If the skiing in the St. Moritz region was all linked by lift and piste, it would be truly impressive. It's not bad as it is, with 158km of piste in the main area directly above St. Moritz and excellent snow conditions thanks to the 2000m-plus altitude of most of the slopes. A good bus system links the three biggest areas which are sufficiently far apart to mean they are best skied individually on separate days.
Most extensive is Corviglia, the south facing domain directly above town, accessed by a cable car from St. Moritz Bad, a funicular from the centre of St. Moritz Dorf and via gondola from the neighbouring village of Celerina. The highest point, 3057m Piz Nair, takes skiers into the back bowls or off piste down a broad chute back to the lower slopes. Here, below Munt da San Murezzan and Corviglia, are wide open blue and red runs made to flatter skiers and boarders, but also a lot of fun to carve at speed. Tougher terrain drops to both sides of the Fuorcla Grischa and Las Trais Fluors, at the eastern extremity of the area. On a sunny day - there's an average 322 per year - this is classic skiing surrounded by huge mountain vistas.
The second biggest area in St. Moritz, Corvatsch, is reached by cable car from Surlej or Furtschellas at either end of Lake Silvaplana. The 3,303m top station just 150m below the summit of Piz Corvatsch is the starting point for big glacier descents back to the area's lower skiing. There's also an epic off-piste route that descends the initially precipitous, then merely huge north west face of Corvatsch, to emerge conveniently into the piste system near Curtinella.
At the western end of the area, the Furtschellas chairlift reaches just 2800m which still leaves over 1000 vertical metres back to the valley floor, with a couple of black runs mixed in with blues and reds. The central pistes are reasonably long, varied but not especially challenging reds; strong skiers staying in St. Moritz Bad have an excellent last run from the eastern extremity of the area at 2643m Giand'Alva down a long black into forested lower slopes to return direct to town instead of bussing back from either of the base stations.
At a glance St. Moritz's third area barely qualifies in terms of quantity of lifts - just three, plus a beginner drag - and is furthest from town. But this is where most of the serious skiing is to be found. From the Bernina-Diavolezza base station at 2095m a cable car rises to 2978m. The high east-facing slopes always hold good snow - early or late season you can lap the high chairlift that accesses one red run in a north facing bowl.
Heading down to base, the choice is between red or black, with a marked and controlled freeride route running parallel for half the distance. The region's ultimate marked freeride route traverses from the very top across the Pers glacier and then down the Morteratsch glacier and valley for a 10km run back to the train station at Morteratsch.
On the opposite side of the valley and linked with the Bernina-Diavolezza base by free shuttle bus is the base station of Bernina-Lagalp from where a cable car ascends to 2,893m. Red and black runs descend the north-west facing slopes while to the south is an off piste route to La Rösa, 1000 vertical metres below and with a shuttle service back to base.
The updated lift-system still shows its roots: seven big cable cars do much of the work and there are 27 drag lifts. But chairlift capacity is good and with multiple access points into the main ski areas, and hands-free lift passes queuing is not a major feature. Total lift capacity is 65,000 people per hour.
Practically every lift in the Engadin valley is covered by the standard lift pass, but don't be fooled - you'll just ski the three main areas in the immediate vicinity of St. Moritz.
Though not the first choice for beginners, it's far from impossible to learn to ski or board in St. Moritz. Don't worry about visiting the outlying areas, but stick to the Corviglia slopes, where there are beginner runs and drag lifts as well as excellent terrain to progress onto. The disadvantage is that the nursery slopes are dotted about, with no easy link between them, or, in some cases, even a simple means of access from the village.
Best of all is to reach Corviglia by funicular, below which is a short drag, a longer one and also a blue run down to the Marguns-Corviglia chair, which returns you to familiar territory. From here you can also traverse westwards to the lower blue runs once you have found your legs; followed by a chair to one of the higher, easier reds, this provides the necessary access to greater challenges and inspirational surroundings for a keen beginner without having to negotiate intimidating terrain.
Salastrains, with two mini-drags, is used for teaching kids, and can be reached from the St. Moritz Bad cable car followed by a very gentle blue traverse; there are also isolated nursery areas beyond St. Moritz but if you're staying in town, you should avoid queuing for buses and concentrate on time on snow.
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Sun-kissed cruising on abundant and well groomed snow is what St. Moritz's skiing is about. Half the terrain is officially suitable for intermediates though in reality it's more like three-quarters, with some of the toughest skiing within reach of adventurous intermediates. Though it should appeal to typical intermediate skiers, the area certainly doesn't have any 'factory-skiing' characteristics - you won't find parallel lines of lifts and pistes across unremarkable meadows, with a backdrop of bizarre late twentieth century architecture… And the good uplift and diverse spectacular geography goes some way to overcome skiers' reservations about a fragmented ski region linked by road rather than lift.
