds somewhat like Italian spoken with harsh German consonants…just like Ladin in Val Gardena, Italy.
Actually, because St. Moritz caters so much to foreign tourists (many of whom have relatively little interest in skiing), I think staying in a nearby village is the best way to ski this beautiful terrain while still getting a feel for the local culture. If you want to see how the truly wealthy guests experience the Swiss Alps, you can still crash one of the opulent hotels. They usually open their doors to non-guests in the evenings and we took advantage of that at one of the posh Celerina hotels. It was like stepping back in time to the 1920s, with waiters in tails, salon orchestras, nameplates for guests and the like. We lingered over our drinks for a long time and enjoyed a “genteel” experience at a budget price.
That’s really the key to budget travel: with a bit of research, you can save bushels of money on food and accommodation but still experience the essence of almost any place in the world.