When you've this many slopes it would be a shame to waste them. Catherine Quinn discovers why the Swiss have cornered the market on outlandish ways to travel downhill.
Ever wondered what it’s like to plummet downhill on a wooden seat strapped to a single ski? I hadn’t, until I was securely strapped in and pushed over the precipice. But then, neither had I given much thought to sledding on a blow-up surfboard, or carving the slopes on a bike equipped with snow-runners. All of these activities were part and parcel of the very unusual Swiss “cube” experience, which, I discovered was anything but square.
My first thought as I took off down the mountain was that with scenery this good I really should be paying attention. But as the mountain vistas tore by, my main focus was on staying aboard an inflatable ‘airboard’ decidedly lacking in suspension. Of course I’m well aware that whilst the snow-capped hills look innocent enough from a distance, seeing them in close-up would be colourful for all the wrong reasons.
The idea behind my current mode of transport is a new concept in Switzerland. Whilst skiing is undoubtedly the most popular of winter entertainments in this part of the world a few restless locals have tired of the well-worn routes, the trusty equipment, and the tedious safety of it all and yearn for adrenalin-fuelled alternatives.
With this in mind, the Cube Hotel was born – a residence which supplies not only skiing facilities, but a range of innovative purpose-built vehicles which will plummet down a snowy slope in new and unpredictable ways. The dual advantage of this is that the hotel also offers the unusual extra of providing a similar range of vehicles for the summer months too. Meaning thrill-seeking guests can become regular visitors all year round.
In the winter the contraptions on offer include the ‘airboard’ atop which I make my first giddy plunge, and a number of other euphemistically titled adrenalin generators such as the ‘ski fox’ the ‘snow bike’ and the ‘snow scooter’.
Whilst these vehicles may look intimidating lined up at the base of the ski lift, all have been ingeniously designed with Swiss panache to be easily (if not adeptly) tackled by a first-timer without lessons. No small part of the appeal is that these unique forms of transport are loaned on a rolling rotation basis, making them very good value – especially for Switzerland.
Rather than loan a single vehicle, visitors are encouraged to run the gamut of what’s available, so the room rate will grant you access to as many as you can get up the hill and down again before sunset.
The hotel is designed around a basic chalet style of arrangement, including full ski pass and use of the extensive facilities. Downstairs a lively bar is the precursor to an underground nightclub for those looking to enjoy the après ski ambiance from, whilst a sauna, steam room, rock-climbing wall and a la carte restaurant cater to guests with more sedate intentions during their stay.
The exterior of straight glittering glass is something of a regional sight in its own right, and on my first morning, despite the chill, more than a few guests had assembled outside to enjoy breakfast against its mirrored grandeur.
As I was soon to find out, this impressive backdrop takes on a rather different hue when you’re rushing by aboard a runaway lilo. But with several vehicles to get through before I could even think of having completed the Cube ‘experience’ I arrived early to make my ascent.
Having chosen the gratifyingly remedial looking ‘airboard’ for my first trip, I board to the uncertain realisation that my chin would be a bare few inches from the ground for the entire journey down.
The ski-bike is my next choice, and in retrospect would have made the best first vehicle. Despite comprising an odd looking saddle mounted on ski-style rollers it genuinely does handle very similarly to a normal push bike, with the small exception that the brakes only work when not too much momentum has been built up.
This meant the snow-bike made its unstoppable journey down the mountain, with apparently little recognition of my desperate attempts to wrest it one way or another. I spent more than one terror-filled moment being dragged towards, and then nearly off the edge as I fought to heave back in the opposite direction.
Having made it to the bottom, I was fairly anxious to surrender my cumbersome new transportation for something more sedate, but there was no such luck. I’d left the ‘ski-fox’ until last, and now it was time to hurtle down the slopes sat aboard a seat mounted on a single ski.
Funnily enough, by now I was almost enjoying myself, and had paused more than once to admire the mountain magnificence sweeping past as I picked up speed.
Swinging onto the smooth curves of the final approach with the clean mountain air coasting past and the odd marmat running for cover the risk of plunging headfirst into a nearby snowdrift suddenly didn’t seem to matter. And handing over my final vehicle I couldn’t wait to take the chairlift back over those endless snowy slopes all over again tomorrow. In Switzerland it seems going downhill fast is the only way to travel.
Veia Sandeilas 12,
Talstation Savognin Bergbahnen
Tel. +41 (0) 81-659 14 14