Cross-country skiing in Davos

Mary Novakovich wanted to ease her way back on to the slopes. Her coccyx had other ideas...
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The Independent Travel

Opting for Switzerland, we chose the eastern resort of Davos. I wasn't quite ready for the downhill slopes, however; I had too many memories of crowded pistes and freezing in lift queues. A spot of cross-country seemed a good alternative. I vaguely recalled gliding through forest trails as a teenager, winding up in front of a roaring log fire with a mug of creamy hot chocolate. Unfortunately, I didn't recall the actual technique involved (and my partner Adam had never been on Nordic skis before), so we booked two mornings of lessons.

Our instructor, Walter Simeon, eyed us up professionally. "We try classic?" he asked, baffling me. I didn't know the name of the gliding-forward-type skiing I'd once done. Apparently, an offshoot of the sport sprang up about 25 years ago: skating. It's harder and requires very good balance. Classic skiers are confined within man-made tracks, while skaters use an open space needed for the sweeping action. The skis and boots are different too, so you need to decide your method before hiring gear. We stuck to classic.

The idea was to ski for a few kilometres while Walter assessed our ability. "Try not to fall on your - what do you call it, coccyx?" he warned. Adam was soon on his bottom. But his bona fide coccyx moment came a little later on, although he remained stoical in his agony.

Quite how painful it was I discovered myself a few hours later, when we were going downhill using the old snowplough method. I imagine that, on the pain scale that includes childbirth, amputation without anaesthetic and gunshot wounds, a bruised coccyx ranks pretty low. But I couldn't quite believe it as I lay on the slope, hoping the cold snow would numb the pain.

So far we had covered about five of the 75km of groomed trails around Davos. We had started to get the hang of the gliding movement, making the whole exercise easier and much more enjoyable. At the end of the lesson, Walter showed us where we would be going the next day: up the Dischma valley (yes, skiing uphill) for about 10km. I smiled wanly and thought that I would have to cajole Walter into taking us on the nursery trails instead.

On the way back we passed several skiers with no legs, powerfully digging their poles into the snow to get their speed up. Humbled, I resolved to stop whingeing. At least we had the spa facilities at the Hotel Meierhof to look forward to, but I barely managed two strokes in the swimming pool before retiring to the Jacuzzi.

Next morning, my determination evaporated as we skied an agonising 10 minutes to the ski school where Walter was waiting. "How's the coccyx?" he grinned. "Sehr schlecht," I grumbled. He laughed. "So, you're ready to go up the valley?" His cheerful face fell when I half-jokingly said no. But Walter's combination of 12 years' experience as a teacher and great enthusiasm proved stronger; we were going up the valley.

There are times when you realise that it's worth placing your trust in professionals. Yes, we were skiing uphill, but the incline was relatively gentle. We used a combination of the herringbone and the digging-in-furiously methods to propel ourselves, and our growing confidence and skill allowed us to take in more of our surroundings. The imposing peak of Schwarzhorn was ahead of us, and all around us was the magical Alpine scenery. It was more fulfilling than downhill skiing in the sense that you felt you had to work harder to get here. And, of course, go down again.

I hadn't thought about the downhill part until we reached the first of three slopes. When you're in the cross-country tracks, you can't manipulate your skis to control your speed. All you can do is crouch and go. Very fast. I managed the first slope, although I can't remember the last time I felt that kind of fear. The second time I was almost panicking when Walter popped up and held my arm to guide me down. At the third slope, I just held out my elbow for Walter to grasp.

We had the skis for a third day but no Walter, so I have to admit we skived off. Instead we took the cable car to Jakobshorn, one of Davos's four ski areas. The thinner air made me a bit woozy. As we had the cable car to ourselves on the way back down, we were able to hang out the open window like goggle-eyed children, captivated by the views.

At the foot of Jakobshorn is a delightful Alpine scene: a big restaurant with plenty of outdoor tables at which to watch the nutters on the half-pipe, and an adorable children's club with a cute little tow rope, tiny slalom course and mini Oompa Loompas fearlessly zooming downwards.

Davos apparently has a reputation for being a bit brash, but all we felt was a sense of warmth, a congenial atmosphere and just the right level of raucousness. Our hotel, the Meierhof, gave us welcoming four-star luxury without pretension. The public transport system got us absurdly excited, mainly because it works like a dream. Every hotel guest gets a card that allows them free transport on the buses, the Davos-Klosters train and various discounts (including the cable car).

Now that I've returned to the slopes again, there's only one thing for it: it's downhill skiing next year, maybe even in Davos.

TRAVELLER'S GUIDE

GETTING THERE

Airlines serving Zurich include Swiss (0845 601 0956; www.swiss.com), British Airways (0870 850 9850; www.ba.com) and Helvetic Airways (020-7026 3464; www.helvetic.com). Train transfer to Davos takes about three hours (020-7420 4900; www.stc.co.uk). To reduce the environmental impact, you can buy an "offset" from climate care (01865 207 000; www.climatecare.org). For a return flight from London to Zurich, this comes to £1.30. The money funds sustainable energy and reforestation projects. Alternatively, Rail Europe offers a ski train from London Waterloo to Davos via Paris and Landquart (08708 371371; www.raileurope.co.uk).

The writer travelled with Headwater (01606 720199; www.headwater.com), which offers five-day breaks in Davos from £489. This includes return flights, transfers, half-board accommodation at Hotel Meierhof and three days' cross country skiing, passes and ski hire.

STAYING THERE

Hotel Meierhof, Promenade 135, Davos, Switzerland (00 41 81 416 82 85; www.meierhof.ch). Doubles start at Sf340 (£150), including breakfast.

SKIING THERE

A half-day lesson costs Sf180 (£80) with Walter's Nordic Walking (00 41 81 416 2322; www.waltersimeon.com, German-only). Equipment can be hired at Hofmänner Sport, Mattastrasse 7, Davos Platz (00 41 81 413 88 88; www.hofmaenner.com).

FURTHER INFORMATION

Davos Tourism (00 41 81 415 21 21; www.davos.ch).

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