An economic reality of skiing in Switzerland is that no matter where you go, resort prices are similar, even if you happen to be at the favorite haunt of Britain's Prince Charles or a rustic mountainside village.
The resorts of Klosters and Grachen are about as different as Los Angeles and New York, one seeking anonymity, the other finding it hard to have anything else. Yet each has its own brand of charm for about the same price tag.
Arguably the loveliest region in the Alps is the Swiss canton of Grissons, with narrow valleys, lush green forests and rushing rivers all topped off by the majestic mountains. It's the home of internationally famous resorts such as St. Moritz, Davos and Arosa.
Where Privacy's a Plus
But it's also the location of Klosters, a pretty yet cosmopolitan village whose main attribute, it seems, is privacy. It's this aspect, coupled with an enormous ski area, that has kept Prince Charles returning to his "favorite resort."
"People who come here don't want publicity. And we don't promote this as an exclusive resort for wealthy people," says Klosters tourist director Martin Accola. "We will never be as exclusive as Gstaad or St. Moritz."
But it's exclusive enough to give it a reputation as the kind of place you go to if you want to be alone in the same village with European royalty such as the King and Queen of Sweden, as well as Chuck and Di.
Oddly, not many British ski here, even with the royal stamp of approval. On the other hand, 6% of Klosters' skiers are Americans.
But Prince Charles returns for another reason. The skiing is superb, from open bowls to American-style forest runs, from dead-easy beginner areas to steep and deep expert walls, all on one combined Klosters-Davos lift pass (The REGA Pass), taking in more than 100 lifts for about $102 a week.
Runs Above Tree Line
Beginner to intermediate skiers have their own mountain at the Madrisa area in the Dorf section of this long village. Most of the runs are above the tree line on wide-open, gently rolling slopes. For the more experienced, the tree runs are heavenly, one of which takes you on a long cruise back to the village. The lush green trees offset by the snow give skiers the full Alpine treatment.
Meanwhile, over at the main part of town, the Gotschnagrat cable car is carrying intermediate and advanced skiers to the start of the Klosters-Davos ski circuit and an eventual drop of 5,300 feet from the imposing windblown Weissflugipfel peak at 9,200 above sea level.
Ski one direction and you're heading toward the huge resort town of Davos and another takes you back to Klosters.
Most of the terrain is suited to intermediate skiers, but there are also some superb advanced bowls and walls here. The best begins right at the Gotschnagrat cable car station and ends 2,000 feet lower. When the snow is deep, the feeling is pure magic, but during icy conditions the steepness can transform this paradise into a simple hell.
The only apparent negative factors of skiing here are a single, often crowded, main ski trail running back to the village, and waits of up to 35 minutes in the cable car line. These, however, can be overcome by timing. Don't be first at the station in the morning or at noon.
Great Family Dining
As a village, Klosters is fairly diverse, with an assortment of restaurants, bars and hotels covering a wide price range. For example, even with the village's chic reputation, there's a large inexpensive co-op cafeteria offering nice food at cheap prices, great for tiny tots. Escape-proof highchairs are provided.
For some quaint charm, try Prince Charles' favorite dining spot, the tiny Hotel Wynegg. Its food and drinks don't have royal price tags.
The average steak dinner in town runs about $10, a bottle of beer around $1.75 and a pizza, small by American standards, $5. Budget-minded skiers should inquire about the best value places, such as the Restaurant Gotschna Stubli next to the cable car station, where you can get a nice hot lunch for under $5.
Klosters is big with families. It's routine to see horse-drawn sleighs packed with smiling kids on an outing from the child care center, which is open to the public. There is also a ski school for children. The village has managed to maintain its Old World character and family appeal despite considerable automobile traffic everywhere.
Klosters is a 2 1/2-hour train ride from Zurich Airport. Off-peak ski week specials are offered which, by most standards, are quite cheap.
For example, the two weeks before Christmas, seven nights' double occupancy in a lovely three-star hotel, with breakfast and dinner plus a weeklong total regional ski pass runs $315. Better hotels run up to $443 for the same deal. Add $38 for a single room.
The same arrangements can be made through January and parts of March and April. Simple bed-and-breakfast accommodation, including lift pass, is also available at even cheaper rates. And for about $75 a week you can add ski school.
Clear across the country lies the mountain-hugging village of Grachen at 5,200 feet. It's most directly reached via Lausanne. However, if you're coming from Klosters you have the opportunity to try Switzerland's spectacular Glacier Express train for a ride that might be more memorable than your destination.
Like Klosters, Grachen also has anonymity, at least in the eyes of most non-Europeans. But business people here would like that to change.
Down the Matter Valley, just a stone's throw from Zermatt, Grachen's claim to fame isn't its skiing but rather its rustic restaurants and spectacular views, that even surpass those of its famous neighbor.
Skiing is mainly beginner to intermediate. Grachen is the type of place where not-so-wealthy Swiss families ski with their children, have some time to themselves and eat and eat and eat.
For example, one mountain eatery, the Restaurant Bargji Alp, is as rustic as you can get, on the side of a mountain with an open-hearth barbecue inside and great steaks. The food, complete with panoramic view, is considerably cheaper than most plastic steak and lobster houses back in the New World.
But more than anything, this is a working farm village. There seem to be sheep and cows snugly bedded down in sheds around every corner. And children love it. This is what makes Grachen a more popular summer resort than a winter one. It offers city folks a chance to experience farm life in the mountains.
But during winter, skiing is what this resort is all about. It's in two linked areas, both served by a four-person gondola lift. The main area is the Seetalhorn (9,300 feet), which offers wide-open marked runs above the tree line, mainly for intermediate skiers. But there are a couple of advanced runs up there, too.
Runs End at Tree Line
The main drawback with skiing this beautiful glacial area is that the runs end at the tree line. To ski back to the village you must take a long traverse to the second area, Hannigalp.
Hannigalp offers nice beginner to intermediate skiing, mainly below the tree line, so visibility is pretty good even during snowstorms. This area is normally crawling with young children.
The village is divided into two parts, the old town, where every other building is either a cute hotel or restaurant, and the new section, filled with apartment blocks and large chalets.
A six-day lift pass costs $80 and bed-and-breakfast hotels can be yours for as little as $12 a night. Yet a four-star hotel, complete with breakfast and dinner, runs only about $46 a night, low season. And two-star hotels, with meals, are as low as $25 a day.
Night life is almost nonexistent, meaning Grachen is definitely not for singles, unless they want to relax. Meals are reasonable. A dinner for two with wine will be about $25.
The skiing is suited for easygoing families. Dawn-to-dusk skiers would find themselves bored rather quickly. Grachen might prove a pleasant side trip on your way to or from Zermatt by getting off the train at St. Niklaus and taking a 20-minute bus ride to the resort.
Further information on these resorts can be obtained from the Swiss National Tourist Office, 250 Stockton St., San Francisco, Calif. 94108, phone (415) 362-2260.