The main Corviglia area is an ideal starting point, easily reached from St. Moritz itself and good for several days before exploring further afield. Served mainly by chairs, the pistes directly above St. Moritz are a perfect mixture of blues and reds; friendly topography means that wherever you choose to return to base there's an easy blue route to take the sting out of the end of the day. Navigation is also easy, with most of the skiing above treeline and with the main pistes connected by a couple of blue traverses at different levels. Fuorcla Grischa and Las Trais Fluors are within the scope (there's even one blue run amongst the red and black) of stronger intermediates, taking you deeper into the mountains north of the valley.
Corvatsch is also perfect, giving skiers the opportunity for high altitude glacier skiing as well as charming routes on the north facing flank of the mountain range, with expansive views back to St. Moritz and beyond. Mostly above treeline, the runs twist and turn through rock outcrops, never following a straight line for long. The red glacier routes, invariably with good snow, are more than just tame descents of a broad glacier, having more variety than normally found on big permanent snows and with the lower half splitting into two very distinct routes before rejoining at the bottom. Starting from the Furtschella base station to ski the easiest terrain on the western side of the area, then working across to ascend the peak and ski the glacier makes a great day out, with the option of tackling the moderate but long black run via the Hahnensee restaurant to return home to St. Moritz.
hough not an obvious destination for advanced skiers, around a third of St. Moritz's terrain is made up of black runs and there's plenty of off-piste - some marked as itineraries, some strictly backcountry - that doesn't get tracked as rapidly as in major off-piste destinations. There's also a rewarding sense of scale - not just significant peaks, but good vertical drop and extensive coverage of whole mountain sides that can be as important to a group of strong skiers ripping across rolling red runs as the actual technical difficulty or degree of pitch.
Firmly in this category is the terrain above St. Moritz. South of the ridge running from Piz Nair towards Corviglia and on to Marguns, the only significant challenges are the off-piste chute - easily checked out from the cable car up - on the south face of Piz Nair and the relatively short Olympia black run back to town from Sass Runzöl. The higher terrain behind Piz Nair and over to Gluna has modest and easily-accessed off-piste to the side of the pistes, from Piz Schlattain either side of some rock bands, and skier's right from the top of the Gluna chair. There are also several black runs here, though nothing too tough.
The smattering of black runs at Corvatsch are not the point either. Plenty of fresh tracks can be found between the piste but the highlight, with a guide, is the big descent from Corvatsch top station, which rapidly opens out onto a wide open north-west sloping face with great powder under the right conditions. It's definitely not one to ski straight after a storm when a slab avalanche could take out the entire face with ease.
Best of all, both on and off-piste, is the Diavolezza and Lagalp. Excellent snow - the base is over 2000m - and steep terrain all the way with several variants on both sides of the valley make this St. Moritz's expert playground. In both cases, the drawback is that a cable car rather than high speed chair is the only way back up, and at just under 1000m of descent, it's long, but nevertheless all over too quickly. The short freeride itinerary to the Schwarze Hang, which branches off the black piste 6 halfway down from the Diavolezza is one of the toughest routes down, but the 10km Morteratsch itinerary is the real reason to come here on a fair day. Starting with a marked traverse across the Pers glacier to the Isla Persa bar and its stunning views, the descent of the Morteratsch glacier and valley has a backdrop of striking peaks including the 4,049m Piz Bernina.
Though the vibe in St. Moritz doesn't involve too many studded belts or baggy trousers at half-mast, St. Moritz is quite boarder-friendly, without significant flats to worry about and some easy-to-find freeride terrain. Corviglia has a halfpipe below Munt da San Murezzan and a funpark below Corviglia lift; there's a funpark on Corvatsch below the middle station with its own tow and another funpark on Furtschellas while beyond, the local terrain is one big freestyle park.
Booklets are available for snowboarders with tips on where to go in the valley both on and off the mountain, but the maps are slightly inadequate, making them a bit of a tease without some input from a local. You can also find classic boarding itineraries at www.boarders-valley.com .
Freestylers and boarders should check out the kite-sailing on the lakes - it's not as hard as it looks though it can be fast, you can get huge air, and (once you've got a kite) it's free.
There are 37 restaurants on-mountain, with 14 in Corviglia, and 3 hotels. Highest place to eat is the Restaurant Piz Nair at 3057m; spectacular views guaranteed in all but the worst weather. Also with great views is La Marmite in the top station of the Corviglia funicular - not pretty from the outside but the food is outstanding (some say the best in the world for a mountain restaurant). Specialities include caviar and truffles so don't expect a cheap meal and make sure you book. There is also a self service restaurant in the same building.
The Skihutte Alpina does good pasta and a cafe Grischa (liqueur served in a 4-spouted pot); there's a sunterrace and outside bar. Just down from the Munt da San Murezzan is the Chamanna with a choice of sautés and grills, traditional Swiss dishes, raclette, giant hot dogs, potato chunks fried in their skins; El Paradiso, above Suvretta at the extreme end of the Corviglia area can be reached by walking path as well as ski. There's a sunterrace, bar and international as well as local dishes.
