Going full circle at full tilt

A trip to St. Moritz in the Swiss Alps to trace the past hurtles the writer into an exhilarating present.

Kite skiing in the Swiss Alps 521 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Kite skiing in the Swiss Alps 521
(photo credit: Courtesy)
The four laughing people in the black-and-white photo sitting on a wooden sled in the snowy Alps of St. Moritz intrigued me.
The picture was dated 1931, and at that time St. Moritz was the playground of the wealthy and famous. Two of the people in the photo, who regularly vacationed in Switzerland, are my German grandparents, whom I never had the opportunity to meet.
This photo inspired me to travel thousands of miles last year to see if I could spiritually connect with my smiling grandparents. If I could never meet them, then at least I could spend time in places they seemed to have enjoyed so much.
The journey on the train from Zurich is filled with green trees delicately laced with snow, majestic mountains appearing at every turn, and houses dotting the hillsides. The train twists and turns up mountain passes until you find yourself breathless – not from the journey but from the view.
St. Moritz boasts a myriad of activities for the adrenaline lover to the foodie and shopper. While it boasts a long ski season, perhaps the best time to be there is February, which is part of the high season and filled with exciting events to keep you entertained.
The skiing is second to none. One of the oldest winter vacation spots in the world, it was host to the Olympic Games in 1924 and 1948. There are four mountain areas to choose from, depending on your ability and desires. The slopes are immaculately groomed, but there are also areas that are left untouched. So if you are looking to tear it up and race down the flagpoles or if you are just looking to play in some terrific powder, St. Moritz is certainly a hot spot. Also on select Fridays there is night skiing, as one of the mountains is lit up and people can ski while under the stars.
St. Moritz, which has more than 300 sunny days a year, also has one of the most entertaining horse racing events on the planet, called the White Turf, in the first three weeks in February. It is a mix of Whistler meets the Hamptons with old European sophistication mixed in with Russian oil tycoons. It is a challenge to know where to look first – at the horses racing on the snow pulling the jockey skiers behind them or at the fur-clad fashionistas.
The first White Turf race took place in 1907. The tradition continues, only becoming bigger, more sophisticated and definitely worthy of a bet. The lowest amount you can bet is four francs. I know from personal experience that people do win, as both the horses I chose won.
While St. Moritz is pricey, there are stores that will dazzle the average shopper. There are name brands like Chanel, Burberry, Bogner, Emilio Pucci, as well as local stores that sell stunning ski gear from Timberland boots to fur coats.
For the athletic and adventurous, a must-try is kite surfing on a frozen lake. It’s similar to kite boarding, as you harness the wind while wearing skis or a snowboard and glide over the snow and ice, as opposed to doing it over water.
I took a lesson at the kite surf school in Silvaplana. My instructor showed me the basics, from how to unfold the kite without getting it tangled up to how to control it so you glide across the pristine frozen lake.
It’s similar to surfing. Once you understand the elements, you will be thrilled in ways you never imagined. It takes time to learn. I fell on my face in the snow a few times, but the fun I had was well worth the effort.
For the truly adventurous who like a taste of adrenaline, there is the Olympic Bob Run. It opened in 1904 and is the oldest bobsled track in the world, as well as the only natural ice track anywhere. The Olympic Bob Run St. Moritz-Celerina got its name after hosting the two Winter Olympics.
I decided to try it out and found myself riding next to to Reto Götschi, the 1994 Swiss Olympic silver medalist. The track is 1,612 meters, and the website boasts speed of 135 kilometers an hour, taking about 75 seconds to complete the course. That said, when an Olympic silver medalist was running the show, we completed the course in 49 seconds.
Needless to say, helmet on, I found myself racing on the track feeling the maximal centrifugal force of 5G, which is intense to say the least. It was one of the most meaningful things I did in St. Moritz.
Moments after the run, I looked at the photo of the four of us, all smiling before we were about to start traveling at breakneck speed. It brought everything back full circle, with a modern twist. The Bob Run did exist when my grandparents were in St. Moritz. While I have a sneaking suspicion they did not go for a ride, perhaps they had seen the track. And in their wildest imaginations, I doubt they would have dreamt that their granddaughter would be flying through time and space, on a sled no less, and smiling at a camera in St. Moritz.