There is a sense of healing between the pines and tangled roots. Somewhere in the snowy woods lurks an alpine ibex, a goat with distinctive Viking horns that was once hunted to extinction in Switzerland before being reintroduced a century ago. Hidden in the forest, an endangered black grouse whistles in search of dwarf shrub needles. Fresh fox tracks meander through pine and spruce trees, although the gray wolf and lynx that have begun to return to these mountains are elusive.
Count me in Laax in Grisons (70 miles southeast of Zurich), the traditional home of winter sports in the Swiss Alps, but it’s a ski holiday most people wouldn’t recognize. The down-to-earth resort presents itself as the most sustainable playground in Switzerland and I explore the new from above Senda di Dragun (Way of the Dragon) Treetop Walkway. The elevated, mile-long trail juts 90 feet above the soft snowdrifts, and I keep my eyes peeled as I look out for ghostly predators and their prey. Although there may be no dragons, the forests are home to a whole range of alpine species, from chamois and arctic hares to marmots and grouse. In the stillness, I glimpse a red deer through a branch of snow-covered pine trees. The silent drama is just as nerve-wracking as any black run.
Regardless of what you see, the walkway is designed to help connect visitors with the valley’s greater naturalization history and evergreen forests away from the flourishes of the trail map. Once the reserve of loggers and hunters, a dozen evergreen forests surrounding the resort have been rewilded by a coalition of wildlife, cantonal and state authorities including the Federal Environment Agency, and species like the endangered grouse are now making a comeback. Spend a few days in the area and you might also hear stories or see a pack of free-roaming wolves that have returned to the upper mountains from Italy and are now protected and considered a native species.
The mountains are certainly the reason why people came to Laax 60 years ago, when the first ski lift opened in 1962. On the trail map, the ski area breaks up into a series of snow globes, foothills, craggy valleys and restricted forest sanctuaries – all in the shadow of Vorab Glacier and covered in fangs Unesco site Tectonic Arena Sardona.
But unlike so many other sophisticated Swiss ski resorts, the youthful main center is purpose built, brimming with eco-design – and a concerted effort has been made to ensure visitors can explore the mountains in the most eco-friendly way possible. In recent years, all lifts have been operated with CO2-neutral water and solar energy. Water stations are plentiful and free, as are e-shuttles around the resort.
Artificial snow is CO2 neutral and each restaurant has a bird-friendly windbreak; stunned jays and woodpeckers are a problem here. There is a free repair service for skiwear to extend its life, and the latest addition are vertical gardens at the ski lift bases to encourage bee, bird and insect life all year round. The planet-loving ethos extends to the food, too: On my first night, I huddled under a giant solar canopy Rider’s Hotel, I am served a three-course vegan meal; The beetroot steak feels in the spiritual home of Da Vinci Code capuns, meat wrapped in spaetzle dough. It’s all pretty impressive for a town of under 2,000 people.
“Sustainability is an obsession here,” says Martina Calonder from White Arena Group, the company that operates the wider resort of Flims Laax Falera. “We cannot save the Vorab Glacier. It’s already too warm and we’re losing it. But what we can do is spread awareness across the resort in hopes that people will learn from our example.”
The resort’s most intriguing offering is this Pass for the last day, a donation of 80 francs for an additional lift ticket that skiers will probably never be able to use for the “hopefully never coming day”, as Martina puts it. The concept introduced in 2020 envisages that the proceeds of each ski pass sold “offset” 1,000 kg of CO.2 by supporting climate protection projects that aim to slow down the melting of glaciers by 10 minutes. After all, careful timekeeping is a tradition in Switzerland and the current last day is calculated as April 7, 2056. “It shows the skiers how they can make a difference,” adds Martina. “Even on a small scale.”
A bonus for winter visitors is that this is one of the snowiest places in Switzerland. From the Crap Sogn Gion station there is a first-class slope in all directions, and for snowboarders there is the world’s largest halfpipe, an Olympic-sized kicker and five snow parks. It’s a tough nut to crack, but the black Grand Prix descent from the 3,000-meter Vorab Glacier is hard to beat. Down in the valley, the other skiers are tiny dots.
The litmus test for Laax as a superlative green destination could be the latest blue-sky idea from the Weisse Arena Gruppe: Flem Express, the world’s first on-demand cable car. Gondolas have always spun from first ride to last light, but here engineers have invented an on-demand, energy-efficient way to get riders up the mountains.
Six stations are currently being built between the neighboring village of Flims and the upper amphitheaters of the Tectonic Arena Sardona, allowing skiers (and hikers and bikers in the summer) to choose where to go and when, with unoccupied gondolas being separated from the line. It’s Uber with cable cars, like something dreamed up by a Silicon Valley tech innovator, and is expected to open in late 2023 to connect to the wider Laax playground.
On my last night, I shuffle through the residential area of Laax Murschetg, where buildings are made of local slate and wood – ashlars Rock’s Resort looks like parts of a scattered Jenga tower. The views of the Lepontine Alps are stunning, as are the restaurants and bars in the area. at Grandis Ustria da Vin, raclette with mushrooms and the cheapest of the 800 wines in the cellar. Then Negronis is in Gas stationan upcycled vintage clothing store and bar. A suitably stylish yet simple way to end a break at a resort that understands the challenges of climate change better than most.
The trip was provided by Flims-Laax-Falera. double at Rider’s Hotel from £150, room only. More information from myswitzerland.com. The journey by public transport from Zurich to Laax takes just over two hours. InterCity trains run every half hour from Zurich main station, with a direct connection to an iconic yellow postbus in Churin Graubünden. Timetables and tickets can be found at sbb.ch/de