Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Clarity of Klosters

This year, in Klosters, one would not know there was a worldwide recession. There is a new club at the top of the Gotchnabahn. The cable car which takes you to some of the best skiing in the world, and where one must start to ski the longest run in the world, the Parsenn Run, takes you there. The club – which is a lunch club (think Doubles-Annabelles but a la ski gear) -- is aptly named the Club Gotchna and has a 20,000-pound Sterling annual membership. About 100 people have signed up, however, it has yet to open and we have yet to learn what it has to offer besides very expensive rosti!!!
Some holiday makers enjoy new destinations every time they go away. Some go to the same place each year. and some are fortunate to have several weeks of travel time, so they may enjoy both.

Some years, I am given the choice, and I do both: go to my favorite destination, and explore a new one. But most years our budget allows for one holiday, and my choice of my away from home is always a tiny village tucked away in the Graubunden region of Switzerland -- Klosters.

One may only hear of it when it is coupled with its marketing sister, Davos, a growing international town that is also the site where Thomas Mann wrote “Magic Mountain.” Davos is not a particularly pretty town, but Klosters more than makes up for that.
Heisse Marroni. Or hot chestnuts. You see these instead of hotdog stands. They taste better and look better too! The exchange rate is terrible, on par with the US dollar, so we really feel the "bite." What for years had seemed like the deal of the century is not so much any more. When Coke is 6.50 and espresso is 4.90, I almost feel like I am back at Via Quadronno on East 73rd Street. However, skiing is on average, less than half the cost of a daily lift ticket in Aspen, and one can ski ever so much more terrain, with many more lunching options with real food like Rosti, Spaetzli, Kalbratwurst, Weinerschnitzel, Apfelstrudel mit saucevanellen, etc. And, while the celebrity sightings may not be greater in quantity, what can top rubbing elbows with The two future Kings of England?
Of course, the fashionable thing to be wearing is Moonboots. Remember those puffy things in vogue in the 80's? Well they are always in vogue here. Pink, navy, silver, gold, white, even on men and children, Uggs no more!!! What would they say in Aspen?
Klosters is postcard perfect. Tiny chalets tucked among the pines, twinkling lights, the aroma of chestnuts and fireplaces. The sounds of sleigh bells, and train whistles. Returning here one is always amazed that a town could stay the way it was for decade and yet keep up with the modern world in subtle ways.

One comes here to relax and enjoy winter sports. The majority of those who come here have been coming for years. They meet up with their friends who have been coming here for years as well.
Grietze.
The town is not and never has been known for glitz, but has always been glamorous in a low key way. Think old money. Think Prince Charles. Aspen it isn’t, and it doesn't want to be. The shops are closed Christmas and New Years Day. Even the drugstore and grocery store. It is a small town. When here, you are a guest, not a tourist. When I asked once why all European Christmas trees seemed so different from the U.S., I was told it is because in Europe they don't strive for perfection.
From here at Wiesfluhgipfel, at more than 9000 feet, you find the longest ski run. If you ski from here to Sernaus, then you take the bus back to Klosters which is much fun, but a challenge. Real happiness for me was skiing this with my 8-year-old daughter, who keeps right up with me! It seems like yesterday I was pulling her around here on a little sled!
We heard on the mountain the other day something extremely rare, but worth noting: an American man, new to Klosters (and obviously not coming back) telling his ski lehrer (instructor) -- more like demanding -- to let him go down a very steep run, far exceeding his capabilities ...

The instructor gently told him no, that it was much too steep; that they should go an alternative way. This carried on for several minutes, while we could not help but overhear until the man, acting like a 3-year-old not getting a toy, said “I’ll have you fired, you'll never work as a ski instructor again you bleep, bleeping bleep.” The instructor laughed, and said, shall I escort you down Mr. Complete Bleep, so you don't break your neck? The man replied, “You’re goddamned right you will!”
We later heard the man was refused any ski teachers from Schweitzer Ski School, and of course nothing happened to the poor ski teacher, and the man is probably back whence he came! Of course those antics are acceptable in Aspen, and other U.S. resorts, but not here!
On Parsenn Run.
Klosters to Sernaus.
The biggest decision to make in the morning is what time to meet at the Gotchna (the 125-person cable car that takes you up the mountain). The most important decision to make in the evening is whether to have the clear soup or the cream soup! And on Sylvester (New Years Day), we ponder over whether we should take our annual sleigh ride to Garfun before or after the pig race!

This year, we did it before. Our pig, "baby Pig" came in first, which is very good luck!!! We won 10 Swiss Francs. The whole town comes out for this race, and the local farmers bring their meats and cheese, and local wine. It is a big celebration.
Pigs are a symbol of good luck here, and on New Year's Day, they have Pig races. It's quite hilarious, watching these little pink pigs running out of the icy gate toward the big bell, and really floor it when they see that tough!!!!! I bet there were some investors there wishing they could put Bernie Madoff in there!!!!! Yes, the town speaks of him too. Many Belgian, German, Scots, and British guests know someone who knew someone who lost money. Even in our sleepy town, Madoff invades.
Klosters, early evening.
Klosters somehow gets into one's soul. Not everyone, but to the majority of us visitors who have been coming now for generations (3 in my case) it is an inexplicable lure. Is it the Swiss hospitality? The old world feel of the town? The lack of pretension?

Someone told us of a resort in Dubai where all one did was just think of ways to be waited on. That’s all one did. How is that fun? Fun to me is getting on my skis, and getting up to 2800 meters with my 8-year-old and my husband and spending 3 hours skiing to a neighboring town, through cow houses, and churches, and barns, walking with our skis to catch a train back to Klosters, and then sitting down to fondue for dinner!!!
Elizabeth and Stephen Sans with Liz's 8-year-old daughter, Caroline Eliot. Caroline Eliot hitting the slopes.
At other resorts, not just Aspen (remember I live in Palm Beach) the main objective is not the day activity, but to go out and socialize at night, and be invited to as many parties as possible. Here, it's about skiing, sleigh riding, taking day-long hikes, walking the village, comparing rosti, and sitting down to dinner with old friends recounting the day, and then, discussing the problems of the world. Maybe the teenagers run to the legendary Casa Antica for some all-night dancing to old disco, but that's the extent of it. nobody is hankering for an invitation to anything. The only hankering is to avoid standing on that sometimes seemingly endless Gotchna queue in the morning!!!!