Corvatsch has 10 mountain restaurants. The Corvatsch middle station has a good self service restaurant with sunterrace, but the restaurant at Hahnensee on the run back to Bad is the place to stop for the last drink of the ski day. The Hossa Bar is a party place, with music and BBQ. Diavolezza has less to choose from. At the top station is a standard self-service restaurant with pizza oven. There's a similar restaurant and bar up at Lagalb, with a new self-service at the bottom. A drink at the Isla Persa glacier bar, halfway into the big itinerary down from Diavolezza, is essential.
All the piste maps mark restaurants clearly, and include telephone numbers for easy booking.
At 1,856m, St. Moritz is one of the highest resorts in the Alps. Set on the shores of the lake of the same name, it lacks anything approaching conventional alpine charm beyond the cobbled central square. Nondescript architecture from the mid 1900's is the order of the day with street level facades dominated by high-end boutiques such as Prada, Gianni Versace, Dolce & Gabbana and Louis Vuitton. When you come to a ski shop or bar, it tends to be in the same flavour, making the streets less than cosy after dark.
The town of St. Moritz consists of 'Dorf' (village) and 'Bad' (spa). Upmarket Dorf, with its five-star hotels and plush restaurants, is on the hill above the lake while a short walk away is Bad, set on the flat ground by the lakeside. It might not have the cachet of Dorf, but it still has the impressive Kempinski Grand, with its casino. There's not much in it for slope access. Walking to the cable car from Bad is easy on the flat and anywhere central in Dorf is close to the funicular, though the hill is steep, while for the other ski areas there are bus stops within range of most accommodation; for nightlife, Dorf is the prime location.
All the bars and restaurants on the mountain are open until 4pm, but the on-mountain après-ski is of the one-last-drink variety, rather than dancing on tables. Back in town there are bars and tea rooms - try cakes and hot chocolate at Hanselmann Tea room on the Via Maistra, near the Hotel Albana, whose main bar is also a good place to go for a relaxed drink.
St Moritz bars - 27 of them when last counted - tend to be upmarket. The Vivai has live acts with 'dance animation' and DJ. The Stübli is the place for draught beer and also serves food in the traditional interior under the Schweizerhof. The Devil's Place claims the world's largest selection of whiskies - 2500 - which you are guaranteed never to work your way through. The King's Club is the disco and bar at the Badrutt's Palace Hotel, so it's jacket and tie. Much lower key is the Enoteca la Vigna, with regional and Mediterranean specialities and a wide selection of international wines.
With 74 restaurants in resort there's a big range of cuisine in St. Moritz. You shouldn't go hungry, but be ready for pricey eating. The best places include: Jöhri's Talvo, a Relais & Chateaux restaurant with cuisine based on fresh produce, traditional Grisons dishes, lobster, fish, and an international selection of wines. It's reputation, and prices, match the top London and Paris restaurants.
Le Relais at Badrutt's Palace Hotel, is 'new concept' so be prepared for a surprise (not just when they bring the bill). The Palace also owns the Chesa Veglia, an ancient farmhouse with a choice of rustic dining areas - the Patrizier Stuben does traditional Swiss food, while the Pizzeria has pizza and Italian classics. In the Hotel Laudinella are several restaurants: the Stüva - a big buffet, a Thai restaurant, Pizzeria Caruso, and Le Carnozet, for cheese dishes such as fondue & raclette.
For cheaper restaurant options, the Veltlinerkeller has homemade pasta and a charcoal grill; another pasta place, the Bellaval, has countless variations on this theme - over 20 different sauces - and a BBQ grill. The only true bargains are a restaurant (with limited opening hours) at the Co-op and the railway station buffet. Out of town, you can ride up to Muottas Muragl on the funicular which runs until 11pm. The hotel at 2,450m is good for lunch, followed by tobogganing back to the valley floor. The views are sensational, so book a window table.
St. Moritz doesn't just score five stars for its hotels: unlikely non-ski activities include horse and greyhound races, polo, cricket and curling tournaments on the frozen lake, the Engadin cross-country ski marathon with over 12,000 participants and the world's first bobsleigh run, the Cresta.
More relevant to most visitors is the tobogganing run on Muottas Muragl as well as extensive crosscountry ski and winter hiking trails - 150km of winter walking paths in the upper Engadin and 180km of cross country skiing tracks in the main valley; there are also floodlit tracks in St. Moritz and Pontresina. The frozen lake at Silvaplana is the venue for the newest sport, kitesailing, where participants are towed at high speed on boards or skis by huge kites - either excessive lengths to avoid paying for ski lifts or the most exciting way to ride the snow and ice, depending on your disposition.