Here’s a dilemma: you’re a five-star hotel in a charming Swiss ski resort, with 180 guests who’ve paid upwards of CHF 960 each for exclusive access to the slopes the day before the resort officially opens.
But the most important guest – the snow – hasn’t turned up and the resort can’t open as scheduled, let alone give your guests those VIP first turns. Plan A has melted away in the unseasonally warm temperatures; the hills are anything but alive with the sound of piste bashers.
Time for Plan B.
We’ve come to Arosa, to the luxurious Tschuggen Grand Hotel (see Cool Lodgings) for its season-opening Private Mountain event, and what should be a seriously exclusive taste of the VIP high-life: not just a secluded run or two but a whole mountain just for us.
Arosa is a delightful resort in the south west of Switzerland – and unless you come by private helicopter (as some guests do) easiest access is by train, on the historic Rhaetian Railway, from Chur – Switzerland’s oldest town. After a smooth inter-city journey from Zurich airport, it’s a gentle hour-long chug from Chur along one of the Alps’ most scenic routes, which is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year.
Arosa’s ski area is a modest 70km, but from January, a new link opens between it and Lenzerheide, which brings a huge dowry of 150km to this exciting new ski marriage. But that’s for another day.
After checking in, there’s time to wallow in the Tschuggen’s magnificent Bergoase spa, an architectural gem cut into the mountainside and topped with dazzling sculptural skylights. We sample both indoor and outdoor pools, and an ‘infusion sauna’, before we’re whisked off to the local community museum to hear about Plan B.
Soon, we’re sitting, nibbling cheese, air-dried ham and salami and sipping a very palatable local sparkling rosé while Leo Maissen, general manager of the Tschuggen Grand spreads his arms wide to welcome us to his hotel’s Private Mountain event.
With a wry smile he apologises that there will be no skiing for his guests. Preparations that began in the autumn to rent the entire Arosa ski area have been scuppered by the weather, for the first time in five years.
Because we ask, Leo briefly outlines what we should have been doing, and it’s sheer torture as he describes the exclusive nature of Plan A. It would start with the anticipation of being ushered up the mountain in the hotel’s private Tschuggen Express – a kind of rollercoaster gondola on rails - to be met by a ski butler. Then we would breeze down empty slopes, take part in fun races and get fed and ‘watered’ at special Tschuggen Comfort Stations.
Ski guides would show us around, we could try out the latest, most expensive skis, have a slap-up lunch at a mountain restaurant, take part in games, party with a DJ at the mid-station, and top it off with a gala dinner and more late-night partying on the summit of the Weisshorn, 2,650 metres above sea level. Yes, yes and more yes!
But with daytime temperatures nudging double figures and the snowline receding faster than a royal hairline, all that’s off. Well, nearly all – we will still get the gala dinner and party up the mountain.
The hotel’s eager guests are a mix of abilities from keen beginner to expert. All were offered a full refund. Interestingly, 80% decided to come anyway – most of whom had been before, says Leo. Those who stayed away were almost all Private Mountain virgins.
So, Plan B it is then.
With the enthusiastic support of the event sponsor, Swiss watch manufacturer Parmigiani Fleurier, we’re apparently in for a day of treats.
The day is divided into a series of masterclasses – from table laying to cocktail shaking, a bit of kitchen love with Michelin-star head chef Tobias Jochim, and a wine-tasting at the end of a ride on the Tschuggen Express.
We get a lively sideshow as two Italian colleagues break out the full ski gear to pose for pictures on the local golf course which has marginally more snow than the ski slopes. Then it’s back to the spa before we head up the mountain for the evening’s party, complete with fireworks and for my partner and I the joyful, if embarrassing, consolation of winning two raffle prizes, of a two-night stay in the Tschuggen’s five-star sister hotel on Lake Maggiore!
Throughout the day, it has to be said, we’ve been constantly plied with delicious wine and snacks, and the hotel’s staff have been wonderfully attentive. As an exercise in distraction from the lack of skiing it works.
However, the champagne cable-car ride up to the Weisshorn only serves to remind us how much we’ve missed just getting out into the Alpine landscape. Guests staying for a second day – what would have been the official full resort opening – do at least get a Nordic walk, a gourmet hike and a scooter descent into the town.
I chose to follow the lead of one of the Italians, adventurer and endurance runner Tommaso de Mottoni and before we caught the morning train out of Arosa, I got up before dawn, hiked a few breathless kilometres up the mountain to the top of the Tschuggen Ost chairlift and stood quietly to watch the sun rise.
Alone with the silence (broken occasionally by light gusts of wind that you could actually hear move across the landscape, much as you can see gusts on the water while sailing), I watched as the clouds turned a rosy shade of pink in the east and the sun’s rays caught the tops of the higher peaks behind me. Here, finally, I had found my own private mountain experience. Thanks Arosa.
The Private Mountain Experience costs from CHF 960 (approx £628) per person, including VAT and service. The package is supported by Parmigiani Fleurier. For further information, see www.tschuggen.ch
This winter double rooms start at CHF 615 (approx £401) per room per night including breakfast, taxes and VAT. This also includes access to the lovely Tschuggen Bergoase spa and use of the Tschuggen Express, which takes you to the piste in less than 2.5 minutes. www.tschuggen.ch
Where can I park my private jet?
Skiing and luxury often go hand-in-hand with many five-star chalets and hotels catering for the well-heeled. And business is good, with 72% of operators polled by Consensio Holidays for their Simple Luxury Ski Stats 2014 saying bookings are up for this season.
Other notable poll results include:
22% use private jets to get to the slopes
3% the Brazilian share of the luxury chalet market in France
35% the Russian share
47% the UK share of the luxury chalet market in Switzerland
1% the US share (down by 10%)
13% the share of luxury ski holidays booked by ‘the personal assistant’
30% of clients hire private guides
15% hire a nanny
86% prefer chalets over hotels
87% of those prefer catered chalets