Laax is to Switzerland what Mammoth is to California – a freestyle Mecca that attracts riders from far and wide to its perfectly sculpted parks and pipes.
It’s played host to the Burton European Open – the continent’s premiere freestyle competition – for more than a decade. It also hosts the European Freeski Open and up until recently, was the site of the British Championships.
But although Laax trades on the reputation of its parks, there’s a whole lot more to it than that. While the gentle slopes around the central Crap Sogn Gion can’t compete with say Chamonix or Verbier for sheer gnarliness, they’re littered with cliffs, rock drops and other features that turn Laax into a backcountry freestyle paradise when there’s fresh snow around.
It says a lot that Nicolas Müller, widely recognised as one of the world’s best backcountry riders, has chosen to make his home here.
In fact, the only real downside to Laax are the Swiss prices.
Dave Seeley, a Brit who spent two seasons in Laax and now brings his Grounded Freestyle Camps out here every year, reckons it’s hard to find fault with Laax’s pistes.
“The main run down to the resort can get a bit bumpy at the end of the day, but there’s nothing too steep or tricky here – it’s all just fun.”
“Laax have created a run that is full of park features from top to bottom full of (rails, kickers, hips etc.) which has loads of side hits and other fun stuff,” he adds.
“There’s nothing too steep or tricky here – it’s all just fun”
It’s here (run number 60 on the piste map) that you’ll find most of the pros. None of the obstacles are massive, but it’s so well thought out and fun to ride that it’s almost impossible to keep yourself away.
If you do manage to drag yourself off though, there are some great runs down from the Vorab glacier at the top of the resort – big, wide, cruisy reds and blues.
The run down into Flims is probably the most epic – you can start right from the glacier if you really want to give your legs a test. But the best bit is the red 18 on the piste map, which winds down through the trees and even cuts through a rock tunnel at one stage.
Beginners are probably best off sticking round the bottom of Flims. If you’re staying in Laax, you need to get a gondola and then a chairlift up to the Crap Sogn Gion to get to the really easy stuff.
“Laax has one of if not the best park setup in Europe,” says Dave. “There are four parks all accessible from the main cable car,” and they cater for all different ability levels.
Laax’s parks are not only massive, they’re impeccably shaped. Every kicker, from the smallest green right up to the monster booters of the pro line, will send you perfectly to the sweet spot.
They’re all well-spaced too, so it won’t kill your run if you scuff your first trick, and the gradual steps up from green to blue to red to black make progressing easy.
It’s no wonder that local lass Sina Candrian came to Laax to land the first ever 1080 by a woman.
It also boasts not one but two halfpipes (a competition standard super-pipe and a fun mini-pipe) both of which are shaped on a daily basis and regularly used by pros like Jan Scherrer and Markus Keller to train. This year the superpipe is being upgraded to be the longest in the world.
And then of course there’s the 2km long piste-cum-fun park that is run number 60. Honestly, lapping this in the sunshine is about the most fun you can possibly have on a snowboard or a pair of twin tips.
In 2010 Laax opened the Freestyle Academy at the bottom of the hill. A cavernous warehouse based on the American Woodward training facilities, it boasts trampolines, foam pits, skate ramps and loads more. A visit is a must for any self-respecting freestyle fan.
When there’s fresh snow, the best place to head for open, high alpine lines is up to the top of the Vorab glacier. Ride straight down from the top of the T bar, and make a short hike to the top of the Vorab Pign peak at 2,897m.
You’ll be rewarded with the kind of wide-open powdery bowl that wet dreams are made of. It’s not particularly steep or technical (though you can make it more so, depending on where you drop in) but you’ll be howling for more as soon as you finish.
“If you want to tap into your inner Müller and practice rock drops – there’s plenty off the back of the glacier”
If you do want something more challenging, Dave Seeley recommends the run “off the back of the glacier” which takes you down to the Lavadinas lift.
If the light’s bad or the snow’s coming down hard, “there are plenty of good tree run off the six man Plaun chair.” This area is also great if you want to tap into your inner Müller and practice riding rock drops – there are plenty round here.
Unfortunately Laax, like the canton and the country it sits in, is seriously expensive. There’s no avoiding the fact that food and drink are pricey wherever you go and it’s worth doing self-catering if you can.
If you do want to eat on the hill, the best place to have a beer a bite and maybe do a spot of pro-stalking is Café No Name up at the top of the snowpark. They do great coffee too, and you won’t have to remortgage your house for a latté.
The Rocks Resort, clustered around the bottom of the slopes in Laax, has a few restaurant options including the Nooba noodle place and the imaginatively-named Burgers which serves, you guessed it, burgers. Both are tasty but neither are particularly cheap.
Dave’s top tip is Rustica Pizza just down the road which does “good Pizza for an affordable price”.
If you’re after an après pint, the Crap Bar (‘crap’ means ‘rock’ in Romansh, so stop sniggering at the back!) at the bottom of the slopes is a good place to start.
The Indy bar, just across the slopes from the Crap, gets going a little bit later on and occasionally has live music and DJ sets.
If you’re looking for a club vibe, the cavernous basement room of the Rider’s Palace is the place to go. Big name bands and DJs play here periodically throughout the season and if there’s an event on, it gets pretty packed.
The base station at Flims has more of a genuine Swiss village feel and tends to be more chilled. The Living Room Bar is probably the pick of the bunch for après, and Dave’s tip for the best restaurant in town is the Casa Vegl (the ‘Cow Shed’).
PLACES TO STAY
In Laax itself, most of the accommodation is owned by the resort. The Rocks Resort is a collection of new-build self-catered apartments that come with grey slate bathrooms, minimalist furniture and hefty price tags.
For convenience and comfort though, there’s nothing better. The same company also owns the four-star Signina Hotel.
The Riders’ Palace down the road is a cheaper option, while the hotel Capricorn claims to cater for Backpackers. All these can be booked through the Laax website.
Laax is just 105 minutes drive from Friedrichshafen Airport. British Airways flies to Friedrichshafen twice a week from London Gatwick, with fares starting from just £45 pp each way, based on a return fare.